A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Alone With Lay 

Josh Lay was the only Pitt player picked on Day 2 of the NFL draft. He went to New Orleans in Round 5 (#174). Players like TE Erik Gill, K Josh Cummings, S Tez Morris, RB Ray Kirkley and DT Thomas Smith will be looking at free agent possibilities.

This also includes WR Greg Lee who to some surprise went undrafted. There were 32 WRs drafted over the 2 days. Lee was not among them despite being considered a 4th-6th round pick. Somewhat surprising, but when you consider that he lacked great breakaway speed and showed disturbing lapses in concentration -- how many drops? -- not so much.

At first I thought that he blew it and would have been better served by coming back for his senior year. But really, I doubt it. This season, he would have been competing for time, receptions and attention with a very good crop of freshmen receivers: Dorin Dickerson, Elijah Fields, Tamarcus Porter; along with redshirt freshmen and sophomore receivers trying to make an impact. Odds are, his numbers would have fallen further.

Really, the problem was he peaked a year too soon. If he could have come out after his sophomore season, he probably would have been no worse than a 3d round pick. His junior season exposed his flaws a lot more. It's one of the reason pro teams love having players stay at least that long. It narrows the gap between reality and perceived potential for more players.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spencer In 3d 

Charles Spencer was the only Pitt player drafted on day one of the NFL Draft. Not exactly a shock. Actually, almost as expected. It was a little surprising that he was the very first pick of the 3d round, going to the Houston Texans. Not a lot said one way or the other about him, essentially that he had potential, but it might be a reach to be the top of the 3d.

Just a couple other draft thoughts. Seemed the Steelers gave up a little too much to get OSU WR Santonio Holmes -- switching spots in the 1st plus a 3d and a 4th round pick at that point struck many as excessive. Of course how hard do you argue with the decision making of the defending Champs? But I did like the grab of Syracuse Safety Anthony Smith in the 3d round.

Not an impressive first day for the Big East. Only Spencer, Smith and Center Jason Spitz from Louisville were drafted. All in the 3d round. Not that it means that much considering how many players from the ACC were drafted in just the 1st round and that conference's showing during the season.

Kind of surprised Louisville DE Elvis Dumervil didn't get drafted, but apparently he didn't do well at the Senior Bowl or at the combines. Same that South Florida RB Andre Hall didn't get picked -- though it seemed running backs were kind of devalued in the first day of the draft.

Everybody's In Akron 

LeBron James may be in DC playing in the NBA playoffs but the inaugural LeBron James AAU Tournament -- King James Shooting Star Classic -- is underway in Akron, Ohio. Unlike last week's split of AAU talent between Pittsburgh and Houtston, this tournament really seems to have brought a bigger confluence. Both Adidas and Nike sponsored teams are in attendance, meaning lots of top talent on hand. Of course, that includes Pope, Pryor, Blair and the rest of the Pittsburgh JOTS team. It also means top talent like O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose are playing.

That much talent in one place also means lots and lots of coaches to come and watch.
The three-day event, which features more than 300 teams from across the country, will showcase some of the nation's top high school players.

More than 250 college coaches are expected to attend.

Earley said he has heard from several big-name college coaches, including UCLA Bruin's men's head coach Ben Howland and Texas Tech men's head coach Bobby Knight.

The tournament is one of the premier stages where players perform and coaches can identify and evaluate potential college recruits.

Most local hotels are booked or on the brink of it.

Akron's Courtyard by Marriott sold out in December, said assistant general manager Laura Valiante. "We've been turning people away ever since."

Earlier this week, the Hilton in Fairlawn had four rooms available and the Hampton Inn in Stow had "a limited number" of smoking, king-sized rooms. Both venues were booked by Thursday.

All of that is exciting for Dru Joyce II, the St. Vincent-St. Mary High boys coach who spearheaded the tournament.
Have to believe Coach Dixon is at this one as well. Not to mention that Jerome Lane still lives in the area. I would expect him to be around, and hopefully encouraging kids about Pitt.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Football Notes 

Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com (Insider Subs.) still believes in Coach Wannstedt for the long term.
Paul (San Diego): What do you see from Pitt this year? Anything at all?

Bruce: I think Pitt should be a little better because Palko will win some games for them and their LBs are very good, but unless one of the frosh TBs shines right away I don't see them winning more than 7 games this fall. Having said that though, I think Wanny needs time. He is recruiting very well, but the system change from what Walt did is pretty significant. I believe he will make them into a top 10 program at some point. They have everything you need to win big there.
Only a handful of national writers are still publicly saying things like that. Most bailed from the Wannstedt bandwagon after the ND debacle -- defaulting to "Wannstedt is a loser headcoach" position.

Incoming Freshman RB Kevin Collier will be in Pittsburgh as soon as he can.
Churchville-Chili senior Kevin Collier won't have much time to relax this summer.

He graduates on June 24 and leaves that night for the University of Pittsburgh, where he'll continue his stellar football career in the fall.

Collier, the Press-Radio Club's Local High School Male Athlete of the Year, leaves Churchville-Chili as Section V's all-time leading rusher (5,402 yards). He admits he hemmed and hawed between Pitt and Syracuse before deciding to join the Panthers.

"Those were the only two schools I visited," he said. "It's a new area for me. I had a prior relationship with David Walker (the Pitt running backs coach and former Irondequoit and SU star) and he's a great coach. He's going to lead me where I need to go."

Collier expects to major in sports journalism and hopes he can play right away and not redshirt.

"You've got to work to get what you want,'' he says. "

Unless he somehow bombs in fall practice, there is little doubt that he will be playing early.

Finally in Joe Starkey's look around the Big East for ESPN.com, he lists pros and cons as to why a team will or will not be better.

Why they'll improve: 1. More speed on defense to complement linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
2. Big year from quarterback Tyler Palko, who feels much more comfortable going into second season with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
3. Talented crew of true freshmen, including potential playmakers in the likes of receiver Dorin Dickerson and tight end Nate Byham.

Why they won't: 1. Like last year, too many question marks on both lines.
2. Too much dependency on inexperienced players; as many as 10 true freshmen could see time.
3. Place-kicker Josh Cummings's accuracy hard to replace.

Major spring development: A healthy Clint Session, in his final year of eligibility, re-emerged and grabbed hold of the strongside linebacker position.

I probably don't even need to repeat it, but: line play.

What Gray Wants 

No burying the lede here. What will keep Aaron Gray in the NBA draft past the June 18 deadline to withdraw?
Emotionally, Gray said, making the decision to leave Pitt would be "incredibly tough." But that aside, his decision will come down to this: 'Go' in the first round, 'stay' in the second.

"The only way I'd consider [leaving] is if I have a pretty good indication I'd go in the first round," he said. "If not, then it would be a pretty easy decision."

First-round picks receive guaranteed three-year contracts which, a year ago, ranged from $3.6 million for the No. 1 pick to $717,800 for the 30th and final pick in their first season.

Second-round contracts are not guaranteed.
Gray is confident of what he can do, but knows he will need to show the NBA scouts and GMs more.
"I think I showed a lot this year," he said. "I put up 25 and 12 [points and rebounds] against a UConn front line that has three NBA-caliber people, and I was the leading rebounder in the toughest conference in America.

"Plus, I've gotten so much better and better every year I've played basketball."

Still, many of those same reports say Gray, who has a reputation as a tireless worker, lacks the athleticism needed in today's NBA.

"Absolutely that's one of my weaknesses," Gray acknowledged. "It's something I have to get better at, but it's also something I have gotten better at. It's just another reason to continue to work hard; that's the only thing I can say about that."
I don't know how many of you are watching the NBA playoffs right now. Consider that Chris Kaman, the starting center for the Clippers, could be considered one of the better centers in the league. Hardly a stud, and yet among the best. And he was drafted 6th in 2003. Whether that speaks to the low level of expectations for centers in the league, how much height pushes a player's stock in the draft, or the fact that it was a selection by Clippers is not completely clear.

Arguably, it also means that as maybe the 5th best Center in the draft, Gray's chances of going in the first round are not that good. The counter argument is that in the same 2003 draft Michael Sweetney, who is seeking to eat his way out of the league, was the 9th pick by the Knicks. The lesson being, never underestimate what bad GMs will do when they see 6'11" or more on the measurement stats.

As always size is an enticement.
There's always a need for big men because there's not a whole lot out there, but it doesn't mean that's what teams want," said Ryan Blake, assistant director of NBA scouting.

While Blake is not permitted to discuss specific prospects, he spoke in general terms of teams considering a variety of sources for the draft.

"There's free agency, players overseas and possible trades for better players," he said.

Unlike high school or Freshmen big men, Gray is not as much of a project to NBA scouts so he may not be worth a high draft pick to see how he develops.

According to one prominent NBA scout, Gray has a chance to vault into the first round with a strong month of workouts. The NBA frowns on employees commenting on underclassmen, so he asked to remain anonymous.

"This year, like most other years, there are very few quality centers available," said the scout, a 20-year NBA veteran. "For a player like Gray, who has reached a certain level ... he was dominant at times in the Big East. At other times he wasn't. But at times he was the best player on the floor in Big East games. That's something people are looking for."

