PITTSBURGH – When Steven Adams left for the NBA after one season at Pitt, it left the Panthers without a true post presence. This was a potential problem for a program that had long relied upon bruising big men in the Big East.
From Chris Taft to Aaron Gray to DeJuan Blair, Pitt has had a variety of big men patrolling the paint. The 6-10 Taft had low-post moves, from a turnaround jump-hook to a trusted bank shot. Gray transformed himself from a lumbering load to an NBA center by using every inch of his 7 feet. Blair was a bear who had a knack for grabbing – and scoring off – rebounds despite being undersized at 6-7.
Adams was viewed as an underachiever because the New Zealand native needed time to adjust to the college game. But he was bursting with potential as a 7-footer who could run the floor, block shots and score around the basket. He averaged seven points and six rebounds but showed his skills in small doses: a steal and breakaway dunk against Notre Dame, a double-double against Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament.
His one-and-done departure, despite repeated protests that he would return, left Pitt in a pickle. Not only did the Panthers not recruit a post player in 2013, they didn’t have one on their roster. Dante Taylor, the former McDonald’s All-American who was Adams’ backup, graduated in the spring.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon’s solution was to slide power forward Talib Zanna to the post, rationalizing that the 6-9 Zanna had one of his best performances when playing there in a pinch last season. When Adams missed the Villanova game with an ankle injury, Taylor got the start on Senior Day. But it was Zanna who got major minutes at center, and he responded by scoring 14 points and grabbing 19 rebounds.
Dixon, however, knew it was only a one-year fix. So Pitt tried to pad the position in the off-season, signing 6-10 junior-college transfer Joseph Uchebo and taking a transfer in 6-8, 245-pound Derrick Randall from Rutgers. Where Uchebo has been slowed by a knee injury, Randall received an NCAA waiver and is backing up Zanna.
But Pitt didn’t want to put itself in another precarious position, so the Panthers continued their search for size. When they missed on 7-footer Satchel Pierce of The Kiski School in nearby Saltsburg (Pierced signed with Marquette), the coaching staff took a chance on a project from overseas.
Pitt added an international flavor to its 2014 recruiting class by signing Shaquille Doorson, a 6-11, 265-pound center from the Netherlands. Doorson announced his decision Nov. 22 on the website of his school, the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain.
“This was always the goal for me and the reason why I came to CBA,” Doorson said in the statement. “My dream has come true, to know I'll be playing in the ACC under a great coach and at a great program in a powerhouse conference. I can only thank (CBA director) Rob Orellana and his coaching staff for pushing me every day to make this dream become a reality.”
Doorson, 19, was recruited by Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen, rehired this past summer after coaching at Manhattan and in the NBA Developmental League. Doorson is raw, with only two years of experience playing basketball but based on watching his highlights, he shows signs of being explosive around the basket by grabbing rebounds and dunking in traffic.
“In his short time here Shaquille has taken huge strides and he is a true credit himself and to CBA,” Orellana said in a statement. “This is a great move for him as he will be challenged every day and I really believe that his continued development will flourish under the guidance of head coach Jamie Dixon.”
Dixon signed two other recruits in the Class of 2014, both with Western Pennsylvania ties.
Sheldon Jeter is a 6-8 small forward from Beaver Falls who spent his freshman year at Vanderbilt but is attending Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla., after Commodores coach Kevin Stallings denied his request to transfer closer to home and attend Pitt. Jeter will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Ryan Luther is a 6-8 stretch four who averaged 21 points a game as a junior at Hampton High last season. He has led Hampton to back-to-back appearances in the WPIAL championship game, and he chose the Panthers over offers from Dayton, Duquesne and George Washington.
Class Of 2015 Is Under Way
Before Pitt put the finishing touches on its Class of 2014, it started working toward the future. The Panthers added backcourt depth by getting a commitment from Damon Wilson, a 6-5, 193-pound junior at Our Savior New American in Centereach, N.Y.
Wilson calls himself a fundamental point guard, although he spent time playing shooting guard last season at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., which featured Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis. When Dixon watched Wilson practice, he saw a player perfectly suited to play for the Panthers.
“I already liked Pitt. After he came to my practice, he started pushing more,” Wilson said. “He told me he liked the way I play, that my style of play fits Pitt because I can rebound and push it up the floor.”
Wilson picked Pitt over Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Stanford, Virginia and Virginia Tech. His father, Damon Sr., played football at Georgia Tech; his older sister, Dominique, plays basketball at N.C. State. A native of Powder Springs, Ga., Wilson transferred from McEachern High to St. Benedict’s last year, then to Our Savior New American this year.
“He's a long, lefty athletic point guard,” Our Savior New American assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch said. “He loves to pass the ball. He’s got a team-first attitude and a great will to win. They played him out of position last year. Now, he’s got a chance to be a point guard, and he’s showing his natural playmaking tendencies.”
Wilson gives Pitt players at all five positions in their next three recruiting classes. The Panthers have a center in Doorson, a small forward in Jeter, a power forward in Luther and a shooting guard in 6-7 sophomore Maverick Rowan of Midland (Pa.) Lincoln Park.
That's not a bad position to be in for the future, even if it changes abruptly.