The Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am summer league in Green Tree has been a great addition to the annual sports calendar in Pittsburgh because it gives fans an opportunity to see the top local Division I players and some professionals compete in what amounts to organized pickup games.
But for the players, it brings them together and lets them become familiar with each other on and off the court. That has helped raised the intensity level of some of the local rivalry games between colleges in the city and those within the NCAA-mandated limit of 100 miles from Green Tree that participate in the league.
That's why the game today between Pitt (9-0) and Youngstown State (7-4) at Petersen Events Center should have a little extra spice to it than a normal non-conference matchup. The players from the two teams have gotten to know each other and have competed with each other in the summer.
Pitt guard Cameron Wright said Thursday that familiarity will make for an interesting game because the Panthers aren't competing against a bunch of nameless, faceless players on a scouting report, but against some guys they refer to as friends.
"I know a few of those guys dating back to the summer league," Wright said. "So I know they have pretty good guards. [Kendrick] Perry is averaging a lot of points for them, he is a workaholic. In the summer league he was really aggressive, a very athletic guard. He was a tough guard in summer league and I have a lot of respect for his game.
"Youngstown State will be a very good team for us to play."
Perry is indeed going to be a handful for the Panthers as he is averaging 20.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He is one of the most talented players they will face this season.
Perry is a good shooter but he also can get to the basket, is very athletic and jumps extremely well, so though he is only 6 feet, he plays much bigger.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that because the Panthers have had an opportunity to at least see Perry, if not play with or against him, in the summer league, there is an advantage -- but he added that the style of play in the summer doesn't always translate to the regular season.
"I think there is a benefit, when we were watching personnel packages and highlights of him they already know how athletic he is," Dixon said. "So that is something we don't have to explain to them, how explosive he is. I think that the main thing is we don't have to explain he is a really good player.
"He was the preseason Horizon League player of the year. They may not have known that, but seeing him play in the summer gives them a little better idea of how good he is, so they are very familiar with him."
Dixon said that since Youngstown State players joined the summer league a few years back, it has been a nice way to keep tabs on a team that is a natural rival for Pitt geographically.
He said that even he didn't realize how close Youngstown is until he looked into the summer league and organizers tried to determine which schools were within the radius to be eligible to participate.
"We thought they would be at the top of their league this year and we try to play the best teams possible in these one-and-done games," Dixon said. "This also allows them to have a shorter trip and do what they need to do with their scheduling, so it is good for them. And we know them, we know their program and they have done a good job in a tough league."
Although the Penguins have four losses, Dixon pointed out that they are not a team that will hurt the Panthers' strength of schedule because they were in the top 10 in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) for the first few weeks of the season and likely will finish in the top 100 depending on how they do in their league.
Dixon said he doesn't expect much of a drop-off from the Penguins because they have the one ingredient he believes every successful team needs -- great guards.
"When you play teams who you think are going to be at the top of their leagues, they are generally going to have experienced guards," Dixon said. "We're talking about senior guards, senior point guards, specifically. If you look at teams that are good, teams that make a jump, it is usually because they have experienced senior guards."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise.