Ron Cook: Sooner than later, Fields will be Pitt's top point guard of new era
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First, there was Brandin Knight.
Ben Howland built the Pitt men's basketball team, Jamie Dixon has made it a national power as coach, but Knight is the player most responsible for the wonderful things happening in the program. He was the first to buy into Howland's way: Tough defense, hard-nosed rebounding and a constant sharing of the ball. Teammates followed as if he were some sort of Pied Piper.
"The smartest player I've ever been around," Dixon said.
Then, there was Carl Krauser.
No Pitt player played harder or wanted to win more. "All Krauser did was beat you," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun often has said. Added Dixon, "He might be the most competitive player we've had here."
Now, there's Levance Fields.
The best of the three.
You might not be able to say that just yet, but you will one day soon.
"I hope so," Knight was saying the other day at the Petersen Events Center.
"I'd love Levance to be able to say he took this team past the Sweet 16, to the Final Four, to, ultimately, winning the national championship."
Maybe this year.
Knight might have been stretching a bit with that national championship business, and he certainly was reaching when he said he wouldn't take any point guard in the country over Fields, just a sophomore. Full-disclosure time: Knight is on Dixon's staff as video coordinator and knows he has to keep peace in the family. That's why he says, "I wouldn't take [Marquette point guard] Dominic James over Levance," even though James is a better player at this point.
But that doesn't mean Fields isn't the most valuable player -- not redoubtable 7-footer Aaron Gray -- on a Pitt team that is 20-3, alone in first place in the Big East Conference, ranked No. 7 in the country and getting ready for the first of its two annual grudge matches with West Virginia tomorrow night in Morgantown.
"Us without Levance would be like the Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning," teammate Antonio Graves said.
"Levance has a feel for the game," Dixon said. "He just knows where guys are. It's a gift."Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Levance Fields, left, showed Connecticut that he brings a new dimension to point-guard role at Pitt with his stellar outside shooting.
Click photo for larger image.
The legacy of point guards since Pitt's resurgence in college basketball.
Former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner used to say something instructive about shortstop Tim Foli's consistency at an important position, a necessary ingredient on any championship team. "He makes the ordinary plays extraordinarily." Dixon says much the same thing about Fields. "He makes the simple passes easy."
Fields takes care of the ball better than Krauser did. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a terrific 2.7-to-1 -- James' is 1.7-to-1, by comparison -- the primary reason Pitt leads the nation in that important category. What will separate him from Knight -- a fine passer and a better defender -- is his shooting ability. Fields has made 46.7 percent of his shots this season, including 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Knight was a 39.9 percent career shooter, 32 percent on 3s.
Fields' shot is unorthodox. He doesn't use his legs as much as most shooters, depending more on his upper body strength. And there's that thing he does with his right elbow. It flails out, almost to the point of being unsightly.
But you know what?
It's amazing how many of Fields' shots go in at crucial points of a game. His 3-point shot with 52 seconds left at Villanova last week gave Pitt a 60-55 lead in what became a sweet, 65-59 road victory.
"He's a point guard first. He looks to get the other guys involved. I like that about him," Knight said. "But teams that scout him know that. I've been telling him he has to be just as aggressive trying to score. He's got to take the shot when it's there."
None of what Fields is doing is unexpected. Pitt's team last season was built around Krauser and Gray, but Fields was just as valuable down the stretch. He averaged 10.2 points in six Big East and NCAA tournament games, a number that would have been higher if not for an inexplicable 0-for-4 shooting, scoreless night in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East championship game. He had his best game of the season in the second-round NCAA tournament loss to Bradley -- 18 points, including 3 of 4 3-point shots.
It was after that game that Krauser called Fields aside.
"This is your team now ..."
"I was ready for that," Fields says now. "I knew the guys were ready to trust me with the ball. They want the ball in my hands in the key spots."
Fields hasn't let the fellas down.
"Our general," Graves called him.
You know, like Peyton Manning.
First Published February 6, 2007 12:00 am