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The Top 67: Ranking the No. 1 player under Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon

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Today, we wrap up the rankings of the careers of all of the 67 basketball players ever to suit up for Jamie Dixon. As a reminder, here's the drill. Myself and contributors Aron Minkoff and Jim Hammett ranked each player and our composite results are displayed.



Before we get started, we employed a few main rules here:


1. Only the Pitt portion of a player's career counted - Khem Birch played less than a season with Pitt. While he was a productive college player elsewhere, the fact that he spent so little time with the Panthers showed in our rankings.



2. Only the time a player spent under Dixon counted - A player like Julius Page, for example, would rank higher, but he spent only his senior year under Dixon.



3. Best career, not best player - This isn't about determining the best player under Dixon. It's more about who had the best career at Pitt under Dixon. Steven Adams may be a better basketball player than several of the guys on the list but he only played at Pitt for a year and has certainly developed more in the NBA since then.

DeJuan Blair

Position: Center
Games Played: 72
Year(s) under Dixon: 2007-2009
MPG: 26.6
PPG: 13.6
RPG: 10.7
APG: 1.1

Cardiac Hill Rankings
Aron Minkoff: 1
Jim Hammett: 1
Anson Whaley: 1
Average Ranking: 1

Before I get into today's post, I wanted to thank Aron who not only put all of our numbers together, but who also wrote the daily posts. He put an unreal amount of time into this to help us get through a really slow time in college sports, so a huge kudos to him. It's not easy to find the time to do the kind of work that he did, so give him your thanks. This was his idea and never would have happened without him.

Aron, Jim, and I didn't agree on everything in our rankings that spanned the last few weeks. But the decision for the top career in the Jamie Dixon era was a unanimous selection as we all chose DeJuan Blair. Obviously, there's going to be some disagreement with our choice, but that's why these things are so cool. It's not that we're right or others are right - it's really about generating discussion.


The case for Sam Young, our No. 2 player, over Blair is a solid one primarily because Young played for four years under Dixon while Blair played only two. As we tried to stress throughout, our rankings were about determining the player with the best career. But in our opinion, a stronger case can be made in Blair's favor despite only hanging around Pitt for two years.


I wanted to take today's post because I had a lot to say on Blair vs. Young. I apologize in advance because while I wanted to focus on Blair, this really turned into a Blair-Young narrative of sorts. I thought it was important to document why Blair was my choice and much of that had to do with things that Young didn't bring to the table.

Jim and Aron surely have their own reasons for picking Blair first, but here are some reasons why I did.

Better All-Around Player

I know, I know - career, not ability. That's true, but this is just one of several reasons that I took into account. Blair wasn't only a better player, he was (in my mind) a significantly better all-around player.

Blair averaged a double-double in his two seasons with the program and Young never had the kind of two-way dominance that he did. As a true freshman, he scored 11.6 points while grabbing 9.1 boards per game. His 337 total boards were fourth in the conference. He became the first Pitt player ever to record 400 points and 300 rebounds as a freshman. He was even better as a sophomore, averaging 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest. By that time, he was one of the most dominant big men in the entire country.

Defensively, Blair was better, too. His 1.5 steals per game over his career was better than what most guards can muster and a testament to how quick he was and how adept he was at disrupting plays. And the fact that Blair (barely) bested Young in blocks shouldn't be disregarded, either, since he was constantly undersized against his opponents.

It's also noteworthy that he took better care of the ball, too, averaging only 1.6 turnovers per game as opposed to the 2.4 that Young averaged in his final two years. In fact, in Blair's final season where he handled the ball more, his turnovers per game actually decreased and his 1.3 turnovers were more than one fewer per game than Young. Playing on the perimeter, Young is, of course, going to be open to more turnovers. But also consider this - Blair actually averaged slightly more assists than Young did - as a center.

To me, there's no question that Blair was the better all around player, even as a sophomore. but as we stated time and again, these rankings were more about career. So why did we opt for Blair?

Glad you asked - read on.

