It was nothing personal. We just never much liked Jamie Dixon.
He was just...well maybe he just rubbed us the wrong way. The stupid hair, the goofy fake smile and the endless weak scheduling just got under our skin.
We’re not saying he was a bad coach. He had a solid run at Pitt. His team was usually boring though and it’s hard to remember even a single player or a particularly impressive game. It just all seemed grey somehow. There was never much to get excited about.
Will Kevin Stallings be any better?
Pitt fans thought they were in line for a major coaching upgrade - that didn't happen. Both guys had pretty much worn out their welcomes. Like Dixon, Stallings had won at Vanderbilt ( 455–283/.617) but not enough.
Dixon, by contrast, boasts a .727 winning percentage at Pitt, his only head coaching job before taking the TCU job this past spring.
Pitt has had success under Ben Howland and then Dixon, who was his assistant before getting the job when Howland left for UCLA, but it’s not a natural basketball school.
We thought it would be a natural draw for Dayton coach Archie Miller, who grew up in Beaver Falls, less than an hour away.
He shot that down pretty quickly. So did brother Sean.
So did a lot of coaches, actually.
Stallings got the job though, and may have gotten it before Vanderbilt had a chance to fire him.
He wasn’t a particularly popular choice, but give him credit for this: he kept his new roster together and he kept Pitt’s recruiting class together.
He also hired a staff which is generally well regarded.
It’s not a bad start when you think about it.
Last year, Dixon finished 21-12 and since Pitt joined the ACC, his record was 66-37.
His ACC record, though, was 28-26 and in post-season play, he made two NCAA field and one NIT. His only win was against Colorado
Point guard James Robinson is the biggest loss and he was really solid. Sterling Smith was a one-year grad student import from Coppin State so he won’t be back.
Rozelle Nix is not listed on the roster either. We can’t find a reason why but maybe Stallings didn’t want to deal with a guy who had a serious weight issue (300 lbs).
The core of the team is back though and the most interesting player in one way is Sheldon Jeter.
Like Archie Miller, Jeter is from Beaver Falls. Unlike Miller, after starting off at Vandy, where Stallings was his coach, he wanted to come home - and Stallings refused to release him.
So Jeter spent a year at a JUCO before transferring to Pitt. It was an acrimonious breakup but Jeter says it’s no big deal now. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.com that “I just remembered why I decided to commit to Vanderbilt in the first place. [Stallings] just sold me on the fact this was the best thing for me to do, to stick it out.”
As for his teammates, “I had to tell them this guy, he cares about his players. He wants his players to get to the next level. He wants his players to become professional men. He’ll take care of you. There were a couple of ones I had to reinforce that with, but once they met coach Stallings, most of them were sold on him immediately.”
Clearly the 6-8 Jeter is a mature and forgiving fellow.
He’ll be joined in the lineup by 6-7 Jamel Artis, who is versatile enough that Stallings is considering him as a point guard. Last year he averaged 14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 3.0 apg. He was sort of chained down in Dixon’s system but should thrive in the faster pace Stallings prefers.
Bruiser Michael Young is back as well. Another senior, like Jeter and Artis, Young averaged 15.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg last year. He’s a bit turnover prone - he averaged 2.5 per game last season - but undeniably useful, more so if he can run for Stallings.
Chris Jones is also a senior and a 6-6 guard. He’s athletic and at times explosive. He’s another guy who might thrive in a system faster than Dixon’s deliberate offense.
Ryan Luther, a 6-9 junior, is also back as is versatile 6-8 sophomore Cameron Johnson, who Dixon once dreamed could be a point guard. That probably won't happen, but he can shoot and Stallings likes shooters, so he might emerge.
Damon Wilson, a 6-2 sophomore, will most likely be a role player and will get more minutes if he turns out to be an outstanding defender. Jonathan Milligan is a quick 6-2 guard but he hasn’t established himself as a superior guard yet.
The freshman class is interesting as well. First there’s Justice Kithcart, a native of Durham who played his high school ball at Virginia Episcopal School. He’s 6-1 and here’s what the Pitt site says about him: “Ultra-competitive lead guard with the ability to get in the lane and knock down open jumpers ... quickness and tenacity allow him to be a pesky defender ... Strength, toughness and willingness to sacrafice his body will help him earn minutes as a freshman ... Plays with an edge and an intensity that is contagious ... will not shy away from contact or competition ... A good decision maker in the open court who has picked up Kevin Stallings’ offensive system well.“
Coming from the Triangle can be a real advantage for a young player because you get exposed to a higher level of basketball at an early age. You learn how to fill lanes and to switch defenses in pickup ball. You are constantly exposed to good fundamentals.
That doesn't mean everyone is good, but everyone is exposed to a higher level of the game. You don’t realize this until you go somewhere else and see how much you actually do know.
We like seeing hometown kids do well so go Justice!
However, we’re more intrigued by his classmate, Corey Manigault.
If that name sounds familiar, it should: he’s the nephew of the New York playground legend Earl “the Goat” Manigault. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that Manigault was the greatest player he had ever seen. He couldn’t organize his life well enough to live up to his talent but his legend lives on. We’re really curious to see Corey. He’s not his uncle certainly but it’ll be fun to see what he can do.
Stallings also has a JUCO transfer, 6-4 Chrisshawn Clark of Dayton, Ohio. He played at Canada College but has a history of knee injuries and didn’t play at all his sophomore year (he still has three years of eligibility). He was said to be a late bloomer in high school but it’s really hard to know what to expect from him.
In the main, Stallings has inherited a tough and experienced team which gives him a chance to have an outstanding first year. His biggest question will be at point guard. Then there’s the basic stuff that every new coach has to figure out, like organizing a rotation and who is willing to defend.
He should have a pretty good first year though and whether Dixon left behind a minor gift, or Stallings had more of a hand in it, Pitt faces yet another weak schedule which will help the bottom line.
The Panthers are obliged to play at Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Otherwise though it’s Eastern Michigan, Gardner-Webb, SMU, Morehead State, Duquesne, Buffalo, Penn State, Rice, Omaha and Marshall.
SMU is on a neutral court; only Maryland is an away game and that’s mandated.
That’s the debut season; after the seniors leave is when Stallings will make his true mark. He got a bit of a rep at Vandy for two things: first the Jeter transfer, as discussed above, and second, an unpleasant incident with Wade Baldwin after a game with Tennessee.
Unhappy with Baldwin’s apparent taunting of UT players Stallings said “I’ll [effing] kill you.”
There was a bit of a dustup but Baldwin didn’t mind. Afterwards he tweeted this: “Coach Stallings is the best coach in America. I felt no offense to anything. We are both fiery people and that's why I chose Vandy.“
We think he got a bit of a bum rap at Vandy, honestly and we expect he’ll do reasonably well at Pitt. And Pitt fans should appreciate a more exciting offense.
There is one other factor to consider about Stallings at Pitt and it’s important: like Duke, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Stanford, Vandy has higher academic standards than most schools. Stallings was limited in who he could recruit to Vanderbilt. That won’t be the case at Pitt. He’ll be able to recruit much more aggressively. He had a fun program at Vandy at its best. If he can have that kind of energy with better talent, Pitt should be pretty good.