Pitt’s Durand Johnson says his knee is back to 100 percent

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After missing the final 20 games of the 2013-2014 season, Pittsburgh junior forward Durand Johnson was back wearing his home white uniform on Thursday at the Panthers media day.

The 6-foot-6 Johnson was sidelined in mid-January after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in an ACC win over Wake Forest. While he may have recovered from season-ending knee surgery, Johnson has recently injured his ankle and is currently day-to-day, according to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Hey, an ankle injury is something you just deal with in basketball; if we had a game today, I’d be suiting up to play,” Johnson told reporters. “I just need to keep working through it and work it out. I’m not too concerned. I’m just glad my knee is back to 100 percent, it feels good, it is strong.”

Pitt took a blow last week when another key contributor from a season ago went down with an injury. On Sept. 26, it was reported guard Cameron Wright, who started all 36 games last season, had suffered a broken right foot and is out for up to 10 weeks.

With Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna both gone, Wright and Johnson are Pitt’s top two returning scorers at 10.5 and 8.8 points per game, respectively.

“I can’t really give you specifics for when [Wright and Johnson] are going to be back, but I don’t anticipate that [Wright] will miss many games, and Durand should be able to work back into it,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “And he will tell you he is ready to go today.”

At least for the time being, Pitt will rely on other returners such as junior point guard James Robinson, who was top 3 in the country last season in assist-to-turnover ratio, Jamel Artis, who has reportedly slimmed down this summer and fellow sophomores Michael Young and Josh Newkirk.

The Panthers begin the 2014-2015 season with a home contest against Niagara on Nov. 14.

Pittsburgh lands late 2013 shooting guard Detrick Mostella

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Jamie Dixon and the Pitt Panthers landed a late 2013 commit from shooting guard Detrick Mostella (La Lumiere School/Decatur, Ala.).

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported the news that the former Oklahoma State commit had changed his college plans for the fall.

“Pitt has received a commitment from 2013 guard Detrick Mostella, per a source. Originally committed to Oklahoma State. Big time get,” tweeted Rothstein

Mostella gives Pitt an exceptional athlete at the two-guard, who has great speed and finishes above the rim (as seen in these numerous YouTube videos). He’ll hopefully give Pitt a scoring boost sharing the backcourt with rising sophomore James Robinson next season at Pitt.

Rothstein didn’t mention why he elected to switch commitments, but it might have something to do with Travis Ford returning Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte — all double-figure scorers — to Oklahoma State’s backcourt this season.

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard had previously committed to the Cowboys this past November. He is ranked No. 53 overall in the Class of 2013 and is the second four-star recruit to pledge to Dixon and the Panthers. Power forward Mike Young (St. Benedict’s Prep/McKeesport, Pa.), point guard Josh Newkirk (Word of God Christian Academy/Raleigh, N.C.) and small forward Jamel Artis (Notre Dame Prep/Baltimore, Md.) will join Mostella in Pitt’s freshman class. Joseph Uchebo, a 6-foot-9 JuCo center from Chipola College (Fla.) rounds out the Panthers’ newcomers.

Derrick Randall will continue his career at Pitt starting this fall, following his transfer from Rutgers. He is reportedly seeking a waiver.

Pittsburgh loses Travon Woodall to graduation, Steven Adams to the NBA and J.J. Moore, who is transferring to Rutgers.

Pittsburgh still has one more scholarship available for the upcoming season, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

James Robinson replaces Jerami Grant on Under-19 team

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USA Basketball announced Syracuse forward Jerami Grant, who has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, will be replaced by his former DeMatha Catholic High School teammate and current Pittsburgh guard James Robinson on the Under-19 team, preparing for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic.

“I’m disappointed and feel bad for Jerami,”  head coach Billy Donovan said in a statement from USA Basketball on Tuesday. “Unfortunately even since the tryouts he just never seemed himself; it seemed like he was ailing – he had a sore throat, then it was strep throat and nothing really helped; we even got him on penicillin and we took him for some blood work and it came back mono.”

