Pitt's media day kicked off last week and most eyes were on freshman phenom Khem Birch. After a summer of hype, it's almost time to see Birch in some game action wearing a Pitt uniform.
Rule No. 1: Remember - it's going to take time, according to Jamie Dixon:
It may not be quick enough for some people. We have patience. We recognize it takes time. That's an important part of a program, recognizing that it takes time for good players to play in good programs.
Dixon not only talked about time in terms of skill, but also in terms of his body developing. Birch has added ten pounds of weight and while it's not enough to make him an ideal power forward/center in the Big East, it's a start.
But getting back to improving on the court:
"He knows he has to get better. If you ask him, the first thing that comes to his mind is not what he was called or what somebody writes about him; the first thing is he has to get better. That's his belief and he knows that. That's what he's here to do. What you've done in high school - and that's not even what you've done; that's just a label - has very little to do with what you become."
We've all been hearing for so long just how good Birch is. But there was one person who wasn't always convinced - Birch himself.On his rapid ascension to stardom, Birch had this to say:
"I remember the first night in my room, I didn’t think I was going to last," Birch said. "Then I realized how good I was."
Birch went from Winchendon to Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass. He averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks per game last season while helping Notre Dame Prep advance to the final of the National Prep Championships. Yet again, Birch developed into more of a prospect than he ever expected.
"I didn’t think I was going to be a five-star," Birch said. "I thought I’d be happy if I’m a three-star player."
Birch may have a hard time picturing how he got here, but the fact is that he's here.
So what can we expect? Instant impact player since he's a McDonald's All-American? From Dante Taylor, we all that AA status doesn't always guarantee instance success. And Taylor unsurprisingly has some good advice for the freshman:
"Don’t feed into the media because they’re all going to come and be like, ‘Alright, he’s a McDonald’s All-American, he’s supposed to come in and contribute right away,’" Taylor said. "But it’s hard pressure for a freshman to come in ... I told him to not pay attention to it, not try to go out there and do too much and progressively you’ll get better and better."
There's no since in pointing out how much since that makes so I won't even try.
My thoughts on Birch are well documented. I don't expect him to come in and dominate offensively, but he doesn't need to do that. If he plays good defense and rebounds, he'll have done his job. Pitt will need others to step up and help score points alongside Ashton Gibbs, but Birch shouldn't be that guy if he's not ready - and I personally don't think he is.
What would I like to see from Birch in terms of numbers? That's hard to say - he can contribute with so much more by altering shots and keeping defenses honest as a legitimate presence in the paint. The big thing that will largely determine his production is obviously how much he plays. Just too early to predict any type of production right now.
But regardless, the Birch era has officially begun.