“There are no negatives when your players are going to the NBA. It doesn’t matter if they go as seniors or juniors or sophomores.”
- Jamie Dixon
Since Jamie Dixon took over for Ben Howland in 2003, the former child actor has presided over an unprecedented level of success. Since then, Jamie Dixon has won 163 games which is an all-time record for most wins by a coach in his first six seasons.
This past year Pitt topped the AP rankings for the first time in school history and earned a one seed in the NCAA tournament, also a first for the Panthers.
What makes the Jamie Dixon era truly remarkable is that most of the success has come without the help of top-flight recruits. Not a single member of Pitt's record setting squad of 2009 was rated by rivals.com as a top 50 player in his high school graduating class.
While Pitt has been getting it done without the big time recruits to this point, the program has not been intentionally avoiding the big name prospects and, in the past year, recruits are starting to pay more attention to Pitt.
Next season, McDonald's All-American Dante Taylor will suit up for the Pitt Panthers. He is the first All-American to sign with the Panthers in 20 years. Pitt also has a commitment from highly touted point guard Isiah Epps for the class of 2010.
Aside from Maryland in 2002, no team has ever won a national title without a former All-American on the roster. Elite high school stars flock to programs where they can win national titles and go on to the NBA.
And that brings us to Thursday nights draft...
Pitt has yet to have a player drafted in the first round of the NBA draft under Jamie Dixon. This was supposed to change this year with DeJuan Blair and Sam Young projected to go early by most draft experts.
Neither player did.
Despite the fact that DeJuan Blair proved to be the best college rebounder of the decade who also doubled as the toughest SOB in the toughest conference in America, teams balked at his size and his knees. Neither his size nor his knees had caused Blair any problems until draft night.
Despite the fact that Sam Young is an NBA-ready scorer who always found a way to elevate his game when the stakes were the highest, teams could not get past the fact that at age 24 he may have already reached his potential. For some reason, being a sure thing worked against Young.
While Pitt has done a great job winning basketball games without top flight high school players, one could be reasonably skeptical that there is only so long Jamie Dixon can maintain that success without raising the standard of recruiting.
In order for Pitt to raise that standard, they need to put players in the NBA. If DeJuan Blair and Sam Young can make their respective NBA rosters out of camp and stick for a few seasons than its a win for Pitt.
If Dante Taylor can live up to the hype and end up as the first Panther to go in the first round of the draft under Dixon, then there will finally be proof that a player can go to Pitt and be a highly touted draft pick.
But until one of those things happens, Jamie Dixon still has to prove to recruits that Pitt is on par with the other elite programs. If he doesn't turn out that proof quickly, Pitt's current run of success could end sooner than anyone would like to see.