Pitt basketball ready for six Ireland games

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Talk about hitting the ground running. Pitt's freshman basketball class won't have to worry about a baptism by fire when preseason practice in October rolls around.

J.J. Moore and Cameron Wright have been experiencing firsthand what Division I practices look and feel like for more than a month now as the Panthers prepared for their foreign competition trip to Ireland.

In a sport where participants always try to gain an edge, getting an early look at freshmen in June and July instead of October has been quite beneficial for coach Jamie Dixon.

In previous years, Dixon and his peers would not have been able to put freshmen through a practice until the second week of October.

But with the adoption of a new NCAA rule, which went into effect this summer, Dixon has been able to see Moore and Wright up close since the last week of June.

Under NCAA guidelines, Pitt was allowed to practice 10 times before departing for Ireland, and the final workout took place Thursday morning at the Petersen Events Center.

Afterward, the team flew to Philadelphia and then on to Dublin, where it was expected to land this morning. The first of six games in three cities is Saturday against the Irish national team in Cork.

"We're going over there more for the freshmen," Dixon said. "More and more teams will be doing it with the new freshman rule."

Until this year, teams could take foreign competition tours, but incoming freshmen could not participate. As a result, teams did not always take advantage of the NCAA rules that allow a foreign trip once every four years.

Dixon predicts that will change now.

He said he spoke Thursday with Florida coach Billy Donovan, and Donovan wanted details about the trip to Ireland because he wants to take the Gators next summer.

"We got a lot out of it already with the practices," Dixon said. "For returning guys it was good. But even more so for the new guys and for Lamar [Patterson] and Talib [Zanna], the guys who redshirted.

"You can see their growth. You'll have the experience of the travel. You gain some things doing things together."

Moore was a highly ranked recruit who likely will be a part of the rotation when the regular season begins in November. For a player in his position the past month was invaluable.

"I'm going to feel more comfortable [in the fall] because we had 10 practices this summer," said Moore, a 6-foot-5 small forward. "I'm getting a feel for the game, for the team, the players, our practices, the plays and how we work it.

"It's a really big help. In any other year, I would just come in as a new freshman and not know anything at all. It's good to get a sense and feel for everything."

For the upperclassmen, Dixon used the 10 practices to stress shooting, ballhandling and conditioning.

Now comes the fun part for the players -- the games.

Pitt will play a mixture of national teams, club teams and professional teams during the six-game Ireland tour.

Senior guard Brad Wanamaker is looking forward to the international competition.

"I'm anxious to play," Wanamaker said. "I can't wait. Guys are learning their roles. We're becoming better as a team, bonding together. Guys are getting their confidence and getting ready for the season. I think it will help a lot.

"We know what we have to improve on, what and what not to do. I think it will be a big plus for us."

Dixon did not reveal a starting lineup for his team's opener against the Irish national team, nor did he divulge much about how he plans to rotate players. But most coaches use foreign trips as a way to experiment with lineups and different combinations.

Dixon said he has kept the game plans simple for the freshmen and redshirt freshmen who were not exposed to Pitt's wide array of plays last season.

"We only have a few sets in," Dixon said. "I'm really keeping it simple as far as plays. I didn't want to put too many in. I learned that from USA Basketball. When you only have a short amount of time, you're not going to get your whole package in."

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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