Business first for Pitt, but trip to Bahamas gets smiles

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At Pitt’s basketball practice Tuesday, an intrasquad scrimmage went to triple overtime after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the score, a controversial foul on a 3-point attempt with no time on the clock and finally a last-second Cameron Wright lay-in for the win. That’s about as exciting as basketball gets in July.

The Panthers, however, signed up for a bit more excitement in August.

The team will spend Aug. 1-7 in the Bahamas playing four games against local teams. And while the team is there on business, that doesn’t mean the players can’t enjoy their stay.

“This is going to be my first time out of the country, so I’m just taking the whole experience in,” sophomore forward Michael Young said. “Most of us haven’t been outside the country.”

That doesn’t include senior guard Wright, who noted what he was anticipating the most.

“I get another stamp on my passport,” he said, with a laugh.

Sophomore transfer Sheldon Jeter smiled when discussing the anticipation for the trip.

“It’s exciting. We get to go to the Bahamas,” he said. “It’s not an everyday experience. It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to all summer.”

Jeter said it isn’t the basketball aspect he is looking forward to the most.

“Probably just relaxing, getting the chance to enjoy the beaches, the women down there and all that. It’s nice that we get to play basketball down there, but I’m looking forward to a vacation probably a little bit more than I am the basketball,” he said.

The seven-day trip will allow the team a chance to become closer in an off-campus setting —not that they need that opportunity.

“We bond every day,” Wright said. “We’re always at each other’s houses anyway. On this campus [there are] 35,000 people, and 15 of us. We’re always together. I guess we’re like a fraternity.”

Said Young: “We’re pretty close right now. We’re a pretty close-knit teams as is. I don’t think a team could get any closer than we are right now. Everybody is cool with everybody.”

Although the team is already close, the trip will give them an additional opportunity to welcome first-year players on and off the court.

Tuesday, coach Jamie Dixon hounded the newcomers, specifically local freshmen Cameron Johnson and Ryan Luther. Both are naturally soft-spoken and struggled with communication and holding their own against stronger, experienced teammates.

“You’re going to have to speak in college,” Dixon told a quiet Luther at one point.

But those two showed promise. After being scolded for getting stripped of the ball earlier in the practice, Luther responded, pickpocketing Josh Newkirk in the backcourt and slamming down a powerful one-handed dunk. The Bahamas trip could be an appropriate time for the freshmen to gain some confidence and learn from the veterans.

“I’m excited to play [with] these guys,” Wright said. “Especially the newcomers … getting their feet wet and being ready for the season.”

No doubt the live action and more practice time will be helpful, but Dixon explained that much of the progress can be lost in the break between summer practice and the fall.

“Once we get them back, we’re almost starting over in a lot of ways,” Dixon said.

To Dixon, the most important aspect of the extra summer work and the trip to the Bahamas is for the coaches to evaluate where the players stand in relation to the rest of the team.

First-year Panther Jeter noted another advantage of the trip.

“I have good relationships with all of [my teammates],” he said. “But I hope after we come back from the Bahamas, I have great relationships, excellent relationships, with them.”

Hayes Gardner: and Twitter @HayesGardner.

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