The scout said Bradley's Patrick O'Bryant, who thoroughly outplayed Gray in an NCAA tournament game in March, is the only true center rated ahead of Gray going into the workouts. He said Gray's commitment to get into better shape, his ability to rebound and his soft hands are enough to make him someone NBA teams will covet in the June 28 draft. At worst, he said, Gray would get drafted in the second round.
But, the scout said, Gray has the potential to be a high first-round draft pick a year from now, which is something he will have to contemplate seriously. The No. 10 pick in the first round last season was guaranteed $4.9 million over three years.

"If he improves from this year to next year the way he improved from last year to this season, then he might be able to be a top 10 pick," the scout said. "He probably won't be a lottery pick no matter what he does in the workouts this year. He's got a real decision to make. He's got a commodity. If he improves ... that's what these workouts and predraft camps are for. He'll listen to the GMs and they'll tell him the truth. Teams don't want to mess up with centers. They want to draft them when they're ready to play. We'll see if Gray is ready to play."

And of course, if he improves like that Pitt would also be very likely to be playing deep into March and maybe April.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Some More Gray 

After last year's complete whiff by NBA draftniks on where Chris Taft and many other kids would get drafted, there seems to be a slightly lesser amount of attention to the draft boards. Especially before the Orlando draft camp. That seems to be why the range for discussing Aaron Gray seems to vary from mid-1st to late-2nd. Or it could simply be that it is only the end of April and there's nearly 2 months before the draft.

Gray is still listed as the 5th best Center (Insider Subs), but is now dropped to 44th overall best prospect as other kids (like Kyle Lowry of Villanova) declare. The deadline to declare is on Friday. Chad Ford gives the pros and cons for Gray in the draft.

He has the size and strength to be an NBA center and his physicality is his greatest asset. As a prototypical big man, he uses his size and bulk to push people off the block. He's also an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive boards.

He's still not polished on the offensive end of the floor, but he does have a nice short jump hook that he uses when he gets deep position, and he's a good passer out of the block.

The obvious concern with Gray is his lack of athleticism. He's a groundhog who doesn't really move up and down the floor that well. He's also very foul prone, which hurt Pittsburgh in the tournament.

Given the dearth of centers in this year's draft, combined with his solid play this year, his stock might never be higher.

He's still on the first-round bubble, but on draft day, size often seems to trump other factors -- giving him a legit shot at the first round.
Size tends to trump. That may be the one thing that gets him to stay in the draft. I don't think Ford has a real sense on Gray, because it is arguable that his offensive rebound stats are a bit exaggerated from following his own misses. Not to mention, nary a word about his turnovers.

It's an interesting thing about all sports. As much as it is about the athleticism and doing the extraordinary, there is a hard bent of conservatism when it comes to how a player should look or style at a position. A comfort in the Center in basketball being a big, slow space-eater of a guy. The QB being a drop-back, pocket passer.

Officially Announced 

Press release from Pitt.
University of Pittsburgh junior center Aaron Gray announced Thursday that he will make himself available for the 2006 NBA Draft. Per NCAA rules, Gray will retain the option to withdraw from the draft and return for his senior season at Pitt since he will not sign with an agent. The NBA Draft Early Entry withdrawal deadline is on June 18, 2006, one week before the NBA Draft (June 28 at New York's Madison Square Garden).

"In discussing my options the last couple of weeks with my family and Coach Dixon, I feel that it is in my best interest to declare for the NBA Draft," Gray said. "I will not hire an agent, leaving me the option to return to the University of Pittsburgh for my senior season. The draft process will provide me a great learning experience and will help me become a better player. Academically, I am well on my way to graduating and earning a degree and that is a priority for me. I want to thank the administration, coaching staff, my teammates and fans who have all supported me over the last three years. No matter how much money the NBA offers, that amount won't be able to buy back my senior season at Pitt."

"Aaron carefully considered this decision and sought the right information before making it," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "We've been counseling him each step of the way and will continue to do so over the next two months. This is a logical step for Aaron to take and we will support him wholeheartedly."
A move that shocks no one. There is no reason not to do this. If you are a potential 1st or even 2nd round pick, it makes perfect sense to go through the process and find out more information.

My feeling has always been that he will do this, but ultimately come back for a final season to make himself a 1st round and perhaps lotter pick lock.

Can You Really Call This A Protest? 

The outrage, just seems... a little lacking.
About 30 students marched on the Penn State University president's office yesterday, demanding the dismissal of women's basketball coach Rene Portland.

The group, which found itself locked out of President Graham Spanier's office suite, also read a letter demanding changes in the way the university responds to issues involving gay people and other minorities.

The school concluded a half-year internal investigation last week by announcing that Ms. Portland discriminated against former player Jennifer Harris and others she perceived as lesbians.

Penn State fined the coach $10,000 and ordered her to take diversity training.

That doesn't go far enough, said students and others who marched yesterday, including representatives of gay political action groups, an AIDS education group, the student black caucus, the undergraduate student government and the graduate student coalition.

They started with a 15-minute rally at the student center and then marched to the administration building. When they tried to enter Mr. Spanier's offices, however, they found the double doors locked and were told he was out of town.

A rally of 30. Sure they just weren't meeting for lunch? So, with at least 5 different student groups represented and the best they could do was 30 people? On a campus the size of Penn State? Was this really a protest or just some prank?
They said their concerns go beyond the women's team and athletics and extend to academic and campus life issues.
Obviously it resonated throughout the campus.

No Separation 

Greg Lee won't get drafted until Day 2 of the NFL Draft. Of that, I feel fairly confident. The more I have thought about it, the more I think he didn't really make a mistake coming out early.

He wasn't going to get much faster. His route running would stay consistent. The only issue with Lee is holding on to the football and/or focusing. Sad to say, I don't think that would have changed much if he stayed.
Lee said a lot of factors contributed to his decision, but the biggest two probably were economics and the pool of receivers in the draft. This year is not considered to be a very strong year for receivers, and the crop next year is projected to be considerably stronger.

"There is a small group, maybe two or three, big-time receivers, and then there is a larger group of receivers a lot like Greg right behind them," said Joe Butler of Metro Index scouting camps. "With that second group, it all comes down to what a team is looking for in a player as to who they pick, so it is hard to say how high or low any of them will go."

Lee said, "that right there -- the other receivers in the draft -- really played a lot into my decision. I feel like I am as good as any of those guys and I feel like I proved that at the combine."

Most analysts and scouts don't agree with him.

Former Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.Com, doesn't rank Lee among the top 15 receivers in the draft, and Scouts Inc. has him listed as the 18th-best receiver, five spots below Penn State's Michael Robinson, who played quarterback most of his career.

Unlike the NBA draft where if you're in a pool like that, you have a good chance of being drafted higher because there always seems to be one NBA GM who will rank something about the player higher and take the chance. The NFL draft is generally more rigid in its settings and there aren't many reaches -- definitely not many big reaches.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Immediate Impact 

It's no secret that the Big East didn't exactly reload on signing day in February. Pitt was the only school to crack the top-25 with regards to the various recruiting class evaluations. Louisville was close to the top-25 and in one or two rankings. The rest weren't close. So, it is no surprise that when you look to teams and players in the Big East who will have an impact right away, that Pitt and Louisville are the teams with the juice. Tom Lemming (disclaimer of questionable reliability alert) lists 5 freshmen who could be expected to have an immediate impact in 2006. 2 from Louisville (DE Deantwan Whitehead and WR Josh Chichester). Pitt had the other 3 players: TE Nate Byham, DL Jason Pinkston and Dorin Dickerson (who he sort of lists as a linebacker?)
It was a horrible recruiting year for the Big East -- with all five of these impact players matriculating to just two different schools -- but one major standout is Dickerson. This 6-foot-3, 210-pounder can do it all, having logged time at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, strong safety and outside linebacker at Imperial West Allegheny. No matter what the position, Dickerson plays like a champ.

On offense, he's a long strider with good vision and instincts with tremendous hands. He could play either running back or wide receiver at Pitt. On defense, Dickerson was one of the most aggressive players in western Pennsylvania, showing a great change of direction and quickness to the ball. Look for this local product to do a lot of damage for Dave Wannstedt.
Dickerson's versatility and athleticism so desperately needs to be taken advantage of -- especially on offense. I really worry that Coach Wannstedt and OC Matt Cavanaugh will not be flexible enough in their game plan to do that.

One Gain, One Huge Loss For Iowa 

Looks like Tyler Smith chose Iowa (hat tip, Ryan). It would have been nice, but not terribly shocking. Iowa can almost guarantee him plenty of playing time. They had a senior-laden team and two additional players transferred after this season. I expect he will start for the Hawkeyes come November. No such assurances could come from Coach Dixon and Pitt.

If I'm an Iowa fan, though, this is a very bad day. They are losing their AD.
Bob Bowlsby found an opportunity to head one of the most successful programs in college athletics too good to pass up.

