North Xtra: Luther preparing for 'leap' to Pitt

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Were it not for his 6-foot-9, 215-pound frame, one might confuse Pitt freshman Ryan Luther for a child. That is, until he starts playing basketball.

As this baby-faced 18 year old finishes reverse layups and knocks down jump shots with ease at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Summer League, it becomes more and more apparent that he is not a child -- far from it.

Competing on the same court with veteran college players, professionals competing overseas, and even a few past their professional career, Luther, a recent graduate of Hampton High School, looks right at home.

After a legendary career at Hampton where he set the school career scoring record with 1,968 points and was a two-time Post-Gazette Fabulous Five honoree, Luther is one of three local players preparing for their first season at Pitt. The other two are Sheldon Jeter of Beaver Falls and Cameron Johnson of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

"I've been a Pitt basketball and football fan pretty much since I was little, so it's pretty cool playing for them now," he said after a Pro-Am game earlier this month.

Through five summer league games, Luther was averaging 14.6 points and seven rebounds while adjusting to the college game along the way.

Luther and his twin brother, Collin, who also will be playing college basketball this season at Elon, a mid-major program located in North Carolina, led Hampton to three consecutive WPIAL runner-up finishes, one in Class AAA and two in AAAA. But Luther is well aware that Division I college basketball will be quite the step up from the WPIAL.

"Getting acclimated to college and playing with D-I college athletes is a lot different from high school, so that's really my main focus right now," he said. "High school practices, no offense, they're not even comparable to college practices. So that's what I'm really trying to get down and get in shape for."

He's not totally unfamiliar to the college game, however. His older brother, Bill, played for Division II University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown and graduated this past season. Bill gave his younger brother some advice during his decision-making process.

"[Bill] would always text [me] and when he was home, we would talk a lot about it," Luther said. "Every once in awhile he would give me a call. So he was definitely one of the people I would really look to in deciding."

The decision-making process wasn't a no-brainer for Luther. Before Pitt expressed serious interest later in the process, he entertained interest from several other Division I schools.

"I don't think there was a single open gym [in the fall] that there weren't some coaches from various schools there to court him," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said.

Lafko noted that the two largest differences players going from high school to college must adjust to are the increased speed of the game and size of the players. A four-year starter at Hampton, Luther won't be able to rely quite as heavily on his size against Atlantic Coast Conference competition.

"Just playing low and obviously getting stronger in the weight room are my main priorities," Luther said. "And learning the system and how to play against guys who are all just as big or just as athletic as you, even moreso."

Of team practices, Luther noticed the level of intensity in relation to what he is used to. The Pro-Am League and team practices are teaching him valuable lessons about the competitiveness of the college game.

"There are no breaks. If you take a rest, then your guy scores. If you do anything, you're going to get exploited," he said. "You can do that in high school and get away with it, but not in college."

Hayes Gardner: and Twitter: @HayesGardner.

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