Pittsburgh Basketball: Early Wish List for Class of 2015 Prospects
One of the things that has kept Pitt relevant in college basketball for a new generation amid a transition to a new conference is the business it has conducted on the recruiting trail. Head coach Jamie Dixon has surrounded himself with good people over the years and is never shy about setting the bar high, even if he ultimately doesn't get the blue-chipper(s) fans want.
In the past, Dixon has built a Panther pipeline from New York to Pittsburgh which has served the program exceptionally well. However, the move to the ACC has made him expand his horizons beyond the Mason-Dixon Line; four Maryland natives are listed on his 2014-15 roster, most notably three-year starter James Robinson.
Furthermore, Dixon is now paying unprecedented attention to his own backyard. Erstwhile Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) stars Sheldon Jeter, Cameron Johnson and Ryan Luther join the Panthers this season.
So where would they like to go from here? Let's take a look at a few players they'll see along the 2015 recruiting trail who might look good in a blue-and-gold uniform.
Cheick Diallo (Our Savior New American School, Centereach, NY)
With Joseph Uchebo entering his first year as something other than a garbage-time player and only one more natural center on their roster, there's some uncertainty at the 5 for the Panthers right now.
Cheick Diallo has seen a lot of hats thrown into his ring, but Jamie Dixon is holding out hope the young man will don a Pitt ball cap when it's all over.
Diallo (6'9", 210 lbs), the No. 3 center in the country and No. 7 overall Class of '15 prospect according to Panther Digest, also has offers from ACC rivals Syracuse and Miami and from national powers like Arizona, Kansas and Florida.
247Sports pegs Pitt as a long shot to land Diallo and puts the odds in favor of the Jayhawks. Another front-runner they list is Kentucky, which would set up an interesting recruiting battle between former Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen and his old employer.
"Diallo is very quick off the floor and possesses superb timing for blocks and rebounds," Panther Digest reports. "His next step is to improve his offensive refinement."
A prospect who can help Pitt dominate off the glass even more than usual but could use a little fine-tuning offensively sounds like the perfect project for Dixon.
Legend Robertin (Believe Prep, London, UK)
Regarding the center position, a smart coach like Dixon is never without a Plan B—or C or D or even Q, if necessary. He's already added one JUCO center, Tyrone Haughton of Iowa Western Community College, to his 2014-15 roster.
If Cheick Diallo doesn't pan out, it sounds like Dixon would be amenable to adding Legend Robertin, another JUCO center, to his 2015 recruiting class.
As Panther-Lair.com basketball analyst Matt Steinbrink reports (subscription required), the 7-foot, 225-pound Robertin has attracted attention from Pitt since his earliest days at Chipola Junior College. It is one of the handful of schools Robertin is considering, along with ACC rival Florida State and SEC brethren Florida, Mississippi and Alabama. As of publication, none have extended offers.
Once again, this is one of the things Dixon does best: seeing potential in a player that few others do and finding a way to turn that potential into productivity.
"His combination of size and athleticism is unbelievable. He runs the floor really well and impacts the game on both ends," Chipola head coach Patrick Blake told Steinbrink. "Defensively, he is right where he needs to be. Offensively, he still needs to develop and catch up. Legend is a hard worker that is coming along nicely."
Furthermore, Dixon has already put one overseas prospect, New Zealand prodigy Steven Adams, on a path to stardom as an NBA center. He was willing to take a chance on Dutch center Shaquille Doorson before that fell through.
Could London native Robertin be good enough under Dixon's watch follow in Adams' footsteps?
Davon Dillard (La Lumiere School, La Porte, IN)
Even after the graduation of Lamar Patterson, Jamie Dixon still has an interesting group of forwards with which to work this season. Still, as last season's injury to Durand Johnson demonstrated, one can never have too much depth on the wing.