After a three-week courtship, the 15th-year University of Iowa director of athletics was named Tuesday as the new athletics director at Stanford University, where he takes over July 1 as the head of a program that has won 50 NCAA team championships in the past 14 years.

"I look forward to the challenges and the rewards which come with the duties," Bowlsby said. "Stanford is an exceptional academic institution which also supports a broad-based and very highly competitive intercollegiate athletics program."

Bowlsby said he wasn't necessarily looking to make a move but considered the chance to head the Pac-10 program "an extraordinary opportunity."

"I've been to the campus a couple of times, and I'm impressed with the people I've met," Bowlsby said. "It's easy to get a feel for the pride of the university, and I was smitten by what I saw and felt even at that point."
Bowlsby has done a tremendous job at Iowa in finding and keeping coaches. Iowa fans can only expect that rumors of Kirk Ferentz's departure for greener pastures to only intensify this fall.

As for Pitt, I expect Coach Dixon will strongly consider a project Center with that last available scholarship. Or he just might not use it. Pitt is in a good position, really with the players. No absolute need for a position right now.

After Rohrssen and More 

So now that the long expected departure of Barry Rohrssen has happened, what's next for Pitt? Orlando Antigua appears to be moving up a chair to a full assistant. Right now it is not a full promotion -- Coach Jamie Dixon has only told the NCAA that Antigua is filling in for the spot with the departures of Lombardi and Rohrssen untill naming a replacement. That's important because Antiqua, along with Assistant Pat Sandle, are out on the road recruiting.

Coach Dixon released a statement in support of his departing coaches that was not exactly stunning in what it said.
"It is my desire to have assistants at the University of Pittsburgh who aspire to be head coaches," the statement read in part. "It is a wonderful compliment to our program when other institutions are interested in our staff members for head-coaching jobs. It's a tribute to what we've accomplished here not only in terms of winning on the court but also the academic achievements and character of our players."
As the Ron Cook column notes, it isn't like Coach Dixon won't have a stack of applicants trying to get hired. Most of Cook's column is just explaining that Rohrssen leaving isn't the end of the world. (Reminder, most writers and columnists don't write their headline. So, don't blame Cook for the fact that the story title stresses Aaron Gray leaving as a disaster when he devotes all of 4 sentences to Gray.)

Joe Starkey's column paints this time as new key moment for Pitt basketball. The first major shake-up to the coaching staff, the departure of Krauser and the potential loss of Gray.

Not likely. I'm betting Sandle will stick around for the job security. Gray's probably 50-50, and lots of talent remains. But this still represents a major test. Pitt must prove it can negotiate the next turn in its development as a top-tier program.

It's called the reloading phase.

Every successful program -- college or professional -- must be proficient here, because a byproduct of winning is losing good people.

The Steelers are well-schooled in the process. They've been losing coordinators and talented players for years. It was never truer than in the wake of their Super Bowl XL victory, when other teams lavished large contracts on Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Kimo von Oelhoffen.

Pitt's immediate task is to find a New York City recruiter to replace Rohrssen. The job is expected to fall to Big Apple native Orlando Antigua, the school's director of basketball operations. A Pitt alumnus and former Harlem Globetrotter who is fluent in Spanish, Antigua seems like an excellent candidate.

Not that it'll be easy to replace Rohrssen, whose departure could hurt Pitt in its pursuit of big-time recruit Tyler Smith of Hargrave Military Academy.

I'm not too concerned about how this affects the recruitment of Tyler Smith, if for no other reason that Iowa and Kentucky have both just shaken up their staffs as well. In the case of Smith I think it comes down to where he thinks he can start quickly and his comfort with the head coach.

Now on the speculation as to who will take the open coaching vacancies. Assuming Antigua is given a full-time assistant coaching gig with Pitt, that opens up the Director of Basketball Operations position. Chris Dokich thinks that promoting John Alesi to the gig might be likely. It makes a lot of sense looking at his resume and NY connections -- including the fact that his father is the head coach at Brooklyn's Xavarian High (Chris Taft and Levance Fields).

Dokish also speculates that Scott Rigot -- recently purged from Kentucky's staff, and a Pittsburgh native -- might make a good assistant candidate (and it probably wouldn't hurt in luring Tyler Smith). Read the whole post. Interesting and plausible.

The sidebar to this story on Rohrssen leaving, lists some potential candidates. Probably just as speculative, but worth noting that Larry Harris -- former Pitt great, and someone I suggested merited pursuing -- is on the list. It also lists Buzz Petersen -- the former Tennessee head coach, now running Coastal Carolina and UCLA Assistants Ernie Ziegler and Kerry Keating.

Brandin Knight is listed as a possibility for Director of Basketball Operations, but I suspect he is still going to try one more run at the NBA.

More Rohrssen 

The AP story on Barry Rohrssen taking over at Manhattan.

"There were such great people at Pittsburgh and I miss those kids already," Rohrssen said. "Recruiting in the Big East and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference have the same objective, just recruit good players who want to play at your school. Nothing changes."

Gonzalez led Manhattan to a 129-77 record in seven seasons with two appearances in the NCAA tournament and two in the NIT. The Jaspers won two games in the NIT last month before losing at Old Dominion and finishing with a 20-11 record.

"Continuing what has gone on here means high standards," Rohrssen said. "This school has had tremendous success and I hope to continue that."

Three of the last four head coaches at Manhattan went on to jobs in the Big East: Steve Lappas, Fran Fraschilla and Gonzalez.

"Some very good coaches have used Manhattan as a steppingstone so we have earned that reputation as a mid-major program that provides opportunities for our coaches," said Manhattan president Bro. Thomas J. Scanlan, FSC. "With New York City being such a big part of Manhattan College, Barry being a New Yorker was so important to us."

You have to appreciate the candor of Manhattan. They don't BS with expecting the coach to stay a long time. They hope he moves on to something bigger. It means they are winning.

It was also a good score for Manhattan that Rohrssen is well-liked by the local media.

The Jaspers' job has become one of the best stepping-stone gigs in the country. But it takes a street-smart city kid who has strong ties to the high schools and the area's powerful summer travel teams to max out its potential.

Rohrssen fits the profile.

Like Lappas, Fraschilla and Gonzalez, Rohrssen does not have any head coaching experience, so there will be a learning curve. But the formula has worked here before.

Rohrssen, though, actually steps into a situation with plenty of expectations.

Dereck Whittenburg had it easy by comparison. When he was hired, Fordham was coming off a two-win season.

Norm Roberts had it easy. St. John's was coming off six wins, a Sexcapades scandal and a looming NCAA investigation.

Bobby Gonzalez has it easy. Even though Seton Hall went to the NCAA Tournament last season, there was more buzz at a silent monk retreat than in South Orange.

Barry Rohrssen doesn't have it easy.

Not to mention the plans that are in the works for a 6000-seat facility jointly shared with Iona and Fordham in Mt. Vernon.

Rohrssen has already met with the players on the team. His first big job is to try and keep 3 top players.

Now, if he can only convince Jeff Xavier of the opposite.

Xavier, a sophomore guard from Pawtucket, R.I., who averaged 16.6 points this season, has a scholarship waiting for him at Providence if he'd like to transfer, sit out a season and play for his hometown Friars. The Big East might be too tough to turn down, but he is keeping all options open.

"Providence is my dream school, but I still haven't made a final decision," said Xavier, who will finish the semester on the Riverdale campus. "Nothing's official."

The same goes for the rest of the Jaspers' Big Three - sophomores C.J. Anderson and Arturo Dubois. Anderson was the 2004-05 MAAC Rookie of the Year, but was declared academically ineligible after 16 games this season.

Keeping the talent already there is the big issue. Especially with only a few weeks left in the late signing period.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Made Official 

It's never over until they issue the press release.
Barry Rohrssen has been named the 22nd head coach in Manhattan Basketball history, it was announced today by Director of Athletics Bob Byrnes.

Rohrssen arrives back in his native New York after spending the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, including the last two seasons as associate head coach under Head Coach Jamie Dixon. Over the course of the last five seasons at Pittsburgh, Rohrssen was a part of five straight 20-plus win seasons, five straight NCAA appearances, and an overall record of 133-33 (80.1%), a number which ranked the Panthers among the nation's top-five winning percentages during that span. The team was also nearly unbeatable at home, posting a 64-6 all-time record at the four-year old Petersen Events Center (91.4%).

"Barry Rohrssen brings years of successful experience to Manhattan College," commented Byrnes. "People associate Barry with recruiting, but he is much more than a recruiter. The University of Pittsburgh teams that Barry coaches with had the Most Improved Player in the Big East in four of his seven seasons, and I believe Barry certainly knows how to make players better. In short, Barry Rohrssen is a winner that recruits winners and develops winners."

Good luck to Barry Rohrssen. You have earned the opportunity.

Pitt At The Draft 

The NFL Draft is this weekend. You might have heard something about it. It's not like ESPN is running 2 hour draft specials daily and airing them 2 or 3 times a day or anything.

Pitt's got several players who will likely be drafted, but only one expected to definitely go in the 1st day. Charles Spencer should go somewhere in the 2nd or possibly 3rd round. The rest will likely be drafted somewhere on Day 2.

