PITTSBURGH – Jamie Dixon won’t use the word “unexpected” while describing the abrupt departures of freshman center Steven Adams and junior guard Trey Zeigler.
“I wouldn’t say we were totally caught off guard,” Dixon said Wednesday.
Even though Adams insisted all year he would return for his sophomore season, Dixon understood there were more factors than just Adams’ love of college at play. The raw 7-footer from New Zealand is the youngest of 18 children and Dixon knows an NBA payday would alleviate some of his family’s financial concerns.
It’s why Dixon says he “fully supports” Adams’ decision to hire an agent and enter the draft.
“It’s tough,” Dixon said. “I think he really loved it here. He loved his teammates ... I know what he was saying but I also know what his family was saying at the same time.”
Adams averaged 7.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 32 games while making 57 percent of his shots and leading the team with 65 blocks. Though he remains a project offensively, Adams can run the floor and may still be growing. He is projected as a second-round pick and Dixon feels NBA teams will see picking Adams as a long-term investment.
“The draft is – especially on big guys – it’s based on where they are going to be down the road and their development,” Dixon said. “I know people may somehow question it but at the end of the day, he has got the size, the athletic ability.”
And he leaves Pittsburgh with a serious void in the middle as the Panthers prepare to head into the ACC this summer. Center Dante Taylor is graduating and reserve Malcolm Gilbert asked for a transfer last fall. That leaves junior Talib Zanna as the only legitimate frontcourt player on the roster, with 6-8 recruit Michael Young joining the program in the fall.
Still Dixon remains upbeat about having just six scholarship players returning. He pointed to the team’s success in finding talented newcomers during the spring and summer as proof it’s hardly time to panic. In the past Dixon’s staff has uncovered Antonio Graves, Jermaine Dixon and Chevon Troutman during the late signing period. All three were impact players for the Big East’s winningest program over the last decade.
“We’ll find some guys, we always do,” Dixon said.
Even if there isn’t a secret stash of players with Adams’ mix of size and strength. Dixon isn’t committed to giving out a scholarship just because he has one. Pitt carried just 10 scholarship players this season and Dixon offered the success of teams like Syracuse – which is playing in the Final Four by relying heavily on its top seven players – as proof depth isn’t a must to win.
Dixon allowed there was always the risk of losing Adams after just one season. The same can’t be said for Zeigler. The former Central Michigan star came to the Panthers when his father, Ernie, was fired as the Chippewas’ coach last spring. Things just didn’t seem to click for the 6-5 Zeigler, who had known Dixon since he was in grade school.
Zeigler lost out on the starting shooting guard job in October and couldn’t find a niche. Rather than compete with Durand Johnson for playing time, he’s going to head elsewhere.
“He just didn’t feel this was the right situation for him after going through it,” Dixon said. “He’s a great kid, a super kid. I just think he was looking for a chance to be more involved.”