Wednesday, November 12, 2008

King Of New York

“From now on, nothing goes down unless I'm involved. No blackjack no dope deals, no nothing. A nickel bag gets sold in the park, I want in. You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street…It’s my turn.” - Frank White (King of New York)

Frank: Come to the Plaza Hotel, I’ve got work for you. Ask for Frank White.

Jamie: Come to the Peterson Events Center, I’ve got work for you. We own a 96-10 record and .906 winning percentage there.

Like the legendary, fictional gangster Frank White, the main character in the 1990 thriller 'King of New York', Jamie Dixon has a penchant for reeling in some of New York’s toughest young guns, who instantly go to work under his tutelage.

In the past, he’s bred players like Carl Krauser, a player who etched his name in New York streetball lure and made waves on the AAU circuit, playing for the Broncos. Last season, Dixon boasted an All-New York backcourt with Brooklyn’s Levance Fields, outside sniper Ronald Ramon (Bronx) and Keith Benjamin (Mount Vernon). All the king’s men fought for Dixon’s crown in March, turning in a titanic, Godzilla-slaying 74-65 triumph over Roy Hibbert and Georgetown in the Big East Tournament Championship game on Dixon's home away from home: Madison Square Garden.

For the better portion of a decade, as head coach and assistant at Pitt, Dixon has sold top-flight recruits on a basketball culture, a top-of-the-line education, a New York pipeline, a chance to play before the bright, brimming Madison Square Garden in March and likely odds of a ticket to the NCAA tournament. This season, however, Dixon’s street nemesis’ Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, and Norm Roberts, amongst several others who are getting heavy in the New York recruiting game, are looking to outclass and dethrone the King of New York.

“We’re going to try to recruit the best kids in New York no matter what. We’re always going to try to,” said Roberts, who already secured 2009 guard and local product Omari Lawrence. For Dixon, or should I say White, the point guard dilemma may be a real test of his street credit. Fields, who had a storied career at Xaverian, the alma mater of former Pitt standout Chris Taft, is sidelined for an unknown period of time.

“We’ve got (freshman Ashton Gibbs) playing the point guard right now and we have walk-on Ryan Tiesi playing point guard for us right now."

Freshman guard Travon Woodall, a 5-foot-11 Brooklyn-bred guard, is currently out with a concussion.When asked about how the point guard situation has worked so far, Dixon responded with a Frank-like one-liner.

“They’ve got as much experience as you have, playing in our system,” he said to me.

“So, it’s not ideal but nobody’s feeling sorry for us. You give it the best you can…they’re playing hard and getting better.”The next area the 'King of New York' looks to be branching into is New Jersey. With an out of conference tournament appearance lined up for the Prudential Center in Newark and some Jersey recruits lined up, it looks like the King is branching out...but, he will not forget where he came from, afterall, Pittsburgh won 6x more games in Madison Square Garden last season than St. John's did (6 to 1).

Sam Young, who had a solid summer, honing his skills at the Lebron James Skills Academy, will play the starring role.

The defending conference champions return their version of earth, wind, and fire. Fields, DeJuan Blair, and scoring machine Sam Young, all vital cogs in last year’s offensive scheme, are back. While the Panthers will miss the three-point sniping antics of Ronald Ramon, freshmen Jermaine Dixon and Travon Woodall (who was nicked up a bit in the pre-season) could make an immediate impact in the injury-depeleted backcourt. Gilbert Brown, a versatile wing, could also see some time in the backcourt given Pitt’s dearth of experienced guards.

The Panthers’ season opens up this Friday, as they host Farleigh Dickinson of the Northeast Conference at 7 PM.