Rivals tabs Davon Dillard (6'6", 215 lbs) as the No. 131 overall prospect nationally in the Class of 2015. He averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game in a fabulous junior season at Thea Bowman Academy (Gary, Indiana).
Dillard already had offers from California, Iowa, Providence and Purdue when the Panthers joined the pack this summer. As Panther-Lair.com basketball analyst Matt Steinbrink points out (subscription required), this is where Dixon's revamped coaching staff could make a world of difference.
New Pitt assistant Marlon Williamson has strong ties to the world of AAU hoops. He scouted Mac Irvin Fire, Dillard's AAU team, when he worked at Massachusetts.
"My game is above the rim," Dillard told Steinbrink. "I go hard to the basket and I'm great at running the floor. I rebound well and can defend a couple of positions."
He can also play a couple of positions; Dillard, a small forward, has also lined up as a shooting guard. Once again, sometimes it's better to have that kind of versatile talent and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Georgios Papagiannis (Westtown School, West Chester, PA)
Say goodbye to the Thunder from Down Under that was Steven Adams, and say hello to a Greek god.
Born in Peristeri, Greece, Georgios Papagiannis (7'1", 250 lbs.) is the No. 33 overall prospect in the country, per 247Sports'composite rankings. Or at least he was.
Although Penn State, Temple, Rutgers and Maryland joined Pitt in offering him, he decided to sign with Panathinaikos, one of the top professional teams in Greece, at the beginning of the summer. Even though he could maintain NCAA eligibility, as noted by Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports, it's more likely Papagiannis will play overseas a couple years then go straight to the NBA.
At this point, the best thing the Panthers can wish for is a change of heart. That's unfortunate, because he projects as the kind of impact player Adams was thought to be.
"Papagiannis is a massive center with sure hands and the potential to develop into an NBA-caliber player over the next several years," Panther Digest reports. "He doesn't change ends of the court well enough to keep pace with the elite athletes, but when he's in the play he makes good things happen."
Damon Wilson (Our Savior New American School, Centereach, NY)
This one isn't quite as complicated. Wilson has already committed to Pitt, the first Class of '15 prospect to do so. What Pitt hopes is that signing him helps lure his aforementioned teammate, center Cheick Diallo.
In the meantime, Wilson, a 6'4", 170-pound shooting guard from Powder Springs, Georgia will give the Panthers' backcourt a little more offensive bang for their buck in the future if he can round out his game in due time.
"He handles and passes very well for a 6'4" wing and has above-average athleticism as well," Panther Digest reports. "His priorities must be to gain weight and to improve his jump shot, which is highly inconsistent."
Nevertheless, he is regarded as one of the top high school players in the state of New York, not to mention No. 22 in America at his position, according to 247Sports.
Obviously, Pitt wishes Wilson continues to develop, but above all it wishes Wilson honors his commitment. The program's future backcourt took a possible hit when a highly touted verbal commit, Class of 2016 guard Maverick Rowan, recently announced he would not return to WPIAL power Lincoln Park for his junior season.
Despite transferring to Cardinal Gibbons High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), Rowan is still committed to Pitt, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scholastic sports editor Mike White reported. But Pitt, as it hopes for the best (Wilson and Rowan bolstering the program for years to come), must be prepared for the worst (banking on Wilson alone).
Expect Jamie Dixon to pursue players he thinks will best fit the program, not just the headline-grabbers. That's not to say Pitt couldn't use a couple headline-grabbers to keep up with traditional ACC pacesetters like Duke and North Carolina.
Dixon devoted his resources to finding the type of players he would need to win consistently in the Big East. As a result, over time the Panthers became a physically tougher team to play against.
Now he's trying to devote his resources to finding the type of players he needs to win in a different league. As a result, the Panthers need to add skill to that toughness.
In other words, Pitt needs what all championship teams have: balance. Getting Wilson from New York is a good start. But Dixon needs to continue planting seeds in parts of the country that can help this team grow offensively.
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