<
>

Former Pitt coach isn't worried about move

9/21/2011

Since Pittsburgh and Syracuse dropped the ACC hammer on their Big East compadres Sunday -- briefly exacerbating a torrent of realignment movement that was only alleviated by the Pac-12's merciful reversion to sanity Tuesday night -- myself and others have wondered whether Pittsburgh basketball in particular could be hurt by the move.

The thinking, which Mike DeCourcy first ruminated on three days ago, goes like this: For years, Jamie Dixon has built his Pittsburgh program despite the lack of either a) a nationally elite reputation or b) a clear pipeline of hometown talent. Instead, Dixon has built his program by recruiting players from the East Coast who saw in Pitt a potent mix of playing time, style and frequent trips to places like New York City and Philadelphia. Won't that combination be moot in the ACC? And if so, would Pitt face greater recruiting challenges as a result?

I'm not sure there's a right answer. At this point, Pittsburgh is a different program than it was before Dixon took over; it might rightfully be called a national program, and it may yet begin to recruit at the same level as powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse. At that level, geography doesn't matter. But that hasn't been the case in recent seasons at Pitt; all but two of Pitt's current players didn't grow up in a traditional "Big East" area. Isn't dismissing those geographical concerns a bit premature?

Former Pittsburgh assistant Tom Herrion -- now a second-year coach at Marshall -- isn't buying it. He told The Dagger he thinks the move will have "zero effect" on Pitt's success in the coming years:

"I think it will have zero effect," Herrion said Wednesday. "Jamie has built that program to continue to sustain success. They've proven over the last 10 years that program can win against teams all over the country. There will be a transition period and an adjustment geographically, but I think it will have zero effect on the program.

"It might even help them in a lot of areas. They may even be able to go into other areas and get kids that they couldn't before."

Dixon's model for success has been simple in theory and complicated in practice. He recruits sub-elite players from East Coast cities to fit roles within his program. He develops those players into successful long-term Big East stalwarts. By the time they reach their junior and senior seasons, those players have been molded in to one of the most physical and most intelligent teams in college hoops. The blueprint has worked time and again.

If the ACC solidifies Pittsburgh's status as an elite program, then the blueprint may change for the better. Maybe elite recruits simply want to play in the ACC, and Pitt can promise them huge exposure and competition against the best league in college hoops. Maybe, like Herrion says, the wider conference footprint opens doors to players that would never have considered Pittsburgh before now.

If that's the trade-off, Pittsburgh fans would surely take it. But the uncertainty is there. Until Pitt has a few years to adjust to its new conference, we just don't know how this will work out. Stay tuned, I suppose.