I wanted to get down to the Pete this weekend, I really did. But the one thing I've learned about getting older is that it's harder and harder to find time to do much of anything for yourself over the weekends.
As always, the festivities were more than simply a scrimmage and a dunk contest. There's a cause involved ... and a pretty good one at that:
Maggie Dixon, sister of Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, died suddenly due to an arrhythmic episode to her heart in 2006, just weeks after coaching the Army women’s basketball team to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Maggie Dixon is remembered through the Maggie Dixon Foundation, an organization which works to raise awareness about sudden cardiac death.
"Our number-one goal is to raise as much awareness as possible," Ann Jarski, a representative of the Maggie Dixon Foundation, said. "The best thing we can do is let people know that this can be sudden."
I don't get too much into my personal life here, but as someone that's had minor heart rhythm issues before, I can reaffirm the position that it can happen suddenly. Get checked out.
The turnout, for a Saturday football afternoon, anyway, wasn't too bad - an estimated 6,000 people showed up. I still contend that a Midnight Madness would be better an afternoon scrimmage, but this is better than nothing.
There was Ashton Gibbs, who turned in a good performance, and it was encouraging to see Dante Taylor with a good game with ten points and 14 rebounds. But there was another guy who was the star of the show during the 57-49 Blue win over the Gold team.J.J. Moore had 18 points in defeat and won the dunk contest later that night. If any one player needs to provide an offensive scoring punch to help Gibbs, Moore may be the most capable, despite struggling at times last year as a freshman. The team will be far more successful with a second go-to guy and while Moore may not quite be there yet, his 18 points were encouraging.
Head coach Jamie Dixon says that Moore battled injuries last season and is improved:
"He's playing well. He's healthy and has practiced well. He's a better player now this year than he was last year. His confidence level is up and he's now the old guy on the floor with so many young players around him. He has to stay healthy and injuries bothered him and hurt him last year. Nothing good comes out of that."
in addition, Moore said the freshmen struggled a bit in the game:
"It was a little sloppy with the freshmen out there, but they got used to it," Moore said. "We picked it up and played hard. As the game went on, we got better."
That's to be expected, obviously. Khem Birch had a solid game with eight points, four rebounds, and three blocks, but as Ray Fittipaldo of the PG observes, the other three freshmen all struggled, going 0-6 from the field collectively.
Gibbs led the way for the Blue team with 26 points and is clearly Pitt's leader. Not much to add here, but it will be interesting to see if his game changes at all. I've mentioned this before, but Gibbs will be better served by showing a few new skills this season in order to attract more NBA interest. If his defense can improve and he can display a bit more playmaking ability, he should guarantee himself a draft spot.
"I probably should have guarded him a lot more," junior guard Travon Woodall said with a smile. "It’s hard to disrupt somebody like that."
Woodall, who covered Gibbs for portions of the game, is convinced his teammate has improved since his stellar junior season.
"I don’t know if you noticed his burst of speed out of the dribble, but his first step got so much faster," Woodall added. "His whole body changed."
Then there's Dante Taylor, who is the guy that everyone's expecting to break out - including Taylor himself:
"I definitely think this is the year I can step up and show people what I can do," said Taylor, Dixon's first McDonald's All-American and the first at Pitt in more than two decades. "I think it's time for me to do it."
I do think Taylor will improve, but I'm going to reserve judgment on just how much. Last year, it seemed as if he was poised for a big year and while he played well at times, was far from the impact player we all envisioned. That could happen this season - I'm just not sure I'm willing to predict that, though.