Pitt announced a very late addition to its roster as the program signed junior college combo guard Jonathan Milligan. The 6-foot-2 Milligan averaged 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game at Kilgore College last season and helped the team to a 21-9 record.
He’ll give the Panthers another experienced guard to fight for a spot in the rotation this season.
“We are fortunate to be able to add a guard of Jonathan’s caliber at this point in the year,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the release. “He is a promising combo guard who received a lot of high major interest out of high school and while he was at Kilgore College. He has the ability to score from a variety of spots on the floor and break down defense by getting into the lane. He also has the quickness and instincts to be an outstanding defender in our program.”
While James Robinson returns to the Panthers for his senior season, he averaged nearly 34 minutes per game last season and the addition of Milligan can hopefully help give him some time on the bench to rest. Coppin State graduate transfer Sterling Smith also joined Pitt at shooting guard and combo guard Damon Wilson is a true freshman recruit. Cameron Johnson also returns for his redshirt freshman season after sitting out most of last season after left shoulder surgery.
The perimeter group for Pitt is inexperienced but Milligan’s addition does give them some more depth.
After undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee in early May, it was unknown whether or not guard Josh Newkirk would be able to contribute to the Pittsburgh basketball program in 2015-16 as he was expected to be sidelined anywhere from four to six months. Sunday afternoon it was announced by the school that Newkirk won’t be a Panther, as he’s decided to transfer to a school closer to home (he’s from Raleigh, North Carolina).
“Josh is looking to get closer to home while he recovers from knee surgery and we are in full support of his decision,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the release. “He has been an excellent student and strong representative of the University of Pittsburgh. We wish him the best of luck in his rehab and recovery.”
Newkirk wasn’t a starter for the Panthers last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.7 assists in just under 21 minutes of action per contest. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2015-16 campaign, but given the knee surgery the time off could work in Newkirk’s favor. With Newkirk no longer in the fold, the question for Pittsburgh (which will return four starters) is who takes the reins when starting point guard James Robinson needs an occasional breather.
Robinson, who will be a senior, led the team with an average of 33.9 minutes per game in 2014-15 and without a clear backup he’ll play at least that much in 2015-16. Pitt added former Coppin State shooting guard Sterling Smith, who will be eligible immediately as a grad student, in late April and freshman combo guard Damon Wilson joins the program as well.
Sophomore Cameron Johnson joins Robinson as Pittsburgh’s only scholarship returnees on the perimeter.
With five of their top six scorers from last season returning, Pittsburgh should not lack for scoring in 2015-16. One of those returnees is junior forward Michael Young, who averaged 13.4 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game last season with Jamel Artis (13.6 ppg) being the only Panther with a higher scoring average. However Young put forth those numbers playing out of position, as the Panthers’ lack of size led to him serving as the team’s starting center despite being 6-foot-9.
With that being the case adding size was a goal for head coach Jamie Dixon and his staff, and doing so this offseason should benefit Young. Joining the program are 7-foot junior college transfer Rozelle Nix and two graduate students in Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (from Richmond) and Rafael Maia (Brown), providing the Panthers with a noticeable (and necessary) boost in the front court.
And in a story written by John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune, Young noted that these additions can help the Panthers offensively as they get used to the new 30-second shot clock.
“With me going back [to the power forward spot], Jamel playing (small forward), we’ve got size at (shooting guard) — and (point guard) through (power forward) being able to handle the (ball). I don’t think the shot clock is really going to affect us,” Young said. “Me being able to get a rebound and push the ball upcourt and those guys running. Guys like Rozelle and Alonzo, they can easily get a rebound, take one dribble and make a nice outlet pass.”
Pittsburgh finished the 2014-15 season with a 19-15 overall record, going 8-10 in ACC play and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. In order to navigate what should be a deeper ACC the Panthers need to get better on the defensive glass, as they finished the season ranked tenth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
The pieces Pitt will add to their front court have the potential to help in that regard, with Maia leading the Ivy League in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and Nix pulling down 9.5 caroms per game at Pensacola State CC last season. And if the newcomers meet early expectations, that will benefit Young and his teammates as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament.