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Lessons from the Pittsburgh Pro-Am

What did we learn from the Pittsburgh Pro-Am?

With the Pittsburgh Pro-Am coming to a close last night, many Pittsburgh Panthers fans may be asking themselves, "What can we take away?" In truth, mostly nothing of any substance beyond the fun times had if you attended this splendid, mid-July event. The senior forward tandem of Michael Young and Jamel Artis were absent from the semi-finals and obviously the final. The player with the most buzz a week ago, newcomer Justice Kithcart, was also not featured in the semi-finals.

Instead, we got a healthy dose of sophomore guard Cameron Johnson (League Co-MVP) and for the fans attending the game last night, he’ll be playing for the championship. I can’t say this enough: This event is absolutely fantastic for the fans, gives the players an opportunity to play somewhat competitive basketball in the middle of the summer, and is well organized and coordinated. With that said, I heavily caution fans to get too far ahead of themselves in terms of trying to extrapolate meaningful analysis from any of these games.

For starters, Rene Castro of the Duquesne Dukes has dominated this event the in its last two iterations. He was virtually a non-factor for a surprisingly decent Duquesne team last year when games actually mattered. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the tools to be a successful player, but applying those tools is usually what counts.

If you’re a guard and you don’t "dominate" at this event, there’s something wrong. The loosely played defense, especially on the back line, really allows guards do whatever they want so long as they are capable. I’d be more focused on guards that you don’t even notice on the court than the ones that consistently register 20+ point performances. Sure, it’s nice to show off your handle against fleeting on-ball defense that never seems to extend beyond the three-point line with any purpose, but I didn’t leave any game labeling anyone as the next Skip Too My Lou or anything.

There are very few traditional frontcourt players at an event like this, at least in Pittsburgh. Junior forward Rozelle Nix was simply the biggest human in the zip code most likely, and that was on display here and there. No, he isn’t going to be Joe Uchebo 2.0 (fingers crossed), but in his current condition, he plays below the rim and doesn’t change ends all that quickly. If Stallings continues with a hedge and recover approach to on-ball screens on the defensive end, Nix is going to struggle in those situations more times than not.

Basically, if you’re not inhaling rebounds at this event as a true frontcourt player against both undersized and inferior talent, that’s a yellow flag in my books. A lot can change in three months, but for those hoping that Nix will be a big-time contributor come November, you may want to stop holding your breath (cross your fingers instead).

This event is an absolute blast to attend, and conjecture is fun in July. I just caution fans to remain entertained, not necessarily informed, and definitely encourage those who can make it out to Montour High School to do so in the future.

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