Former Pitt assistant leads IUP against Panthers

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Joe Lombardi is busy building his own program at IUP these days. But from 2003-06, Lombardi was an assistant coach under Jamie Dixon, helping the Panthers to a 76-22 record and three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.


Today
  • Game: Pitt vs. IUP in exhibition.
  • When: 5 p.m.
  • Where: Petersen Events Center.
  • Left: Joe Lombardi.

Lombardi will return to Pitt today when IUP visits the Petersen Events Center for an exhibition game, and Lombardi's fingerprints will be all over the Panthers he will be competing against.

Lombardi was the main recruiter for Pitt starters Sam Young and Mike Cook and reserve Gilbert Brown. He also spent hours of practice coaching many others on the team, including Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs.

"I spent a lot of time coaching those players, so it's going to be kind of neat to come back and watch them," Lombardi said. "I've always looked at recruiting as a team effort. With a lot of these kids, it's how they develop. My job is to identify the players. But we wouldn't have gotten them without Jamie Dixon, Barry Rohrssen or Orlando Antigua or Pat Sandle. I take pride in those kids that are over there. But Gilbert wouldn't be playing as well as he is this year if it wasn't for the people who are on the staff now. It's great how they've developed."

Off a recommendation from Lombardi Pitt was the first major Division I school to offer Young a scholarship in 2004. That worked to Pitt's advantage when Young became better known in recruiting circles and received offers from Georgetown and Maryland, two schools closer to his Maryland home. Young had an affinity for Lombardi and Pitt because they were the first to identify him, and he rewarded them by signing with Pitt.

Brown was a consensus top 100 recruit, and Lombardi, through his Philadelphia connections, got the inside track on Cook after he decided to transfer from East Carolina.

Lombardi left Pitt to take the IUP job in the spring of 2006, and he is in the process of putting his stamp on the Crimson Hawks.

Lombardi took over at IUP during an NCAA investigation into improprieties by former coach Gary Edwards. IUP imposed sanctions on itself last season, and the NCAA ruled last week that no other sanctions would be handed down if IUP does not commit more infractions in a two-year period, a relief to Lombardi who struggled through his first season en route to a 6-21 record.

Without the top six scorers from Edwards' final season -- some of whom exhausted their eligibility and others who did not return to the program -- Lombardi was left with a young and inexperienced squad that took its lumps.

"Because of the coaching situation, there was no recruiting done to that point when I took over," Lombardi said. "The cupboard was bare. And because of the NCAA investigation going on, there were some limitations involved in moving the program forward. It was a matter of surviving the first year. Now I can look to building a program here."

IUP could take its lumps again this season, but Lombardi is stockpiling younger players who have potential to lift the program in future years. Sophomore forward Gerald Brooks of Schenley High School was the PSAC rookie of the year last season and made second-team all-conference. Lombardi will start two more freshmen again this season.

"I knew when I took the job that the first year or two would be a major struggle," Lombardi said. "But they've had some great seasons in the past and I believe we can get back to that."



NOTE -- This is a big recruiting weekend for Pitt. Among the players on campus this weekend is Kevin Jones, a 6-foot-7 forward from Mount Vernon High School. Jones is rated as the No. 79 recruit in the nation by Rivals.com. Jones has already visited Ohio State, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Indiana.


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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