Spencer is the highest rated of the three and could go as early as the second round. He played tackle for the Panthers last season, but he is a prospect at guard and his stock has been on the rise since the season ended.

The thing that has most scouts intrigued about Spencer -- besides his size (6 feet 4, 335 pounds), strength and quickness -- is his potential because he's relatively inexperienced as an offensive lineman. He played defensive line his entire career until moving to offensive guard for his junior year with the Panthers. Then just about the time he settled in at guard, he was moved again, to tackle for his senior year.

"Charles really helped himself at the Senior Bowl, he was dominant against some of the top defensive line prospects," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's worked out well at every step of the way. He did well at the combine and at our pro day. We had to move him to tackle and he adapted quickly and made the most of it. He's going to have a nice career."

At the NFL combine, Spencer's bench press placed among the top three offensive line prospects (225 pounds 31 times.) Lay also helped himself at the combine with an excellent 40-yard dash time (4.48 seconds) and by his performance in the defensive back drills.

Josh Lay and Junior Greg Lee will probably go sometime in the 4th or 5th rounds. Tight End Eric Gill might be a draft pick at the end of the second day, but it is just as likely that he will be a free agent signee along with kicker Josh Cummings, linebacker J.J. Horne, safety Tez Morris and RBs Ray Kirkley and Tim Murphy.

On Greg Lee, he has been projected as a second day draft pick since he declared following his disappointing season. So this article including Lee among 10 draft picks who won't live up to the "hype" seems quite odd to me (hat tip to Frank)

4. Greg Lee, WR, Pittsburgh: After a brilliant sophomore season, Lee was pegged by many observers as the next great receiver to come out of the Panthers' program. But he dropped an inordinate number of catchable passes last season as Pittsburgh moved to a conventional running attack. Lee is another former first-round prospect who'll be fighting for backup duty.
Exactly what hype does a 4th or 5th round WR draft pick have to live up to? Yes, his talent and potential are something else, but it's not like he's being projected for a 1st or 2nd round selection. Right now, he's being projected in the draft at about the right spot.

More JamFest and Some Kingwood 

Catching up with the Sunday stuff from the AAU tournament, JamFest. The local Pittsburgh JOTS won over the O.J. Mayo-less D1 Greyhounds. Naturally, the concern isn't over who won, but who looked good and the fact that plenty of top high school talent spent the weekend at Pitt.

The JamFest drew 117 teams from 23 states, the District of Columbia and Canada and dozens of college coaches to Pitt's Petersen Events Center, Fitzgerald Field House and Trees Hall. There are already plans to return the NCAA-sanctioned AAU tournament to Pitt next April.

"We'll definitely be back," said Rob Kennedy, president of the New Jersey-based Hoop Group, which ran the event. "The facilities are tremendous and the location is ideal because we can draw teams from the Midwest and East. We only had a little over two months to get this together. It exceeded our expectations."

Memphis Coach John Calipari may have more than a little snake oil salesmen in him, but he knows how to win over the media -- especially the local media.

There isn't a more approachable big-time coach in the country than Calipari, especially when this Moon native knows he's dealing with someone who has ties to Pittsburgh. Anyhow, Coach Cal had a few interesting things to say:

On the JamFest being in Pittsburgh:

"For the coaches to come from all over the country to Pittsburgh is dear to my heart. Believe me, many people don't know how great a city Pittsburgh is. Even I'm guilty sometimes of not realizing all that we have in Pittsburgh.

"[On Friday night] we went out on the South Side and I told the guys I was with, 'Man, this was like mill town over here, and now it is so built up, it is amazing.' Every time I am back, something new is popping up and it makes the city even better and better."

On the current WPIAL and City League talent:

"In the next three years, there may be some of the best players to ever come out of this area. I can remember when Sam Clancy and Sonny Lewis and a whole crew of guys were playing in Pittsburgh. This group of kids, who are the kids getting recruited right now, is as solid as a group as there has been in quite awhile in this area.

"The people of Pittsburgh should be proud and also understand the level of talent they have playing in the area right now."

Maybe I'm just reading a little too much in between the lines, but I can't help but think the subtext goes something like, "Hey, Pitt, next time it looks like there might be a head coaching opening, don't forget to give this native son a call. I need to get another raise from Memphis."

There was also the AAU Tournament down in Houston, where O.J. Mayo went to play with the Miami AAU team (Nike sponsored over the Reebok supported JamFest). Some of the talent there has Pitt's attention as well (not that I'm sure there were any Pitt coaches to send down there to watch them.
Luis Colon, Miami Tropics -- His high school coach Shakey Rodriguez said Kansas State, UMass, UConn, Pitt and Purdue are contenders for the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center's signature late in the game.
Demitri McCamey, Illinois Wolves -- Big, strong and tough, the 6-foot-4 guard is a load to defend in the backcourt. With his size, he's tough to stop on the glass, too. He said UConn, Kentucky, Illinois, Wake Forest, Pitt, Clemson, Virginia and DePaul are all interested.
Colon plays both Center and Power Forward. He's a 3-star prospect who would appear to be something of a project. Seems to have interest from schools, but as a fallback (not actual offers yet) if higher ranked prospects don't commit soon during this signing period.

McCamey is a point guard prospect for the class of 2007. He's a 4-star and considered the 13th best PG out there, and #92 overall.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Today's Full Read 

I'll excerpt a bit, because arguably there's a bit of reading between the lines for team news, but just read the whole piece.

Two weeks later, the shock, the stunning nightmare and loss, still seemed apparent in Jamie Dixon's 40-year-old eyes, going beyond the fact that he had just taken a red-eye flight back here from California. He had gone to see a recruit. He stopped to see his parents as well.

"We still can hardly believe it," Dixon said. "She never had any symptoms of heart problems. And we don't have a history in our family, either. There was no reason to suspect anything — anything."

On Friday, Dixon was in the auxiliary gym at the Petersen Events Center, the home court of the Panthers, in individual workouts, which are sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They last 40 minutes, three times a week, until the end of the academic year. Dixon was working with eight of his returning players from this season.

Pittsburgh was supposed to be in a rebuilding year but had a strong season. It went 25-8, reached the Big East tournament final and advanced to the second round of the N.C.A.A. tournament, losing to Bradley.

Levon Kendall, Aaron Gray and Antonio Graves, who all played often during the season, were among those practicing.

"Hands ready," Dixon called as he prowled the sideline in a black warm-up jacket and pants. "Come on, we got to be more active this year." And: "Penetrate. You had the opening!" And: "Step through" the screen. "Very nice. Very nice."

Hard for Pitt partisans not to take note that Aaron Gray is still taking part in individual workouts.

Right now, it seems Coach Dixon is trying to keep busy with work. I hope it helps.

Non-Qualifiers No More 

WVU didn't want it, but they were in the big minority.

Big East university presidents voted, 13-3, in November to stop enrolling athletes who do not meet the NCAA's initial eligibility standards. There are no exceptions, which is a major change from the Big East guidelines a year ago.

West Virginia voted against it, while Pitt cast a "yes" vote for the rule, which has been under discussion for more than a year.

"I think this sends a strong statement about where we stand when it comes to the importance of academics in this conference," Pitt athletic director Jeff Long said. "We support that. We feel it was a very good move at a great time -- when we're coming together as a 16-team conference, the largest in the country."

The Big East became the fourth Bowl Championship Series league to stop enrolling non-qualifiers, joining the Pacific-10, the Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Big Ten has no league-wide rule keeping non-qualifiers out. However, if a football team, such as Penn State, accepts a non-qualifier, that player doesn't receive a scholarship even though he counts against the Nittany Lions' scholarship limits of 85 total and 25 annually.

The Southeastern Conference allows for a limited number of exceptions spread across all teams at an institution.

There is a sidebar to the article setting out the basics of the standards. The article doesn't say who the other two schools voting against it, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd bet on Louisville and South Florida, almost by process of elimination.

Cinci is trying to clean up its image. All the private schools would sign-off on it. That would leave Rutgers, UConn, Louisville and USF.

This comes on the heels of the amusing and dumb story of a WVU student actually going to spy on Marshall's spring practices. Let's give some credit to Hoopie fans for being upfront about how incredibly stupid this is. It's Marshall. I realize it's their in-state rival, and they got stunned by them (again) in basketball this past season, but the fact that any student or even the possibility that a coach even considered the possibility of finding anything useful from spying on spring practice is beyond laughable.

Personally, I suspect the kid goes to WVU's J-school and was given some bad advice from a questionable source.


Blogger was down all morning up until a couple minutes ago. No blogspot blog had anything out today. WHole system, apparently.

Received the new laptop computer on Thursday. On Sunday the hard drive failed. FedEx is picking it up tomorrow for the company to replace it. So it goes.

Pitt Punk'd By UCF (and ESPN) 

So, road game to UCF this fall. On ESPN. And Pitt put at an additional competitive disadvantage.
Schedule-makers at both schools had agreed to adjust an Oct. 14 game to Thursday or Friday to accommodate TV but only on the condition that both schools had the same number of days off before the game. One problem: A miscommunication between Conference USA and the Big East, both of which coordinate their schedules after TV partners weigh in, has left Pitt in a competitive disadvantage.

