Pitt Basketball: It's all academic now for freshman
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Isaiah Epps was the first member of the 2010 recruiting class to give Pitt coach Jamie Dixon a verbal commitment in January 2009, but he was the final player from the class to arrive on campus Monday, more than two months after fellow freshmen Jonathan Moore and Cameron Wright enrolled.
Epps missed Pitt's summer workouts because he had to fulfill some academic requirements for the NCAA in order to be eligible for the season. Under university privacy rules, Dixon cannot disclose what those requirements were, nor would he reveal where the academic work took place. Epps spoke on Monday, but he refused to answer any questions regarding the academic work that delayed his arrival.
The bottom line for Pitt fans: Epps is eligible for the 2010-11 season.
Epps was absent for several important team activities this summer, most notably the team's foreign tour in Ireland and the 10 practices that came before the trip. Dixon and the rest of the coaching staff had time to evaluate Moore and Wright in circumstances that do not normally happen until mid-October.
Now, the only opportunity for the coaches to see Epps in action is during individual workouts, which begin today.
"I don't feel like I missed out on that much," Epps said. "The coaches will be able to see me play at practice."
At one time, Epps, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard, was one of the highest rated players in the country at his position. In April 2009, he was the No. 8 point guard and the No. 40 overall prospect by Rivals.com.
It was at that time that Epps told the Post-Gazette that he wanted to be "one and done and go straight to the NBA after a year."
A much more humble Epps wanted to clear the air on Monday about those statements.
"I said it was one of my dreams to do that. It was one of my goals. I think it's everyone's goal to do that."
In the past 16 months, when Epps was at Hargrave Military Academy completing his high school education, he fell in the recruiting rankings. In Rivals' final Class of 2010 list, Epps rated as the No. 26 point guard and No. 106 overall.
Epps said he fell in the rankings because of a nagging ankle injury that he played through during his junior season at Plainfield High School in New Jersey.
"A lot of that had to do with me spraining my ankle really bad," Epps said. "I had a really bad sprain and I played on it instead of sitting out and rehabbing it. I probably should not have played on it. That affected me."
Epps rebounded with a solid senior season at Hargrave. He averaged 18 points and six assists in the second half of the season. He was team captain on a team that finished with a 23-1 record while advancing to the national prep school semifinals.
In the semifinal loss to Northfield Mount Hermon, Epps scored 20 points in an 86-83 loss. Epps also said he benefitted from competing every day in practice against Hargrave teammate Lorenzo Brown, who is playing at North Carolina State this season.
"I feel like I learned a lot there," Epps said. "The coaches taught me how to compete."
Epps once appeared to be a player that might be able to help Pitt this season, but that might not happen now after he missed the summer session. With seven of the top eight scorers returning and the team blessed with depth at the guard positions, playing time might be hard to earn.
A redshirt season is a possibility, although Epps said he is not thinking about that now.
"I think all of that depends on how hard I work in practice," he said. "I feel confident. I'm really going to learn a lot this year. I'm going to learn from the other players here and get better."
First Published September 1, 2010 12:00 am