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November 4, 2010Injuries are never ideal, but sometimes those situations can create opportunities for players who would have otherwise been reserves. And right now, several of No. 5 Pitt's younger players are experiencing those very opportunities.
With redshirt senior forward Gilbert Brown (hamstring) and junior forward Nasir Robinson (knee) on the sidelines during the preseason, redshirt freshman Talib Zanna and true freshman J.J. Moore found themselves seeing extended playing time in Pitt's first exhibition game of the 2010-11 season last Sunday.
Zanna started at power forward in place of Robinson and nearly posted a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 22 minutes. Moore was the primary reserve at small forward and played 17 minutes, 11 of which came consecutively in the second half, and scored 17 points in the 104-62 win over Northwood (Fla.) University.
"You don't want to see any players out, but on one hand, it's a plus for us because other guys can step in and we get to see what they can do on the court, and it helps to get their confidence up." senior guard Brad Wanamaker said Sunday afternoon.
For head coach Jamie Dixon, getting inexperienced players like Moore, Zanna, and true freshmen Cameron Wright and Isaiah Epps on the court was valuable for two reasons: the experience of playing time, and the experience of playing alongside veterans like Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs.
"We had a lot of young guys, but we tried to keep some veteran guys with the younger guys; we didn't want to have them all out there at one time," Dixon said. "Hopefully they can learn by playing with some guys that are a little more comfortable out there."
"Every minute is valuable for these guys, so they have to take advantage of it."
Zanna's preseason experience will be key. He is already in position as the primary reserve at power forward behind Robinson, who is expected to miss three-to-six weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee last Wednesday. That means Zanna will gain playing time and experience while Robinson is on the sidelines, all of which should make him a more valuable contributor when Pitt begins the Big East portion of its schedule in late December.
"Talib is a good player," Wanamaker said. "We could see the improvement in Talib last year; even though he redshirted, we saw that he was maybe the best rebounder on the team.
"He knows his role. His role is to get rebounds, set screens, and try to get other players open. Today he got some open opportunities and we took advantage of them."
Meanwhile, Moore figures to a top bench player at small forward, and he showed flashes of his potential against Northwood when he scored 11 points in 11 second-half minutes, largely from outside the perimeter, where he was 3-of-5.
"He played well," Gibbs said. "He played with a lot of confidence; that's the biggest part of his game and that's the biggest part of basketball. If you're confident in your ability, you can do anything. You have to believe in yourself. He has a lot of confidence, and he's just got to keep it up. He has a good motor and he brings a lot of energy to our team. The best is yet to come."
The extra playing time while Brown and redshirt freshman forward Lamar Patterson (ankle) come back from injury will be beneficial, but Moore - and Zanna and Wright - also gained valuable experience while the team played in Ireland this summer.
"It helped me a lot, because I could see how Coach has everything set up and how he likes to play and how he likes us to play," Moore said. "I learned a lot from that because I've never been in the NCAA mindset, and I think that, in the long run, it's going to help me."
Moore averaged 8.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game during Pitt's six-game tour of Ireland, while Zanna averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds. But the experience allowed the young players to get accustomed to playing with their teammates and learning from the coaches.
In fact, the experience was valuable enough that current sophomore center Dante Taylor wishes he had taken part in a similar exercise prior to his freshman season.
"That would have helped me out a lot, because I would have been used to the style of play and how physical it is," Taylor said. "It would have been good to get that extra time to go over plays and stuff like that so that when we start our first practice, I'd have a heads-up on what's going on."
Overall, the trip to Ireland should help the team as a whole this season.
"It gave us a good chemistry," Gibbs said. "I think that really helped the freshmen and helped our bonding on and off the court."
Pitt concludes its 2010-11 exhibition schedule tonight against Indiana (Pa.) University at the Petersen Events Center.
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