Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Pittsburgh’s freshmen class includes a McDonald’s All-American, a 6-foot-11 shot-blocker, a member of last year’s prep national powerhouse and a combo guard who could play some meaningful minutes.
“They’re all working hard,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon told SNY.tv last week during a recruiting visit to Hudson Catholic High School. “I think they’re adjusting. They’ve had six weeks of workouts, and there’s been improvement definitely.
“It’s been a good group.”
Khem Birch, a 6-foot-9 Canadian forward pictured above, is the McDonald’s All-American and enters with the hype of being a potential NBA Draft pick. Since he’s been at Pitt, he has added 10 pounds to get to 210 pounds, “and it’s great to see that,” Dixon said.
“He’s going to be a very good player,” Dixon said of Birch, who finished up at Notre Dame Prep. “He’s really picking things up well, and that’s been encouraging for me.”
Pitt has a history of producing talented big men like Aaron Gray, DeJuan Blair and Gary McGhee, but Birch’s upside could be even higher.
“Guys seem to continue to improve at a steady pace and that’s what he needs to continue to do,” Dixon said. “I really think he’s fit into the culture and the environment of improvement that we have there.”
Malcolm Gilbert is the 6-11 shot-blocker with a huge wing span from Academy of the New Church (Pa.). He has added 14 pounds to get up to 240. Within a year or two, he could slide into McGhee’s old role as someone who alters a ton of shots.
Durand Johnson is a 6-6 small forward from Baltimore who helped guide Brewster (N.H.) Academy to a 31-3 over record and the No. 1 national ranking for most of last season.
Dixon figures to start New Jersey products Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs in the backcourt, with Long Island native J.J. Moore likely at the three, Nasir Robinson at the four and Greenburgh, N.Y. native Dante Taylor at the five.
Redshirt freshmen Isaiah Epps, another Jersey native, and Cameron Wright are likely to get significant playing time in the backcourt.
But freshman John Johnson, a 6-1 combo guard from Philly who played at Burlington (N.J.) Life Center, could see time,
“It’s not an experienced group as a whole, that’s for sure,” Dixon said.
That, in turn, could open up some room for the frosh to blossom.
**Dixon says league change won’t alter recruiting
**A potential draft pick, Birch emerges from car crash
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.