Pitt Basketball: 'Elite' recruits not always the best

Jamie Dixon always downplayed the significance of recruiting McDonald's All-Americans to his team. Dixon won an average of 27 games per season in his first six years as Pitt's head coach without one.

Other well-respected coaches have held the same view. In fall 2006, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim spoke to the Post-Gazette about how overrated landing McDonald's All-Americans can be.

At the time, he had recruited only six to Syracuse in his 30 seasons as the head coach and pointed out that Maryland won a national championship in 2002 without one on its roster.

"Half of the McDonald's All-Americans aren't even good players," Boeheim said. "At least half."

Boeheim's thoughts are relevant again to Pitt three years later.

It was big news when Dixon's first McDonald's All-American recruit, 6-foot-9 forward Dante Taylor, made his way to Pitt this fall. The school had not landed an All-American since Brian Shorter and Bobby Martin in 1987, and fans were salivating at the thought of one of the country's premier players becoming a Panther.

But through the first 11 games of his freshman season, Taylor has not looked the part of a heralded recruit. He is playing backup center behind junior Gary McGhee and is averaging a modest 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

Taylor's production has been inconsistent and has been decreasing as the season has progressed. After reaching double figures twice in the first three games, he has scored in double figures just once in the past eight games.

Taylor has made two baskets and contributed six points in the past two games. Only once has he made more than one field goal in a game in the past five contests.

Against Mount Saint Mary's on Saturday, Taylor was 1 for 3 from the field and scored two points with two rebounds in 15 minutes. That performance came on the heels of a four-point, two-rebound game against Kent State.

By comparison, DeJuan Blair averaged 12 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in the first 11 games of his college career in 2007. Blair had reached double figures eight times in his first 11 games and registered five double-doubles en route to Big East rookie of the year honors. Taylor has yet to register a double-double.

Perhaps Pitt fans have been spoiled by the success of Blair and other highly touted freshman post players such as Chris Taft.

Taft also made an immediate impact at Pitt in his freshman season in 2003-04 when he averaged 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and also earned Big East rookie of the year honors.

Blair and Taft were highly regarded recruits, but neither made the McDonald's All-American team, which lends credence to Boeheim's belief that many McDonald's All-Americans are overhyped.

It also might be true that Blair and Taft were exceptions to the rule. Dixon often preaches about how forwards and centers take more time to develop than guards. Dixon does not need to look far for some facts to back up his theory.

Taylor is about average when compared to the other forwards and centers who played in the McDonald's All-American Game in the spring.

Of the 11 forwards and centers that played in the 2009 McDonald's All-American Game, only four players are averaging more points and more rebounds per game than Taylor.

The best of the freshmen post players is Damarcus Cousins from Kentucky. Cousins is averaging 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for the Wildcats. He is followed closely by Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors (13.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Oklahoma's Keith Gallon (11.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Connecticut's Alex Oriakhi (5.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg).

Other McDonald's All-Americans lagging slightly behind Taylor are: Clemson's Milton Jennings (4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Duke's Ryan Kelly (3.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Kansas State's Wally Judge (4.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and North Carolina's John Henson (3.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg), David Wear (2.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg) and Travis Wear (3.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg).

According to Boeheim, half of the aforementioned players won't pan out. It's too early to tell whether Taylor will be one of them, but it is abundantly clear here and in places such as North Carolina and Duke that can't-miss prospects don't always have immediate success.

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published December 21, 2009 5:00 AM


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