The Awards

In only two years, Blair earned enough awards that would make a lot of pros jealous:

  • Blair won the Big East's Rookie of the Year Award
  • Blair was not only on the nation's All-American Freshman team, but was a unanimous pick
  • Blair was the Big East's Co-Player of the Year as a sophomore
  • Blair was a prestigious unanimous First Team All-American selection as a sophomore

Simply put, Young never achieved any of that despite having four years to do so. For Blair to accomplish that in his first two years as a collegiate player was borderline superhuman. When you consider a player's career, awards are a huge part of that. Blair's individual success brought the kind of individual national attention that hadn't really been achieved at Pitt since the days of Charles Smith. That leads me to ...

National Recognition

That national attention garnered by Blair was undeniable.

His 12.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore were fourth in the entire nation. In addition to the First Team All-American selection, Blair was also featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the 2009 season preview edition and was a common name in living rooms everywhere.

Let's be clear here - Blair didn't put Pitt on the map. They were already there and that was in part to what players like Sam Young had achieved earlier. But Blair's individual attention proved that you could be a legit star and even contend for Player of the Year here, really taking Pitt to another level in terms of more attention from better recruits.

That, in part, gave the program a boost and helped make Pitt a 'player' for big men. After Blair's big season, the Panthers landed McDonald's All-American Dante Taylor and five-star centers like Khem Birch and Steven Adams. Blair's play, of course, wasn't the only reason Pitt got those guys (or, in Adams' case, maybe not even much of a reason at all) - but you have to think that throwing Hasheem Thabeet around like a rag doll, dunking on anyone and everyone, and putting up big games on ESPN had some impact. Blair at least proved that Pitt was a place where talented bigs could thrive.

Blair's career really helped push Pitt even more into the spotlight.

Dominated His Position

While Young was a great offensive player, he wasn't in the discussion of being the best at his position as Blair was. Again, Blair wasn't only a First-Team All-American, he was a unanimous pick. Those lineups are mixed of all sorts of positions, but Blair was arguably the top center in the country. By the time he left, Young was known as a very good forward, but at the height of his career as a senior, was still only a third-team All-American, as rated by the AP and Sporting News - Blair was on the first team of three organizations, and second on a fourth. To be considered the best or among the best at his position by the time a player wraps up his career is flat out special.

Young's Four Years

One thing I did want to touch on was the fact that Young played four years to Blair's two. That was definitely a factor in our decision and for me personally, maybe the biggest reason to consider picking Young. But it's worth noting that while Young was certainly a contributor in those first two seasons, he wasn't a star. Few players are right out of the game - but Blair was one of them.

In Young's first two years, he averaged fewer than eight points, four rebounds, and one assist. Really, he was more of a role player in that time. The fact that he was able to contribute anything is a big deal, but it's not as if he was a star for four seasons. He also regressed considerably in his second season, shooting a career-low 45% from the field and also under 60% from the free throw line. He also didn't have the three-point shot, which he developed later in his career, shooting under 27% from that range.

Again, Young was obviously a contributor in his first two seasons and that can't be disputed. But it is worth noting that, like just about everyone else, he really had to grow into his position and definitely had some struggles early on. So while Young certainly gets credit for two more years under Dixon, his seasons weren't so far and away outstanding that they deserve to propel him past Blair, in my opinion.

Conclusion

Blair departed the program for the NBA following his sophomore season and was drafted just one pick behind teammate Sam Young. While he finished just behind Young in the draft, he overtakes him in our rankings.

When you add it all up - the national recognition he brought to the university, the awards, the status as perhaps the best center in the nation, the two-way dominance, the fact he was a better overall player, Blair deserves our top spot for the player with the best career under Jamie Dixon.

Do you agree or disagree? Tell us in the poll and comments below. Before you do that, however, you may want to see all of our picks right up against each other. Here they are.

