Pitt did not have anyone who made first-team All-Big East, and a Pitt player will not win conference player of the year when that award is handed out this afternoon. But someone from Pitt did win the award most coveted by coach Jamie Dixon.
Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs Monday was named the Big East's most improved player. It was the sixth time in the past 11 years that a Pitt player has won the award.
The most improved player award is important to Dixon because he believes it signifies how well players develop once they enter the program.
"It's a great honor," Dixon said. "It's well-deserved. The most improved player award is probably the most important honor in the conference to us. When we recruit kids, we tell them how much better they can become as students, as players and help them grow as people. We do make the promise to families that we will help them improve as much as possible. We've won that award so many times. That's a great indicator or validation of that promise we make to kids when they come here."
Gibbs joins Pitt winners: Ricardo Greer (2000), Brandin Knight ('02), Carl Krauser ('04), Aaron Gray ('06) and Sam Young ('08).
"It's definitely a good award to have, especially in this Pitt system," Gibbs said. "I was named with some other great players as well -- Brandin, Sam, just to name a few. It's something I really worked hard for. It's really paying off now."
Gibbs, a 6-foot-2 guard from Scotch Plains, N.J., already had earned Big East second-team honors Sunday. He was the only Pitt player to win a Big East postseason award. Jermaine Dixon had been up for defensive player of the year and the sportsmanship award, and Gilbert Brown was a candidate for sixth man of the year.
Hamady Ndiaye of Rutgers was named defensive player of the year, Tory Jackson of Notre Dame won the sportsmanship award and Kris Joseph of Syracuse was named sixth man of the year.
Gibbs increased his scoring average by almost 12 points per game this season. He played a minor role on last year's team, which advanced to the Elite Eight, averaging 4.3 points and 10.7 minutes per game.
This season, his first as a starter, Gibbs averaged 16.2 points per game. One of the best 3-point shooters in the conference, Gibbs is shooting 40.4 percent from behind the arc.
Gibbs is known as a relentless worker among his teammates and coaching staff. Dixon has called Gibbs the hardest-working player he has ever coached.
"Ashton is hard worker," junior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "He's in the gym nonstop.
"He matured as a person and basketball player. He knew when to take advantage of his opportunities. We know he's our best shooter on the team, and we try to take advantage of him."
Dixon had the rare opportunity to work extensively with Gibbs over the summer. Usually college coaches are restricted in how much they can work with players over the summer, but Dixon coached the under-19 USA basketball team this summer. Gibbs was his starting point guard.
The under-19 team won the FIBA world championships in New Zealand. Gibbs led the team in minutes played.
"He's a better player, better athlete," Dixon said. "He's lighter, quicker, stronger.
"And he's coachable. He's improved in every area imaginable. Everyone knows he works, so it's good to see him rewarded for that."
NOTES -- The four teams that will participate in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic were announced Monday. Pitt, Maryland, Illinois and Texas will play two games at Madison Square Garden Nov. 18 and 19 ... Jermaine Dixon practiced Monday afternoon and did not experience any problems with the ankle he sprained Saturday. He will be in the lineup Thursday night for Pitt's Big East tournament quarterfinal. ... The Panthers moved up one spot to No. 16 in The Associated Press poll. ... The Big East player of the year, rookie of the year and coach of the year will be announced at 5:30 p.m. today in Madison Square Garden.
• USF vs. DePaul, noon. TV: ESPN2.
• St. John's vs. UConn, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN2.
• Seton Hall vs. Providence, 7 p.m. TV: ESPNU.
• Cincinnati vs. Rutgers, 9 p.m. TV: ESPNU.
Join Ray Fittipaldo for a chat on the Big East tournament at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at post-gazette.com.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published March 9, 2010 5:00 AM