Well, we can officially stop wondering when (or even if) Pitt basketball head coach Jamie Dixon will ever receive a commitment from a top talent. Those questions stopped yesterday when Pitt finally got one ... a big one. Top five player in the nation, Khem Birch verbally committed to Pitt's 2012 class. We all heard about how Birch had a great visit to Pitt earlier this month (must be an Insider to view), but who could have known it was good enough for him to not only commit to Pitt, but to do it fairly early?
So where to start? Well, we should start about all the criticism Dixon has gotten about not landing a top player.
Sure Dixon had gotten DeJuan Blair, who was approximately a top 50 player. Then came Dante Taylor last year, who was a top 25 player. But those weren't top of the line players, after all. They were good but not great. And after Taylor's high school coach criticized Dixon about playing Taylor out of position, it was easy to wonder if that would stop future top players from coming to Pitt. There were, of course, the doubters who wondered if it would ever happen. I don't know if I publicly doubted Dixon's ability to get a stud player to come to Pitt, but I know I've thought about it.
Dixon has to get credit for not only what he's built at Pitt, but in this case specifically, hiring the assistant who possibly made the difference between Birch coming to Pitt or going elsewhere. Birch seemed to indicate Skerry was a big factor in his coming to Pitt:
"I chose Pittsburgh because I really feel comfortable with Coach (Pat) Skerry and Coach Dixon, and I feel that they can help me develop," Birch told FOXSports.com.
His coach says the same thing:
"Providence was the leader in the clubhouse when Coach Skerry was there," Hurd said. "And when he went to Pittsburgh, it was a no-brainer for Khem."
"He just felt comfortable with Skerry and Coach Dixon. Khem is a special player. He’s a fantastic player and kid, and it’s tough to coach him sometimes because it’s impossible to get angry at him."
Finally, Birch added:
"My relationship with Coach Skerry is great," he told PantherLair.com. "We are so close it is unbelievable."
Also, in an interview earlier this year, Birch said Providence was at the top of his list. Just goes to show you how valuable assistant coaches can be.
2012 is a long way off, but if the commitments made by Birch and fellow big man Steven Adams hold up, Pitt is in position to have its best class in the school's history. It could be a long shot, but if Dante Taylor comes back for his senior season in the 2012-13 season, just imagine that frontcourt. Dixon is kind of iffy when it comes to starting freshmen and this probably wouldn't happen, but how about a starting trio of Birch, Adams, and Taylor? Wow.
Onto the specifics: Birch is a five-star recruit as rated by both Rivals and Scout. Both have him as the top power forward in the class and also rank him as the fourth-best overall recruit in the nation. ESPN.com lists him as the #2 prospect overall.
So what are his strengths? Well, he was called the top rebounder at a recent outing as part of the Lebron James Skills Academy and DraftExpress calls him a strong shot-blocker.
And, by the way, Pitt still has four other top prospects on their radar for 2012. It will be interesting to see if the commitments of Birch and Adams can help the team pick up another star.
So now that Pitt's got a superstar class, the next thing we'll find out is if it will actually help the team go farther in the NCAAs. But that's another issue for another time.