The Golden Knights have an Oct. 4 (Wednesday night) game at Marshall, then have eight days off before playing Pitt. The Panthers play a noon home game against Syracuse on Oct. 7; that gives them just five days off.

The two-day difference did not escape Pittsburgh's attention for long. Within a couple of weeks of UCF's Feb. 9 announcement, Pitt Athletic Director Jeff Long fired off a letter to UCF expressing his frustration for a breach of trust.

UCF officials acknowledge Long's point, saying Knights Coach George O'Leary never would have agreed to the game if he knew of the disparity.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, its disappointment probably won't carry the day because ESPN is involved. If the Panthers take a hard line and say they won't come to Orlando unless some changes are made, well, then they might not come at all. The Big East, C-USA and ESPN then would have to find a game for UCF.
I'm not sure which is worse. The fact that UCF is going to get over, because Pitt would also have to find another game for that day, which is possible since it would be a roadie. (Probably be able to work out a nice return game in a couple years from a decent school. Hmmm.... But I digress.) Not to mention that Pitt would lose an appearance on ESPN.

Or the fact that Pitt does need to have some concern over the competitive disadvantage to the University of Central Florida.

Not good.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

JamFest Stuff 

If anyone has been attending the JamFest this weekend, feel free to shoot me an e-mail or leave some thoughts in the comments.

The event was something of an eye-opener for local high school coaches.
Aliquippa coach Marvin Emerson took a seat at Petersen Events Center, hoping to find out what the fuss over Herb Pope's involvement with AAU basketball was all about at the Pittsburgh JamFest.

"You hear so much about it," Emerson said. "I wanted to judge it for myself."

What commenced was a brand of basketball Western Pennsylvania hasn't seen at the high school level. One that appeared foreign to Emerson and other WPIAL coaches in attendance. One that is played with elements of street ball but with the above-the-rim athleticism of the nation's top prep players.

"It's like an NBA showcase," Emerson said.
The underbelly of AAU basketball also was exposed when O.J. Mayo was a no-show at the JamFest. Universally regarded as the nation's top junior, Mayo normally plays with Walker for Reebok-sponsored North College Hill and D1 Greyhounds. Instead, he opted instead to play for the Nike-sponsored Miami Tropics at the Kingwood Classic in Houston.

There is a connection of dots from shoe companies to club teams to prep schools and colleges, and Mayo's maneuvering is a classic example of why the AAU is viewed with disgust by some high school coaches.

College coaches, however, turned out en masse to scout the prospects. It's a chance to view a player like the 6-9 Pope in a different light. While Pope plays in the post at Aliquippa, he roams the perimeter and handles the ball for the Pittsburgh JOTS.

And they did turn out with some name coaches.

The presence of players such as Walker, Pope and Lauderdale -- as well as PIAA and NCAA sanctioning of the tourney -- drew prominent Division I coaches such as Iowa's Steve Alford, Memphis' John Calipari, Kansas' Bill Self and Kansas State's Bob Huggins.

Dixon was instrumental in bringing the JamFest, run by the New Jersey-based HoopGroup, in an effort to showcase Pitt's campus to prospective recruits.

"The best thing is, the kids get to see our university and how much it has changed," Dixon said. "We would get to see these kids play somewhere else. We have this great campus. We want students to see it."

Wonder if Alford and Dixon exchanged thoughts on Tyler Smith. And perhaps Alford offered some tips on what to do when you find yourself down two assistants in the midst of a signing period.

Sophomore Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette also received another scholarship offer from Clemson this past weekend. Herb Pope and D.J. Kennedy of Schenley high school both denied that they were heading to prep school next fall. We'll see.

Could There Really Be Only One? 

As previously noted, and now everywhere else, Barry Rohrssen is slated to take over at Manhattan.
Neither Dixon nor Rohrssen, who were at Pitt on Saturday for the Pittsburgh JamFest AAU tournament, would comment on a published report that Rohrssen would succeed former longtime coach Bobby Gonzalez at Manhattan.

But a high-ranking athletic department official at the New York school confirmed that a news conference would be held Tuesday on campus, presumably to introduce Rohrssen as successor to Gonzalez, who resigned April 7 to take over as coach of Seton Hall.

Rohrssen interviewed Thursday with Manhattan officials and was weighing the school's offer over the weekend. He previously interviewed at Seton Hall and Fairfield.

"Barry has been an integral part in the success of this program," Dixon said prior to last season. "He has a great coaching background, is a good recruiter with outstanding contacts and has an understanding of how we run our program."

Pat Sandle could be the next Pitt assistant to go, leaving Orlando Antigua, the director of basketball operations, as the only returning member of Dixon's staff for next season.

Sandle's name is being mentioned as a possible candidate for an assistant's job at North Carolina State, where former UCLA coach Steve Lavin is a candidate. The two served together at UCLA from 2001-03.

Apparently Lavin has been offered the job.

Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin has been offered the opportunity to return to coaching by the N.C. State Wolfpack, according to multiple sources close to the search.

Lavin has been out of the business for three years and working as a broadcast analyst for ESPN since he was let go by the Bruins following the 2002-03 season, his only losing year as a head coach.

Lavin is working on contract details and has not yet decided whether to accept the job.

NC State was apparently considering WVU's John Beilein as well, but much like Missouri, realized the total cost would be too high. Not sure what that means for NC State, except that Lavin better take the job or NC State fans are liable to start losing it. It's one thing to be rejected by Barnes at Texas, then predictably used by Calipari at Memphis. Then to have sniffings around for Gillespie at Texas A&M, Brady at LSU and Ryan at Wisconsin all rebuffed stung. But to be rejected by Lavin would just be the final insult.

Man, you want to talk about a total revamping of a coaching staff. Scary but kind of funny. I have to believe Coach Dixon was already putting some list together of potential replacements after the season ended and rumors were immediately swirling around Rohrssen.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Good Walk Spoiled 

One of those articles that people in the Penn State Athletic Department grind their teeth and mutter about the e-mails they are going to get. To say nothing of what old Joe Paterno must think to see an old assistant of his all but call for the Pitt-Penn State football game to return.

This time, former football players and coaches will be playing on the same team in the Pitt vs. Penn State golf challenge June 6 at Chestnut Ridge in Blairsville.

The event will raise money for two charities geared to helping disadvantaged youth in Pennsylvania -- the Second Mile, founded by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP), administered by the University of Pittsburgh.

Last year, the golf outing was run exclusively for the Second Mile, and the competition was won by Penn State. This year, Sandusky teamed up with former Pitt coach Johnny Majors and expanded the number of charities that will benefit from the event.

The day will begin with a nine-hole competition between select former Pitt and Penn State players. Several skills competitions will follow. The former players then will be divided among the groups of sponsors and play a round of golf. Team captains for Penn State will be Shane Conlan and Mike Zordich; Pitt's captains will be Tony Dorsett and Bill Fralic.

"It was a lot of fun last year," Sandusky said, "but, more importantly, we raised right around $100,000 for the charity, and that's what it is all about. And the guys still get into it.

"We have a crazy scoring system, but competition is competition. I hear the Pitt guys are really gearing up for this since we beat them last year. I expect we'll get their best effort and I hear they have some good golfers coming out.

"I think, even though we won, the best golfer was actually [former Pitt linebacker] Troy Benson, so it should be a close battle again. We have a real festive atmosphere, and the sponsors all really enjoy themselves."
Sandusky said one of the things that people seem to enjoy is the reminiscing that goes on about the Penn State-Pitt series, the memorable games that were played. He said he obviously is not alone in wishing the series would be restored.

"It was obviously a great rivalry, and there were a lot of great games between us," Sandusky said. "It would be really neat if we could get this game going again, but I don't know whether that will happen or not."

[Emphasis added.]


On a different track, Tony Dorsett will be playing. It isn't just me is it? Dorsett seems to be making a lot more trips and apperances in Pittsburgh in support of Pitt in the last year? Coach Wannstedt and Pitt seem to be reaching out a lot harder and better to past Pitt players. Bringing them back to the "family" as it were.

Rebuilding The Coaching Staff 

Barry Rohrssen appears poised to be named the next coach of Manhattan.
Manhattan College appears ready to sign Pitt associate head coach Barry Rohrssen to succeed Bobby Gonzalez as head basketball coach, The Post has learned.

Rohrssen, 45, a Brooklyn native widely regarded as one of the nation's top New York City recruiters, interviewed in Riverdale on Thursday, a source said, and thoroughly impressed Athletic Director Bob Byrnes.

Rohrssen, who would be introduced early next week, also interviewed at Seton Hall and Fairfield.

He stands to inherit a talented team that won the MAAC regular-season title under Gonzalez this year.

There are team issues, however, as second-leading scorer Jeff Xavier, a sophomore guard, elected to transfer to Providence during this search, and C.J. Anderson, a sophomore forward and 2004-05 MAAC Rookie of the Year, was academically ineligible this semester.

