Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule
With five returning starters and a sparkling new arena, the scrappy Panthers are moving up in the world
By Seth Davis
As if having five starters returning from one of the best teams in school history wasn't enough to stir excitement in the Steel City, the Panthers will also be playing their home games this season in the gleaming Petersen Events Center, a spanking-new $96.4 million, 12,500-seat on-campus facility. Yet, as impressive as the arena is, it seems incongruous with both the blue-collar town it's located in and the ugly-duckling team that won a school-record 29 games and advanced to the Sweet 16, the first Pitt team to do that since 1974. "We weren't always pretty, but we were tough and played extremely well together," coach Ben Howland says. "Our biggest challenge will be to recapture that chemistry."
Page and the Panthers aren't always pretty on offense, but their defense is what wins games. Bob Rostato
An opposing coach's view
"They're extremely good at running their half-court offense, and that's because of Brandin Knight. Knight really improved his jump shot last year, which made him dangerous because he's very strong and he penetrates well. You need to trap him to make him give up the ball. ... Julius Page might be one of the top three athletes in the Big East, but he gets out of control sometimes. He can shoot it, but he's streaky. ... They have good big men, but those guys don't move as well. You have to push them away from the basket and make them run the floor. ... A lot of people are talking about freshman shooting guard Carl Krauser. I've heard he's as talented as anybody in their program. ... You have all those guys who had terrific success last year, but the question is, Will everybody be as happy with their roles again?"
How scrappy were the Panthers? Well, they were second to Virginia Tech in the the rough-and-tumble Big East in rebounding margin (+6.4) even though their leading rebounder was a 6'4" swingman, Jaron Brown (6.1 boards a game), and their best defensive rebounder was 6-foot point guard Brandin Knight (4.0 a game). Their strength and speed make up for what they lack in size, but when needed, Howland can go to his bench for wide-bodies like 6'10", 280-pound junior center Toree Morris and 6'6", 265-pound senior Ontario Lett, who takes up so much room under the basket that he's been fondly dubbed Lake Ontario. Together, the Panthers combined to lead the conference in scoring defense (60.9 points a game). "Defense is all about pride," says junior guard Julius Page, one of the Pittsburgh top defenders. "I know I'm embarrassed if someone scores on me."
Making the offense go is Knight, who appears to be fully recovered from the arthroscopic surgery he had on July 2 to remove loose cartilage from his right knee. Knight, the brother of Memphis Grizzlies guard Brevin Knight, not only led the team in scoring (15.6 points a game) but was also second in the Big East in assists (7.2). "It's like he has eyes everywhere," Page says.
With every home game already sold out, there will be lots of eyes on Knight and his teammates this season.
Issue date: November 25, 2002