Cook: Pitt's biggest need is better recruits
Share with others:
Two things became painfully obvious as Louisville put on a display of athleticism the other night that Pitt couldn't come close to matching.
Well, one is painful, anyway.
Jamie Dixon is a terrific coach. That's a good thing. Saying that about Dixon after a game in which Pitt didn't appear prepared for Louisville's full-court pressure defense and was waxed in a 66-53 home loss might seem strange, but -- trust me -- it's justified. You'll see that in a moment. And it goes beyond Dixon's astonishing 98-26 record.
Now, the hurtful part:
Pitt needs to get better players, quicker players, more athletic players.
Simply, a higher caliber of recruits.
No, that's not an overreaction to one bad loss in a very long season.
That's also no knock against the current players. They make for an excellent team in the best sense of the word, team. They are 22-4. They remain in first place in the Big East Conference. They are the best team of the Ben Howland-Dixon era. (No less than a couple of Hall of Fame coaches -- Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun -- have said that.) They have a chance of going deep -- past the first, second and even third rounds -- in the NCAA tournament if the matchups are right.
Still, it's a little harder to believe in Pitt after that loss to Louisville.
It wasn't so much the 16 first-half turnovers against the Louisville press. Dixon solved that problem in the second half, and there should be no carryover to the game today against Washington at the Petersen Events Center. Washington can press all afternoon, and Pitt should be able to handle it.
It also wasn't the 3-for-21 3-point shooting night against Louisville that was troubling. Bad shooting games happen to the best of teams. Pitt almost certainly won't go 3 for 21 again.
What was worrisome was the way Pitt -- a team known for its tough man-to-man defense -- couldn't stop Louisville's offense. The Louisville players were too quick. It seemed as if every Pitt player was a step slow.
That's where the more athletic recruits come in.
For whatever reasons, Dixon has not been able to sign the bluest of the blue-chip high-school players. That won't change for at least another year. Dixon called the five players he has signed for next season "by far the best class we've had," which might be true. But the dot.com people who rank recruits don't seem to be as impressed. DeJuan Blair of Schenley High School is the highest rated player of the group, No. 44 in one service, though No. 127 in another.
Wouldn't you love to see Pitt get a top-10 player just one time?
It's a tribute to Dixon's coaching that Pitt has won so much with lesser players. His guys buy into his team-first, defense-first system. Pitt competes for the Big East championships -- regular-season and tournament -- every year. It has gone to three consecutive NCAA tournaments under him and is headed to a fourth this spring, though it wobbled and fell relatively early each time it met a team with more athletic players or NBA-bound players.
You would think that success would lure a top recruit. Pitt has so much to offer. It is a power in a big-time conference. It plays on national television seemingly every other night. It plays its home games in a fabulous facility in front of sellout crowds.
So why can't Dixon get a coveted recruit or two?
Maybe Pitt's no-star system is a turnoff to the top players. More likely, it's that Dixon has sent only one player to the NBA -- Chris Taft -- who played in just 17 games last season with the Golden State Warriors before dropping out of the league with back trouble. Aaron Gray, a 7-foot senior on this year's team, should be a No. 1 draft pick in June and become the second Dixon player to make it in the NBA. That's important. Top recruits don't just want to win college championships. They want to go where they have their best shot at turning pro and making the big money.
Dixon rightfully takes great pride in winning with recruits who aren't highly ranked. He's likely most proud that a Pitt player has won the Big East's most improved player award four times in the past seven years. That's another reflection of superb coaching.
But wouldn't it be nice to see what Dixon could do with that top-10 recruit? A player who might only stay for a season or two before leaving for the NBA?
Here are a few better questions:
Isn't that the type of player Pitt has to get to become a truly elite program?
To have its best chance of making a Final Four?
To actually take a run at a national championship?
First Published February 17, 2007 12:00 am