Wright set to join Epps in Panther backcourt

August, 10, 2009
08/10/09
12:36
PM ET
The dog days of August can produce some moments of unexpected recruiting joy on a random weekend night.

Florida International got the news when Dominique Ferguson of Indianapolis shocked the industry by selecting new coach Isiah Thomas over more traditional powers.

On Sunday night, coach Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh received one of those pleasant surprises when shooting guard Cameron Wright committed to the Panthers. Wright, a one-time Ohio State commitment, chose Pitt over Wisconsin, Indiana and Dayton.

ESPN.com recruiting coordinator John Stovall describes Wright as a slashing wing.

"He needs to be more assertive because he has a tendency to disappear at times in games. But no one has ever doubted his talent," Stovall said. "He can be a good rebounder for his position, with his athletic ability being a great asset. Defensively, he should be a lockdown defender with his length, size and athletic ability."

Wright, out of Benedictine High in Cleveland, will team up with top-15 point guard Isaiah Epps (Plainfield, N.J.) in 2010 and beyond to give the Panthers their backcourt of the future.

Pitt will have a junior point guard starting by then in Ashton Gibbs. The rising sophomore takes over for Levance Fields this season. Gibbs got an advance course in playing a more prominent role over the summer. He was the primary point for the Under-19 FIBA World Championship team that won gold in New Zealand. Gibbs averaged 22.4 minutes and 9.8 points per game (with 20 assists, six turnovers and seven steals).

The Panthers have prided themselves on getting the undervalued player, the one who slides a bit under the radar. But they've secured a McDonald's All-American in Dante Taylor for this season and got a verbal from Epps by beating out Texas, Maryland and home-state schools Seton Hall and Rutgers.

• Isiah Thomas can't talk about the players he's getting commitments from, but the new FIU coach isn't shy about how well things are going. Thomas' name recognition and his deep roots in the Midwest are helping him secure commitments from the area. He said he has been amazed how often players are recruiting FIU, more than FIU having to get its name brand out to the general populous.

The expectations will rise when Ferguson is on campus. This season, the onus is on the four junior college transfers -- Marvin Roberts, Phil Gary Jr., Antoine Watson and Stephon Weaver -- to be the bridge until the heralded freshman class of 2010-11 arrives. Expecting the Golden Panthers to be better than .500 this season might be too much. Thomas said finishing around that mark would be an accomplishment for Year 1.

But so far he's hitting his mark in recruiting. Thomas was savvy to realize that FIU has to earn its way in the state of Florida. Name recognition seems to matter more nationally than in a state dominated by popular schools like Florida and Florida State and a private institution like Miami.

"We've found it's easier to recruit nationally here so far," said Thomas of the reach the Golden Panthers have had into the Midwest, Northeast and South. "We're going into Detroit, Chicago and Indiana. My approach is that we want to compete with Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky."

Thomas isn't hiding from pursuing lofty goals. He knows it's all about landing players. But how the FIU infrastructure handles the arrival of the players will be another challenge.

How well can FIU compete in the Sun Belt, let alone nationally, is another question. Western Kentucky is the team of record in the league and coach Ken McDonald isn't letting the Hilltoppers fade. Getting on television will be a chore, too. FIU will get a few token appearances. But once the curiosity factor is over, ratings will play a factor, making it harder for FIU to land TV games.

These challenges aren't new to Thomas, but just a dose of reality as he lands players thought to be above the program's reach.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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