Byrne also interviewed Louisville assistant Kevin Willard and UConn assistant Tom Moore.

The potential loss of a couple star players, apparently drove Moore to withdraw from the search.

"In what has been a month of analyzing potential job openings both my wife [Eileen] and I realize what a special situation we have at Connecticut," Moore said before leaving for Houston on a recruiting trip Friday afternoon. "[Athletic director] Bob Burns and the people at Manhattan were great to me. ... I really feel Manhattan College is going to have a lot of success in the future in men's basketball."

Sources close to Moore say that he was operating under coach Jim Calhoun's philosophy that when an assistant leaves to become a head coach, it should be to a place where he can be successful soon.

Manhattan, a MAAC power under Bobby Gonzalez, who left for Seton Hall on April 7, looked like such a place when Moore began discussions with school officials, but things changed when star guard Jeff Xavier decided to transfer to Providence. There are also rumors that CJ Anderson, another outstanding sophomore, is going to transfer. Anderson was lost for the season in January because of academics, and the Jaspers still finished 20-11, but without those two next year, it will be a rebuilding year.

It's still the tremendous opportunity for Barry Rohrssen. I hope he has success.

Of course, Joe Lombardi is now at IUP.

Obviously, Orlando Antigua is going to move up to an assistant coaching position and will help keep the door open in the NY/NJ area. But Pitt is going to have to find two new assistants. The good thing, I think is that Coach Dixon probably came away from his contract extension with an increased budget to pay assistants. That means he can go after some good assistants.

It will be another subplot to watch over the next month or so.

Friday, April 21, 2006


The last Q&A from Paul Zeise for a few months. Topics include the defensive line, the size of the d-line, potentially redshirting John Pelusi, a question from RKohlberger (who just happened to e-mail me the link today) and this question.
Q: What is your take on the receivers and running backs?

Zeise: The fullback position is in great shape with Conredge Collins, but the tailback position to me is still a big question. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a great player, but I'm still not convinced he is an every down back. Shane Brooks showed some skills, but I'm not sure how fast he is as compared to the defensive players he'll face. And Kevin Collier might be the second coming of Barry Sanders, but he'll still be a freshman.

The receivers are a good group and I think by the time it all shakes out, could be a strength of the team. Oderick Turner can be very good, Kinder and Delsardo are consistent and the freshman class is loaded. Here is one name to remember from this recruiting class -- Tamarcus Porter. From everything I know about him, he could be a big-time player.

The other part of the running game is still how the O-line does. If the offensive line can't open a hole or even a crack, no back is going to do much.

There was also a question on how backup QB Bill Stull looked. Zeise called him inconsistent, which as he notes is not unexpected. It does segue nicely to this article from earlier in the week on Stull.

"This isn't a story, it is a fact; I feel better right now about our quarterback position than at any point that I did last year," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Tyler and Billy Stull both have a firm grasp on what we're trying to do as an offense and, anytime you have guys like that, it will give you a better chance to score points

"[Stull] has gotten bigger, he's gotten stronger and he has progressed physically and mentally since last year and that is a good sign. It is always nice to see a kid work hard to get better. Billy has, no question."
"I think there is a different pressure," Stull said. "I have always wanted to play in my hometown. I have the chance now and I think there is some more pressure because people recognize your name.

"When you have some success in high school around here, people always say, 'OK, now what are you going to do in college?' I feel that now and I understand that. It seems like that is the way it is playing football around here, you know, with the pressure and everything. But, I like that; I like that people want to push you to succeed."
It will be something to keep an eye on in the fall, how much time Stull gets to play in games.

Tailgating Issues 

I don't have a lot of sympathy for either side of this battle.
For 20 years, the owner of Tailgaters Bar in Harmar and his tailgating team partied in lots between PNC Park and Heinz Field. That changed last year, when a lot attendant told Paterak his pre-game festivities were taking up too much room, he said, "and forced us to park the motor home next to another motor home where we couldn't open the door."

Alco Parking Corp., which operates all the lots between the two stadiums, is trying to rein in super-sized tailgating parties by requiring oversized vehicle parking passes. Beginning next football season, Steelers fans with vehicles requiring more than one space will have to buy season parking passes for $1,440 -- the equivalent of four spaces for each of 12 home games. That's the equivalent of $120 per game. Single-day sales, however, will no longer will be available for oversized vehicles.

The Steelers currently have 10 home games scheduled -- two in the preseason and eight during the regular season.

It was unclear last night why Alco listed 12 home games.

"Every year, I'm accused of killing tailgating," said Merrill Stabile, Alco president. "It's really a matter of crowd control."

During past Steelers seasons, drivers of recreational vehicles, campers, vehicles pulling trailers, limousines, large trucks and others that don't fit into a single space purchased multiple parking passes for $30 a space. The buyers decided how many to buy.

Many bought fewer spaces than their mammoth wagons could fit -- most RVs need four -- and then argued with lot managers who tried to collect for all spaces used, Stabile said.
Now, I have no doubt that the Alco people are not about "crowd control," they are about making as much money as possible. Not even up for debate. They do their best to over-stuff as many vehicles into a lot as possible for the biggest price they can charge.

Having said that, tailgaters who want to park in the premium areas have to make a choice. Either sacrifice some space (or more cash) or sacrifice the convenience of being able to stumble into the stadium from a shorter distance.

I'm sure this will also have some impact for parking for Pitt games.

We tailgate at one of the lots that is further away (though it really doesn't seem that big of a distance), and find it gives us more space to spread out. Our group has at least two cars, so we do the whole thing where we park and leave a space in between to set up the chairs, grill, coolers and table. Of course, the lot is rarely completely packed by the time we head into the game.

I worry about this because the tension seems to be increasing between the parking lot operators and the tailgaters, and I don't like the odds that the police and politicians will side with the tailgaters. Tailgating has become a big operation, and for some extremely elaborate. The large majority don't cause much of a problem.

At the same time, there seems to be a growing minority -- or at least more awareness and attention given to them -- of tailgaters who seem to treat the thing like their annual trip to see Jimmy Buffet. It's their excuse (treated as if it's some right) to get as drunk, stupid, bellicose and beligerent as they can. The game is just secondary.

I'm all in favor of the drunk part. I largely support stupid. Belicose and beligerant, however, are the problems. Those lead to the excuse for the parking lot operators and the police to crack down on everyone. That leads to further, insane neo-prohibitionist actions or cries for actions that is always "for the children."

Everytime, some idiot runs on the field at a game or does something stupid in the stands, we have to hear the joyless sportswriters call for stricter and stricter alcohol bans. Because if it wasn't for that, we wouldn't have stupid idiots at games. Just because they are on a deadline and can't drink in the pressbox any longer, they think no one else should either. Mike Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption" is the worst about this.

Stop beer sales after the 3rd quarter or after the 7th inning. Then it's stop after halftime and the 5th inning. What happens when they get the full bans and people still do stupid crap? Then it will be calls for better policing in parking lots and at the gates. With or without alcohol, stupid people will do stupid things.

The Future 

Both immediate and later for discussion. Another recruiting story on Hamady N'Diaye.
"Hamady N'Diaye had a great visit to Pittsburgh," stated Stoneridge Preparatory School Head Basketball Coach Mike Mahoney. "He loved everything about it, especially the facilities. He thought their facilities were incredible."

Hamady N'diaye has 25 scholarship offers. He has narrowed his choices to Pitt, Rutgers and Miami (FL). Scout.com ranks Hamady the 18th best center in the class of 2006. He has been a transient player moving from New Jersey to Florida to California.

"They really showed him a good time. He spent time with the coaches and players. I know they took him to a football practice and he thought that was really special."

When asked about his impressions of Head Coach Jamie Dixon. Coach Mahoney replied, "He felt very comfortable with the entire staff. Of course he liked Coach Dixon. What's not to like? He's a great guy and Hamady enjoyed the time he spent with him."

N'Diaye was expected to hold a press conference next week to announce his decision. Apparently his decision could come sooner than expected. "Hamady is going to sit down with his parents on Friday. He could have a decision at that time. I assume his decision will occur within the next day or so."

As far as I understood things, Pitt only has one scholarship left to offer. N'Diaye may or may not have been formally offered, and Pitt is still waiting for word from Tyler Smith.

Smith and his family indicated before the start of the late signing period that they were going to take their time. So far there has been nothing to suggest he is going to announce in the next couple of days or even week.

Two players with different timetables for deciding where they are headed. If N'Diaye wants to come to Pitt, does Coach Dixon take him and give up on Smith? Or do they try to keep N'Diaye from deciding while waiting for Smith or simply take the risk to wait on Smith?

This weekend at Pitt is an AAU Tournament. Pitt gets to put its facilities on display for some top national talent.
This weekend, Western Pennsylvania basketball fans will get an up-close glimpse at the nation's top-ranked junior when O.J. Mayo plays for the D1 Greyhounds in the Pittsburgh JamFest 17-and-under AAU tournament at Pitt.

Mayo, a 6-foot-5 guard from Cincinnati's North College Hill High School, is a two-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio who is regarded as a future No. 1 overall NBA Draft choice.

