With a new decade now upon us, I want to take the opportunity to look back on the last ten years and honor the players most responsible for transforming Pitt from a perennial Big East doormat to a nationally respected program.
Coaches, Administrators, Boosters etc. all played a part, but without the hard work and dedication of the following players, the progress made in the 2000's would not have been possible.
Without further adieu, I give you my University of Pittsburgh Men's Basketball All Decade Teams.
Brandin Knight (1999-2003), was the first, and in my opinion the best, of the three very solid Point Guards Pitt enjoyed in the past decade. His outstanding play was vital in the transformation of Panther basketball.
Changing the entire attitude at Pitt, I would argue that Knight was the teams most important player in modern history.
Brandin is certainly the most decorated Panther in recent memory. He holds the school record for assists in a season (251), minutes played in a season (1,284), career assists (785), career assists avg. (6.2 per game), and career steals (298).
In 2002, he was named Big East Conference Player of the Year, named to the All Big East Tournament team, and the All American team.
It wouldn't have taken more than one game for an average fan to see that Knight was a special player. He was a wizard with the ball, tough both offensively and defensively, and was one of the teams leading scorers with 1,440 career points.
Currently, he continues to improve the program as an Assistant Coach under Jamie Dixon.
Greer (1997-2001) is the lone player on this list who was not recruited by either Ben Howland or Jamie Dixon. Instead, this Panther is part of the largely unsuccessful Ralph Willard era...or as I like to call it, The Dark Years.
Ricardo was noteworthy for two reasons. First, Greer, at 6'5", 220, was the first in a long line of tough and physical guards. Second, he was from New York. In the time since heleft, Pitt has recruited a countless number of New Yorkers, including four others on this list.
Greer never played on a contending team, let alone an NCAA tournament team, and therefore, never received an ounce of national recognition.
However, he played more than 30 minutes and averaged more than 10 points a game in each of his four seasons. With 1,753 career points, he remains the seventh all-time leading scorer in Panther history.
Aaron Gray (2003-2007), as much as any player, reaped the benefits of the groundwork laid by Knight. He was part of four seasons with 20 or more wins. Each of the four seasons ended with an NCAA tournament berth, highlighted by two trips to the Sweet Sixteen.
The seven foot behemoth was a prime example of the way in which Pitt develops their big men; slowly. He played limited minutes his freshman season and 11.6 minutes per game as a Sophomore. It was not until Aaron became an upperclassman that he played more than 25 minutes a game.
As an underclassman, Gray benefited from practicing with other Pitt big men, namely Chevy Troutman, Toree Morris, and Chris Taft.
He was a career 1,000 point scorer, an All-American, and from the look of it, one of the top three smelliest players in the Big East.
Gray is one of three Panthers currently in the NBA, playing for the Chicago Bulls.
Blair (2007-2009) was one of two players (Chris Taft) in Pitts history who entered the draft as an underclassman. After two celebrated seasons at Pitt, Blair was selected in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs. This made some believe he could have used an additional year of seasoning.
DeJuan, arguably the most dominant Pitt player ever, grew up less then a mile from the campus. This entrenched him into the heart of Pitt fans everywhere and the close proximity to the school was the deciding factor in choosing Dixon and the Panthers.
When Freshman big men arrive to Fall practice, they are often tall and skinny. Blair was 6'7", and a meaty 260.
Few players in recent history were able to utilize their girth like Blair. He was physically imposing. Look no further than Blair's dominance over a towering Hasheem Thabeet as evidence. Blair's physical maturity helped him become one of only a few Panther big men to contribute as a Freshman or Sophomore.
Last season, No. 45 led the team deeper into the tournament than any Pitt team in the modern era, the Elite Eight...and one shot from the Final Four.
The highlights to Blair's career were averaging a double-double, being named Big East Player of the Year, and First Team All-American.
Along with being amongst the most athletic players to ever play at Pitt, Young (2005-2009) was one of the most prominent scorers.
As Sam was stuck behind Levon Kendall for the better part of two seasons, the bulk of his production came from his Junior and Senior seasons. Despite that, was still able amass 1,884 career points, putting him fourth all-time in school history.
