I made my first trip to the Pittsburgh Pro-Am last Wednesday to watch a litany of players. If you live in the Pittsburgh area, I highly recommend attending one or more of these games over the next few weeks. For starters, it's completely free to attend and park. Second, the games are played in two Montour High School gyms within 150 feet of each other, so there is ample seating and not a bad one in the house. It's a really good way to see players up close and in a wide-open format.
The Pittsburgh Panthers have plenty of young talent on their roster that are participating in the event. It was on full display last Wednesday night. Nothing that happens in the summer league should be taken very seriously, at all. Outside of a significant injury there isn't a lot of serious analysis that can be done. Still, there are certainly glimpses and flashes of potential with the younger players.
There were four total games played, two at a time. I tried watching one half of each game before switching to another at halftime. Here are some observations:
With the graduation of forward Talib Zanna, there is clearly a hole in the middle that Pitt must look to fill. Some are hopeful that junior center Joseph Uchebo can fill that void. Uchebo has been a stat-stuffer so far in the Pro-Am; he dropped 13 points and hauled in 14 rebounds last Monday, followed by 15 points and 17 rebounds last Wednesday.
But, those numbers are a little deceiving. Dig a little deeper and you'll see that he hasn't really played against another noteworthy frontcourt player. Former Panther John DeGroat played last Wednesday, and was often regulated to battle on the boards given his squads lack of interior players. DeGroat is 6'6" and isn't in the best shape - just to put that in perspective.
Uchebo probably battled him on Monday (I wasn't there), and exploited his height advantage. Last Wednesday, Uchebo went against walk-on forward Aron Nwankwo. There were times when Nwankwo looked like Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried out there, as he was moving so much better than Uchebo.
Sure, Uchebo pulled down 17 rebounds, but Nwankwo had 12 himself. Uchebo often had to tip the ball to himself multiple times to get a rebound. I guess you can look at that two ways: it's smart that he realized his limitations and wisely tipped the ball to himself, or he struggled to rebound over a 6'7" walk-on. Take your pick.
To his credit, he was adept at clearing space in the post on offense, particularly the left block. However, he did miss nearly every hook shot he attempted, again over small players, but the shot looked good.
Overall, he changed ends rather slowly, and grimaced at times when we went down the court. He wasn't an above the rim guy before and has now lost more of his athleticism and whatever lift he once had. He could be useful on the offensive end, as there were flashes of a decent post presence. However, anyone who thinks he's even a 15 minutes per game guy is probably too optimistic barring something drastic changing.
With three years of eligibility remaining for the former Vanderbilt forward, there is a lot of like about sophomore Sheldon Jeter. The first thing I wrote down about him was that he looked the part. He's certainly in that 6'6" to 6'8" range with good muscle definition and an athletic build. He showed off a solid perimeter jumper and leveraged his athleticism, lack of size on his team, and the up-and-down nature of the Pro-Am to net 17 rebounds to go along with his 21 points on 9-17 from the floor, including 2-5 from beyond the arc.
Jeter is going to play for Pitt, and will push to be the starting small forward, immediately. I think you can probably slot him at the off-guard position and maybe power forward in some lineups, depending on the situation. Many people noted how much more the Panthers ran in the early goings last season, and Jeter will keep pushing Pitt in that direction.
Lastly, true freshman guard Cameron Johnson, showed his advanced offensive skill set. While he certainly needs to hit the weight room, his natural feel for the game was beyond his years. I liked how well he saw the floor, particuarly when he pushed the ball in transition. His passing ability in those situations, and in the halfcourt, was impressive for a guy who just finished playing high school basketball.
Johnson also displayed a smooth touch on his three-pointers and connected on a few long two-pointers as well. I definitely don't think that he backed down when things got a little bit physical, but he didn't necessarily attack in those situations either. The tools appear to be there for him, he'll just need to stay mentally engaged and develop his body a little more.
It was certainly an impressive showing for the new Panthers. Every Pitt player looked a cut above the rest in terms of raw athleticism. I also thought freshman forward Ryan Luther was pretty good, but never stood out; I don't believe this environment allows him to.
I didn't want to get too carried away with the true freshman and Jeter because, like I said, it's the summer league. Uchebo just didn't move very well, despite slimming down since the season ended. Overall, I think the Panthers should be very excited based on what they are seeing from their newest members. Whether or not any of that will translate come the fall is another story.