"It's exciting that he's coming," said Pryor, a sophomore swingman from Jeannette who plays for the Pittsburgh JOTS. "Him and his teammate (Billy Walker), they can play. It's like NBA players playing in high school. I've watched him so many times. He just dominates people. It's unbelievable. I want to play against him."

Pryor might get his chance if the JOTS -- which also features Schenley's DeJuan Blair, Jamaal Bryant and D.J. Kennedy and Aliquippa's Herb Pope -- reach Sunday's 4 p.m. final at Petersen Events Center.

Tickets for the game are $7, and if you are a fan of spotting people in the stands, this should be loaded with NCAA basketball coaches. The event is approved by the NCAA, so the coaches can attend. They just can't have any direct contact with the players. They will be there with the express goal of being seen by the kids.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pending Approval 

There are four new bowls scheduled to come into creation this year. The Big East it appears, will be involved in two of them.
The new bowls have to be first approved by the NCAA bowl certification committee. More important, concerned parties are waiting for the NCAA board of directors to define bowl eligibility in 2006.

The board almost has to set the standard at 6-6 when it hands down the decision on April 27. The last time a 12-game schedule existed in 2002 and 2003, at least four teams became bowl eligible each year because of the six-win standard.

The NCAA barely found enough bowl-eligible teams last year (it needed 56) during the 11-game regular season. If teams were required to finish above .500 -- in other words 7-5 in a 12-game schedule in 2006 -- it's almost certain there wouldn't be 64 bowl-eligible teams.

A look at the new bowls waiting to be certified:

The new BCS national championship game which debuts Jan. 8, 2007 in the new Glendale, Ariz. stadium. Approval is a slam dunk.

The Birmingham Bowl, to be played at Legion Field, where UAB struggles to attract fans. This newbie would match Conference USA against either a Big East or MAC rep. Can't wait.

The New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. Who cares who plays in it (Mountain West vs. WAC), this is what bowls are all about: a destination city where you can go from teeing off to snow skiing in 30 minutes.

International Bowl in Toronto. Nothing says college football like a match between Big East and MAC runners-up in Canada.
Not everyone is exactly enthused it seems. Dodd is right, though, that 6-6 will have to be where they set the bowl eligibility if they want to approve more bowls. There's plenty of pressure from the BCS schools to do so anyways. They know they stand to benefit most with that kind of standard.

Wave Of The Future 

Not only has Mountain West moved its football and basketball games from ESPN to CSTV, they are creating a regional network.
The first regional sports network dedicated to a single conference has a name and a football schedule. It just doesn't have agreements to be carried on cable in two of the Mountain West Conference's biggest markets.

The MountainWest Sports Network will debut on Sept. 2 with four games, starting with Utah State at Wyoming.

Chris Bevilacqua, president of CSTV Regional Networks, said that while his company has a national agreement with Cox, it doesn't yet have agreements with local providers in San Diego and Las Vegas.
In August 2004, the nine-team Mountain West Conference, which spans three time zones, signed a seven-year, $82 million deal with CSTV that began last year.

It will carry 36 football games, 150 basketball games and more than 200 games in minor sports, as well as other programming.

"You've got to take it sequentially," Thompson said. "We're announcing it, announcing what's going to be on it and showing some of the programming that will to be on it. Hopefully that will spur local interest and local cable operators to say, 'This looks like a must-carry station.'"

Thompson said it will aim to be fan-friendly. The majority of the network's football games will be played on Saturday afternoons, rather than in the evening, and only one will be on a Thursday night.

When CSTV came looking for a conference partner, "Our board just said, 'ESPN, we're very thankful and appreciative, but we don't want to play on Tuesday night in football, and we don't want to play at 10 o'clock on Monday nights,"' Thompson said. "We were tired of the times and the commitments that they were putting us into."
MWSN will get on in those markets. It is just starting negotiations, and there is plenty of time. More important is getting on DirecTV and Dish satellite services.

Here in Ohio, we've just watched the Cleveland Indians go from FoxSports Ohio to their own network by the start of the season. Plenty of down to the wire negotiations, and the kinks still being worked out of the system.

This is the way things are going (NBA TV, NFL Network, YES ...). Maximizing the money by doing your own network. It makes even more sense for conferences. It's even easier to fill the dead space (not football and men's basketball games) with all the other sports, the multitude of coaches and team propaganda there is.

It may seem like the Mountain West is limiting itself with its dealings with CSTV, but that is short term.

As they said, this was driven by ESPN marginalizing them in football to Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday nights. Killing their actual game attendance. As cable and satellite packages keep expanding, there's no reason there won't be tiers offering conference networks. Especially when some of the bigger conferences join in.

If I had to guess which BCS Conference will be first, I would say the SEC. They already have deals with CBS -- who just happens to own CSTV. They have the fanbase that would support the network throughout the South.

Lombardi Moves On 

Joe Lombardi was officially introduced as the new head coach at IUP. The second line was still the best part of the press release.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Athletic Director Frank Condino has announced the appointment of Joe Lombardi as the university's new head men's basketball coach. The hiring was made following a national search.
Define "national."

Lombardi's wife, Janet, grew up in Indiana, Pa., and Lombardi spent eight seasons in the Blairsville area while at St. Francis and IUP.

The other finalists for the job were Jim Boone, the former coach at California University of Pa., Robert Morris and Eastern Michigan, and John Sanow, an assistant at Vermont and a former player at IUP in the early 1980s.

Lombardi said IUP was the only Division II job he would have accepted and he never considered going halfway around the country to become a head coach at a Division I school whose program is badly in need of repair.

"I haven't had to travel long distances to pursue my career," said Lombardi, who isn't close to naming his assistants. "When you reach a certain age, you want to put down roots. IUP is where I want to be with my family."

This is not to poke fun at Joe Lombardi. By all accounts, he is a fine coach, did a good job at Pitt and appears to have his family's interests at heart in his job choice.

This is to poke some fun at IUP and the school's administration.

The Indians play an NCAA Division II schedule, but school president Tony Atwater confirmed the program is studying the benefits of moving up to Division I. The football program also is studying a move to Division I-AA.

"Division I is something I've decided to not take off the table," Atwater said. "If you don't have dreams, you can't accomplish great things."

Atwater said the basketball program won't move next season but could make the transition in a couple of years.

"It's still on the table at this point," he said. "We are exploring interest."

The chance for IUP to move up from exhibition to patsy game against Pitt. Groovy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New Pitt Blog 

Chris Dokish who writes for Pittsburgh Sports Report has his own blog now. Definitely looks good. This post, especially, is an interesting take on who Pitt should consider hiring as a new assistant coach for the basketball team. As a counter-thought, even though he is likely to join Sendek at Arizona State, I would have to mention Larry Harris as meriting strong consideration.

More Fun With 1-AA 

You may have missed it, but Pitt is hard at work lining up its 1-AA patsy home game for 2007.
Pitt is close to a deal that would bring Grambling State to Heinz Field for a game against the Panthers in 2007.
Only if their band is coming as well. I'd say it's part of the problem with only 7 other conference foes, but so many other schools are just looking for the home patsy and going with the 1-AA route that it is something more.

That brings me to this article on football scheduling in college.
Welcome to the always opportunistic and ethically opaque world of nonconference college football scheduling. A world in which the sanctity of a contract means little -- less if the contract does not contain a "liquidated damage" (i.e., buyout) clause. In which an incoming coach or athletic director (or major television network) can erase an existing game off the "future schedules" page with relative impunity. You've heard of the Outback Bowl? Welcome to the Backout Bowl.
Why is it that the only thing "binding" in college atletics seems to be a kid's letter of intent? Coaching and AD contracts, nonconference scheduling, TV deals. All negotiable and easily changed.

Like records, nonconference football contracts were made to be broken. In the 1990s, Nevada and Oregon entered into an agreement to play three games. The Wolf Pack would visit Eugene in 2000 and '03. The Ducks would play in Reno in '04. Nevada honored both visits to Autzen Stadium, losing both times.

Then, in the spring of '04, Wolf Pack associate assistant athletic director Rory Hickok received a disturbing phone call. "It was Oregon," Hickok recalls. "They told us that they had an opportunity to play a home-and-home with Oklahoma but that they could only do it on our date [Sept. 18, 2004]. They asked not to cancel the game, but to postpone it."

As one Oregon athletic official says now, "I suspect Nevada wasn't overly thrilled."

Nevada had neglected to include a fiscal penalty clause in the contract. The Wolf Pack had little leverage in compelling Oregon to honor the deal. The Ducks held the cards, and Nevada knew it. The NCAA was not about to step in and force Oregon to play the game, nor was the Pac-10 or the Western Athletic Conference.

"We provide for a fair amount of institutional autonomy," says NCAA spokesperson Erik Christianson. "We don't get involved in contractual issues between our member institutions."

Of course, if a student-athlete signs a letter of intent to play at Oregon or Nevada and then reneges on that agreement, the NCAA does get involved.

