DeJaun Blair’s rapid ascension to surefire stardom came at the right time for him, the wrong time for Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who’s made his Frank White-like presence recognizable amongst New York area recruits.
While Blair posted eye-opening numbers (15.2 points, 12.3 boards per) and cooked Hasheem Thabeet to the recipe of 23 points and 22 rebounds during one of the best individual performances by a collegiate player last season, the NBA scouts lured in the homegrown product.
Blair—who muted pundits’ popped lips by proving his height (6-foot-7) wouldn’t scare every team who feared he may be a tweener in the L, followed the paper trail to the professional ranks. He leaves a void, albeit it could be quickly filled with this year’s incoming class.
Blair is just one piece of the vaunted triumvirate which also featured LeVance “Mr. Big Shot” Fields and Sam Young, who also bolted for the L.
Fields was a calming influence, a composed, innate floor general who never wilted under pressure. Throughout his stay at Pitt, Fields was a ratchet man who could put teams away from beyond the arc. When the intensity and pressure was ratcheted up a notch, Fields was the answer.
"Even in pickup games, he's always taking the last shot," said Young.
Young, who sprouted into one of the conference's elite scorers and forwards, leaves a legacy. The 24-year-old Maryland native established himself as the fourth leading scorer in program history.
It was the three-headed monster of Blair, Fields, and Young who helped Pitt catapult to their early no.1 ranking. Tyrell Biggs, a jumbo forward, was also a crucial piece to the puzzle. Graduation claimed the big kid from Nanuet, NY.
So, how do the Panthers re-load after a team front-loaded with Big East Beasts had their roster thoroughly cleansed?
The task isn’t as daunting as appears on paper. Especially considering the way Dixon reeled in new blood this off-season.
Dante Taylor, a Greenburgh, NY product who straight killed at powerhouse National Christian Academy (MD), is a highly touted rebounding machine who could help fill the glasswork void left by Blair. The Panthers return Jermaine Dixon (if eligible), who turned it on late in the season, proving he could handle the rock and score.
Ashton Gibbs, who made the Men’s U-19 National Team this summer, is also flushed into a more prominent role. He’s coming off a gold-medal winning performance on the Jamie Dixon-coached team, which should inject some confidence in both of these cats.
Sam Young | 6-6 | Forward
He was a man amongst boys. He was a 24-year-old senior, so the term is both figurative and literal. With a silky-smooth jumper, good life above the rim, and the ability to score the ball in a variety of ways, he was a go-to-guy with an insatiable thirst for victory. Young averaged 19.2 points, 6.3 boards per. He shot the rock at a 50 percent clip.. Need I say more?
DeJuan Blair | 6-7 | Forward
Homegrown product knifed through the teeth of opposing defenses, outmuscled and outworked taller players in the paint. DB’s numbers vaulted him into the top percentile of the nation’s forwards. Despite being undersized, his pure grit and lion’s blood-pumping heart translated into NBA material.
LeVance Fields | 5-10 | Guard
With numbers like 10.7 points and seven assists per, Fields made the most out of his last hurrah in Panther country. But it wasn’t about his pinpoint passing as much as it was his clutch characteristics and chemistry with cornerstones like Young, Blair, Fields, and Biggs.
Tyrell Biggs | 6-8 | Forward
Spare part shot the ball well everywhere except the free throw line and spead the floor with 3-point shooting ability. Biggs came alive in games against Georgetown, DePaul and Providence.
Jermaine Dixon | 6-3 | G | Senior
Dixon came on late in the season and materialized as a scorer. The Panthers will need Juan Dixon’s little bro to be less erratic shooting the ball next season and develop consistency. However, his impact could be delayed as a broken foot could keep him out of action until mid-November. Dixon averaged 8.4 points, two dimes and showed a good grasp of the game as one of the conference’s elite perimeter man defenders. The senior will lead by example this season and look to make his teammates beneficiaries of his presence.
Ashton Gibbs | 6-2 | G | Sophomore
After playing second fiddle to Fields last season, look for Gibbs’ meager-ass numbers(4.3PPG) to spike this season. After a successful summer playing for the U19 National Team, all indications are that Gibbs is ready to move from cast member to a featured guard with the ability to play both roles.
Brad Wanamaker | 6-4 | G | Junior
Solid perimeter presence who could be a candidate for league’s Most Improved Player award if he is the next Panther to take the big step forward as a junior. Pitt folks are anticipating Wanamaker to be flushed into a bigger role immediately. A high basketball IQ, grit, and heart-racing hustle make this Philly product right at home with Pitt.
Gilbert Brown | 6-6 | F | Redshirt Junior
Brown is a freakish athlete who shows flashes of potential and a flair for the game. Dude is strong, skilled, maintains springy-bounce, and he could surface as a top-tier player if he develops some consistency in his game. However, like Dixon, Brown’s arrival in ‘09-10 will be delayed as he has been placed on academic suspension from the University for the fall semester. Brown is eligible to re-join the team December 20th, if re-admitted to the school.
Gary McGhee | 6-10 | C | Junior
Not much playing time for McGhee behind last year’s veteran front line. But this year is different as he is the lone returning big man with experience. There’s been word around the campfire about the strides he has made in his game.
Nasir Robinson | 6-5 | G/F | Sophomore
Tough, athletic and savvy. That is Nasir Robinson. The Chester (PA) product will have the opportunity to fill in for Brown early on.
Dwight Miller | 6-8 | F | Redshirt Freshman
Redshirt freshman from the Bahamas has a chance to win meaningful minutes this season and make an impact. This agile and tenacious boardsmith uses his 230-pound frame to his advantage on the defensive side of the floor. Miller averaged 15.8 points his senior year of high school.
Dante Taylor | 6-8 | F | Freshman
Boardsmith who swallows rebounds like the rest of us do water. McDonald’s All-American is very strong around the basket, where he finishes with flushes, stickbacks, and refined back-to-the bucket moves. Should compete for immediate playing time.
Lamar Patterson | 6-5 | G/F | Freshman
Typical Pitt player who is versatile and makes plays that helps a team win. With the injury to Dixon and suspension of Brown, Patterson could be thrust into service early.