Young was known for his work ethic. Prior to his Senior season, for a month, he lived in the Pitt locker room.
The hard work certainly paid off. In 2008, he was named Big East Tournament Player of the Year, and in 2009, selected to the All-American Team.
Currently, Young plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. With his work ethic and athleticism, there is little doubt Sam will enjoy a long NBA career.
This position was the toughest to fill. The decision was between two very comparable players; Levance Fields (2005-2009) and Carl Krauser (2002-2006).
Both played in four NCAA tournaments and two Sweet Sixteen's. Fields was also part of last season’s Elite Eight team.
Krauser scored a career 1,642 points compared to Fields’ 1,247. While Carl was a more proficient scorer, Levance was far more responsible with the ball, having a 2.89 to 1.47 assist/turnover ratio.
Remember this shot - (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_9lrjs_ZLU)? Fields, at The Garden, hit the game winner against Duke. This shot sums up not only Fields' career at Pitt, but also why I ultimately chose him. He was a very clutch player who never shied away from the ball. It also didn’t hurt that his career record as a starter was 52-12.
No highlight better exemplifies Page as a player than his dunk over Georgetown's Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje - (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo9r2nS9Kiw). He was an extraordinarily athletic two guard who often played above the rim.
The native of New York, in High School, was awarded the honor of Western New York's Player of the Year.
The Panther teams that Page played on were very talented, and as a result, Page was more of a role player. He was not needed to be the go-to scorer. Page's responsibility was to knock down an open jumper and defend the oppositions premiere guard, and he certainly made the most of his time on the floor. He averaged more than 10 points a game in all three seasons at Pitt.
Julius also helped to lead the Panthers to three straight Sweet Sixteen appearances, and in 2003, was voted Big East Tournament MVP. He finished his career with 1,512 points.
Taft (2003-2005), from Brooklyn, spent two seasons at Pitt before he left for the NBA.
Taft was not the prototypical Panther big man. When you looked at a picture of Taft, the first thought that entered your mind, was intimidation. Although, when you watched him play, it was clearly the opposite. He was a frail 6'10" 260. To compare, guard Jaron Brown, was 6’4" 230. Taft was more of a finesse player, and a high-quality one at that.
As a freshman, he set the Pitt record for Field Goals made and was named to the Freshman All-American team. Sophomore season, he averaged more than 13 points, seven rebounds, and almost two blocks per game.
There are few who would disagree that Taft left Pitt before he was NBA ready. After a short stint in the NBA, in 2006, he was cut by the Warriors.
Chris now plays for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Troutman (2001-2005), was one of the more popular Pitt Panthers. He was not the most athletically gifted player, but what he didn't have in ability, he made up for with in enthusiasm and intensity.
Troutman, a beast in the paint, often bullied larger Big East forwards. For that reason, Chevy quickly became a favorite of Dickie V, who referred to him as a"PTP'r!"
Troutman's career achievements include scoring 1,274 career points and having a Field Goal percentage of 71.8 his sophomore season.
Currently, like many former Pitt players, Troutman plays professionally in Europe.
Zavackas (1999-2003), was a member of Ben Howland's inaugural recruiting class.
A four year contributor, Donatas, was a dangerous swing man. At 6'8", he had a deadly outside shot and was also respected for being able to create off the dribble. He averaged more than nine points and four rebounds a game, and ended his career with 1,099 points.
Unfortunately, the last memory Pitt fans have of the Lithuanian legend, was a sour one. It was in the Sweet 16, against Dwyane Wade and Marquette. After being benched, Zavackas took his shoes off in disgust and refused to re-enter the game. Pitt wound up losing by three, 77-74.
An avid NBA, yet casual college basketball supporter would look over this list and think to himself...Who are these guys? There are no lottery picks, no first rounders, and no NBA All-Stars. However, you would be hard pressed to find any NCAA basketball coach who wouldn't go to war with any of these 10 players.
PG: Carl Krauser (2002-2006)
SG: Ronald Ramon (2004-2008)
SG: Jaron Brown (2000-2004)
PF: Levon Kendall (2002-2006)
C: Ontario Lett (2001-2003)