Anson

Aron

Jim

1 DeJuan Blair DeJuan Blair DeJuan Blair
2 Sam Young Levance Fields Sam Young
3 Ashton Gibbs Carl Krauser Carl Krauser
4 Carl Krauser Sam Young Levance Fields
5 Lamar Patterson Lamar Patterson Chevon Troutman
6 Levance Fields Brad Wanamaker Lamar Patterson
7 Aaron Gray Ashton Gibbs Ashton Gibbs
8 Brad Wanamaker Aaron Gray Aaron Gray
9 Chris Taft Chevon Troutman Brad Wanamaker
10 Talib Zanna Gilbert Brown Chris Taft
11 Nasir Robinson Chris Taft Gilbert Brown
12 Chevy Troutman Talib Zanna Steven Adams
13 Gilbert Brown Travon Woodall Talib Zanna
14 Travon Woodall Ronald Ramon Julius Page
15 Jamel Artis Nasir Robinson
Mike Cook
16 Michael Young James Robinson Travon Woodall
17 Ronald Ramon Michael Young Michael Young
18 Mike Cook Mike Cook Jamel Artis
19 James Robinson Jamel Artis Nasir Robinson
20 Cam Wright Julius Page Jaron Brown
21 J.J. Moore Jermaine Dixon James Robinson
22 Jaron Brown Jaron Brown Gary McGhee
23 Julius Page Steven Adams Jermaine Dixon
24 Jermaine Dixon Levon Kendall Ronald Ramon
25 Gary McGhee Gary McGhee Cam Wright
26 Antonio Graves Dante Taylor Dante Taylor
27 Dante Taylor J.J. Moore Tyrell Biggs
28 Steven Adams Antonio Graves J.J. Moore
29 Levon Kendall Keith Benjamin Levon Kendall
30 Keith Benjamin Tyrell Biggs Antonio Graves
31 Tyrell Biggs Cam Wright Durand Johnson
32 Chris Jones Josh Newkirk Chris Jones
33 Josh Newkirk Khem Birch Keith Benjamin
34 Durand Johnson John Johnson Mark McCarroll
35 Sheldon Jeter
Sheldon Jeter Josh Newkirk
36 Mark McCarroll Durand Johnson Toree Morris
37 Khem Birch Chris Jones Trey Zeigler
38 John DeGroat Trey Zeigler Sheldon Jeter
39 Toree Morris Mark McCarroll Khem Birch
40 Trey Zeigler Chase Adams John Johnson
41 Ryan Luther John DeGroat John DeGroat
42 John Johnson Derrick Randall J.J. Richardson
43 Derrick Randall Yuri Demetris Isaiah Epps
44 Joseph Uchebo Joseph Uchebo Malcolm Gilbert
45 Chase Adams Ryan Luther Yuri Demetris
46 Yuri Demetris Aron Phillips-Nwankwo Aron Phillips-Nwankwo
47 Aron Phillips-Nwankwo Cameron Johnson Ryan Luther
48 Cameron Johnson J.J. Richardson Dwight Miller
49 J.J. Richardson Doyle Hudson Chase Adams
50 Doyle Hudson Malcolm Gilbert Doyle Hudson
51 Dwight Miller Toree Morris Derrick Randall
52 Malcolm Gilbert Nick Rivers Joseph Uchebo
53 Cassin Diggs Joshua Ko Cassin Diggs
54 Tim Frye Cassin Diggs Cameron Johnson
55 Mike Lecak Isaiah Epps Ed Turner
56 Nick Rivers Marcus Bowman Dante Milligan
57 Maurice Polen Ed Turner Austin Wallace
58 Marcus Bowman Dwight Miller Tim Frye
59 Charles Small Dante Milligan Marcus Bowman
60 Isaiah Epps Charles Small Mike Lecak
61 Joshua Ko Tim Frye Maurice Polen
62 Dante Milligan Mike Lecak Joshua Ko
63 Ed Turner Maurice Polen
Nick Rivers
64 Austin Wallace Geoff Rizk Charles Small
65 Geoff Rizk Austin Wallace Geoff Rizk
66 Ryan Tiesi Ryan Tiesi Sean Brown
67 Sean Brown Sean Brown Ryan Tiesi