Back to Nevada. If you are Hickok, what can you do? You know that ABC engineered the Oklahoma-Oregon matchup as a nationally televised game. You do not want to alienate ABC's sister network, ESPN ("We're very much interested in whatever exposure we can get," says Hickok), and you do not want to alienate the mighty Ducks, either.

If you are Hickok, you swallow your pride. You allow ABC/ESPN and Oregon to find you a replacement opponent. You play Buffalo, a program that would win two games that season. You wonder how many of your fans headed to Lake Tahoe that day instead of to Mackay Stadium because of the switch. How much revenue you lost.

"Tentatively," says Hickok, "we are scheduled to play Oregon here in 2010."

Currently, that is a (cough, cough) gentleman's agreement between the two schools. Nothing is in writing. And if Oregon can see fit to renege on a contract, how strong is that handshake agreement for the 2010 game?

"We don't even have that game penciled in yet," says an Oregon official.

I'm unaware of Pitt pulling stunts like this (witness the trips to Toledo and Ohio the last couple of years), but let's not kid ourselves. Pitt would do the same thing with the opportunity. Read the whole article.

The problem has just gotten more accute with the addition of the 12th game. Schools are not looking for good games. They are looking for good money. Whether it is setting up the patsy home game even with a 1-AA team rather than risk playing a good 1-A opponent. Or bailing on a game for the increased TV opportunity.

Even the patsies are doing it. Buffalo bailed on an older deal with WVU this season to take a bigger payout to go play Auburn. This happened in February, leaving the Hoopies scrambling to find anyone. They got 1-AA Eastern Washington.

That's the other reason so many schools are going the 1-AA route. The price for a patsy 1-A opponent is higher than ever with the increased demand. Buffalo was offered so much more money to play Auburn that even after they payed the penalty to WVU for skipping out, they were still making more off the deal.

Other Things 

Capsulized reviews of the activity at all the Big East spring football practices from ESPN.com.
Sophomore Tommie Campbell proved to be one of the spring surprises after switching from safety to weakside linebacker. Campbell might be the fastest player on the team, but the question is whether he can hold up physically. He weighs 202 pounds and has a slight upper body, although defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads likes the way Campbell explodes into blockers. ... Senior linebacker H.B. Blades created a buzz at Heinz Field during the team's Blue-Gold Game when he crushed tailback LaRod Stephens on a pass over the middle. ... Conor Lee, battling David Abdul for the kicker spot, drilled a 49-yard field goal in the spring game. That battle will not be decided until the summer. ... The coaching staff feels good about backup quarterback Bill Stull, who completed 11 of 16 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns at the Blue-Gold Game. ... The running game still has a "long ways to go," according to coach Dave Wannstedt, although fullback Conredge Collins busted a 39-yard run in the scrimmage and Stephens had an excellent spring.
Noting that the Hoopies had their spring game televised on ESPNU. Meaning, perhaps 5 people not in the stadium saw the scrimmage. UConn had around 9000 show up for their spring game -- hey when the basketball ends that suddenly, they needed to do something. Cinci has a new weight room, but the same players. It's still wide open at starting QB for South Florida -- that's not a good thing for USF since that means Pat Julmiste isn't being beaten out for the job. Syracuse has a walk-on WR who is 5' 4" -- that's shorter than Joe DelSardo. Rutgers has raised expectations on campus and one of the best names for a player -- redshirt freshman QB Jabu Lovelace.

Vacancy: Assistant Basketball Coach 

Jamie Dixon has to hire a new assistant.

Joe Lombardi, an assistant coach at Pitt the past three seasons, will be named the new head coach at IUP today.

A news conference is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Lombardi, 46, replaces Gary Edwards, who was not retained after this past season. Lombardi has many connections to the school and the town of Indiana. He was an assistant coach there from 1984-87 and his wife, Janet, was born and raised there.

This is the first head coaching job for Lombardi, who previously worked as an assistant at La Salle, St. Bonaventure and St. Francis, Pa., before coming to Pitt.

Even though Lombardi only spent three years at Pitt, he made an impact in recruiting circles.

Lombardi was the lead recruiter for Sam Young, one of the top freshmen in the Big East last season, and Gilbert Brown, a top-rated shooting guard who will play for the Panthers next season.

Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen gets lots of credit for his recruiting work, but Joe Lombardi has done an excellent job in recruiting. He was also instrumental in getting Trevor Ferguson to commit to Pitt last spring. (Okay, the kid didn't stay once he saw the competition but that's pretty good consider Ferguson never visited prior to making a written commitment.)
Lombardi was also the lead recruiter on Hamady N'diaye, the Center prospect who plans to make his commitment next week.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I don't know if it's a lack of understanding, not looking into/verifying things, stupidity or laziness; but I get very annoyed by simple errors in factual backgrounds.

Another piece on Darrell Strong looking to have a break-out year at Tight End.

Strong arrived at Pitt two years ago amid plenty of hype and high expectations. Yet, he has made more position changes than touchdown catches.

As a senior at Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Strong threw 17 TD passes. Former Pitt coach Walt Harris recruited Strong as a quarterback, then switched him to receiver midway through his freshman year.

Intrigued by Strong's powerful build (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) and sure hands, coach Dave Wannstedt moved him to tight end last year. Strong certainly looked the part, but it was not a smooth transition.

Once again, Strong came out of high school wanting to play QB. He was being recruited by most schools as a Tight End. The reason he came to Pitt was because he was promised an opportunity to play QB. He was not recruited as a QB. In fact, before training camp even ended, Strong was moved to Tight End -- in 2004. He got moved to WR later that year because he was such an athlete that they wanted him on the field to catch the ball and WR worked since blocking wasn't really an issue. It was always expected that he would be moved back to TE as he learned to block.

Of course, that's minor stuff. This story really got my attention and my annoyance level up.
The Pittsburgh experience is one Jennings says he doesn't regret. But he knew by the time the Panthers closed their season at West Virginia last November that he was ready to leave.

There were philosophical differences between Jennings and the Pitt coaching staff. They wanted him to be a fullback, not surprising considering he weighs 250 pounds. It's cut bulk, though; his body fat is around 10 percent. He expects to play at between 235 and 245 pounds next season.

Jennings is convinced he is the sort of back who can pound up the gut for tough yardage yet still get to the outside and break off long runs.
There was never any talk of moving Jennings to FB. Not with Conredge Collins at that position. As we all recall, his transfer was about family reasons -- and there is a conspicuous absence of any mention of his father.

I don't know where that other stuff came from.

Rohrssen Watch 

Manhattan is taking its time, but seems to want to go with someone's assistant.
UConn assistant Tom Moore is continuing to talk with Manhattan about the head coaching job left vacant by Bobby Gonzalez, recently named coach at Seton Hall. Sources said Moore is one of the front-runners along with Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen and DePaul assistant Gary DeCesare.
This approach has worked for them, plus it is definitely a good way to keep salary costs down.

More Blue-Gold 

Well, at least one national sports writer took in the Blue-Gold game and liked what he saw from the defense (Insider Subs.).
QB Tyler Palko looked pretty sharp. He's always been a good scrambler, but he also showed a lot of zip on a few deep outs. The Panthers, who only had one other scholarship QB playing in the game, had to be pleased that highly-regarded quarterback prospect Pat Bostick from Lancaster, Pa., attended the game with his father.

Led by H.B. Blades and Clint Sessions, a pair of thick, heavy-hitting linebackers who are probably 5-foot-10 (not 6-0) each, the Panthers might have the shortest front seven in college football. But with the emergence of converted safety Tommie Campbell, a legit 4.3 guy playing OLB, they might have the best linebacking crew in the Big East. All three guys can fly.

Pitt doesn't have the kind of linemen you would expect from a tradition-rich school in such a fertile spot for producing road-grader types.

WR Oderick Turner, son of former Giant Odessa Turner, made two great catches and should be a big factor in the passing game as the Panthers search for playmakers.

Blue-chipper Dorin Dickerson was at the game and might strong-arm his way into the backfield as a tailback at some point in '06. Right now, Pitt is counting on LaRod Stephens-Howling, a fast 5-6, 175-pounder to share the load with incoming freshman Kevin Collier.

Dickerson, a thick 6-2, 215-pounder with a huge reputation, is slated to start out at wide receiver, but don't be shocked if he gets some carries, too. For a school that produced Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin, it's been a long time since the Panthers had a star tailback. Kevan Barlow was good, but I'll say Martin back in the early '90s was the last big-time back they had.

Seems to really like the speed despite the lack of size on the D-line (of course he's a Miami grad, so that makes some sense).

He also plugs Lidia's as one of the best places to get a good Italian meal (that ESPN.com expense account must be generous).

As for the tape delayed showing of the Blue-Gold Scrimmage, FSN has expanded the time allocated from an hour to 90 minutes. It airs this Saturday from 12:30 pm to 2, and then again on Friday April 28, 1-2:30 pm.

For those of us outside the Fox Sports Pittsburgh market (or lacking the sports package that includes it on Satellite), if you have Fox College Sports Atlantic, the game is supposed to air on Monday, April 24 around 8:30 pm. It is still listed as an hour long program so it might air starting at 8 or go longer. Check local listings.

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