Bob Smizik: A look at players who have left Pitt

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Checking up on the players who have left the Pitt program the past few years -- and why:

Khem Birch, a 6-9 forward, walked out on Pitt 10 games into his freshman season and transferred to UNLV, where he’s having an excellent year -- 11.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. He is second on his team in points and rebounds and first, and among the national leaders, in blocks.

Why did he leave? That’s never been fully explained, but it has been made known he was not happy with his situation. In an interview with The Fan, he said, “I felt like, just coming in as an All-American, they [his teammates] didn't try to embrace me or anything. I think some felt threatened.”

He also complained to CBSSports.com about having to play center instead of his preferred power forward. Pitt’s power forward was Nasir Robinson, a three-year regular.

The notion put forth by some that coach Jamie Dixon should have catered to Birch is ridiculous. Dixon had built a strong national program and he didn’t do that by catering to any player, let alone a freshman. What’s more, Birch was starting at center.

Maybe the fact Birch attended three high schools had something to do with why he transferred. Maybe Birch was one of the many who was treated like royalty on the AAU circuit and could not deal with being treat "fairly" in the college basketball system.

J.J. Moore, a 6-6 forward, did the unusual and transferred with one year of eligibility remaining. He opted for Rutgers and was granted a waiver to play immediately instead of having to sit out a year. He is averaging 11.1 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights, who are 11-20.

Moore showed flashes of excellence at Pitt. He was very athletic and some felt, apparently Moore himself, he should get more opportunity. At Rutgers he is playing 26.2 minutes per game, a 40 percent increase from 18.6 at Pitt. His scoring has increased 39 percent.

So given his chance, Moore has done pretty much what he did at Pitt while playing on a weaker team in a lesser league.

John Johnson, a 6-1 guard, transferred to Penn State (15-15) where he is averaging 7.3 points in 20 minutes of playing time. He transferred because it did not look like he would be a regular in the Pitt rotation. In 2011-12 at Pitt, he averaged 4.2 points.

Malcolm Gilbert, a 6-11 center, transferred to Fairfield (7-25), reportedly to play with his brother. In 10.2 minutes, he is averaging 2.5 points.

Dixon also has been criticized for not recruiting three local players: T.J. McConnell, now a starter for national power Arizona; DeAndre Kane, a standout at Iowa State and Micah Mason, who leads the nation in 3-point shooting at Duquesne.

In the case of McConnell, he announced for Duquesne early in his high school career. Pitt could have recruited him, but there was no indication he would be the player he has become.

Kane, who was a teammate at Schenley of DeJuan Blair, had a long list of problem, as detailed in a Sports Illustrated story, and it was more than understandable Dixon wanted no part of him.

Mason initially went to Drake. He was not recruited by any high Division I schools. It’s possible he could shoot as well at Pitt as he has at Duquesne, and it’s possible he could not.


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