The 6-foot-3 Robinson was one of 16 finalists for the Under-19 team before that list was trimmed to just 12. Robinson averaged 6.1 points, 3.5 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers, starting in all but one game during his freshman season. Robinson is also familiar with USA Basketball, winning a gold medal with the Under-18 team.

“I think bringing James (Robinson) back is a good thing because he played last year on our U18 team,” Donovan added. “He was one of the last guys not to make this year’s team. We made the decision this year to go with five guards and seven front court guys, and that’s a little bit of a different look than it was last year when we were a little bit more guard heavy.

“James coming back gives us some stability at the point guard spot, gives us another strong, physical guard, gives us a guy that had a lot of playing experience last year at Pitt.”

USA Basketball begins preliminary play on Thursday against the Ivory Coast. Followed by games against China and Russia the next two days. The semifinals and finals are scheduled on July 5-7.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

Pittsburgh lands JuCo forward Joseph Uchebo for 2013 class

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With freshman forward Steven Adams deciding to enter the NBA Draft after one season at Pittsburgh, coach Jamie Dixon is now on the hunt to find more post players.

Joseph Uchebo, who averaged 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds this past season at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, has pledged his commitment to the Panthers. He was also being recruited heavily by Minnesota. The 6-11 Uchebo, who prepped at Word of God (N.C.) Academy, committed to North Carolina State before taking the junior college route.

Uchebo spent the early part of this past season rehabbing a knee injury and has battled it throughout his college career. He is said to be 100-percent healthy now and appeared in 21 games in 2012-13.

He’s a decent pick-up for the Panthers, who, along with losing Adams’ 7.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, also losing Dante Taylor to graduation and Malcolm Gilbert to transfer. The Panthers get Talib Zanna back and incoming freshman Michael Young enters the fold in the frontcourt as well.

Here’s some old film on Uchebo, a native of Nigeria, from his college days.

Follow David Harten at @David_Harten

Jamel Artis commits to Pittsburgh

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Jamie Dixon landed his third commit for the Class of 2013 on Friday night.

Jamel Artis, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass. decided on Pittsburgh, which was a constant part of his recruitment over he last few seasons. The news was reported by Panther-Lair (subscription needed) and Edgar Walker, who tweeted it. Later was confirmed by Notre Dame Prep head coach Ryan Hurd via Twitter. Artis, a Baltimore native, had offers from La Salle, Miami (FL), Rutgers and South Florida.

This commitment continues the pipeline between Notre Dame Prep and Pittsburgh basketball. Over the last three seasons, Hurd has sent a a player to Dixon. Khem Birch, know with UNLV, committed in 2011 followed by Steven Adams in 2012. Pittsburgh always seemed the favorite to land Artis.

“Pitt was my main school,” Artis told Kevin Gorman of TribLive.com on Friday night. “Everybody else was just recruiting me, saying they loved my game but never really put in the effort. Pitt came to see me a couple times. I felt the love from them.”

For his size he has good handles and can get to the rim. Also is able to make plays with his ability to pass the ball. He joins power forward Mike Young and point guard Josh Newkirk as the Panthers incoming class.

Notre Dame Prep was investigated by the NCAA in Sept. 2012. The basketball powerhouse had two players from its Class of 2012 commit to Division I programs only to be ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. This was Artis’ only season at Notre Dame Prep after transferring from Vermont Academy.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

Late Night Snacks: Notre Dame beats Pitt, K-State spoils Huggins’ homecoming

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It was a relatively light night on the action front. A few Top 25 teams in action, two playing each other in the Big East, and some mid-major games that, while looking good on paper, were missing a few things. It’s Late Night Snacks.

Game of the Night

No. 25 Notre Dame 51, No. 20 Pittsburgh 42 – The teams essentially switched jerseys at the half on Monday night. In the first 20 minutes, the Fighting Irish scored 19 points and missed 18 of their first 19 shots. In the second half, the Panthers scored 20 points and finished shooting just 34.8-percent overall and going 0-for-8 from three.

Games of Note

No. 13 Kansas State 71, West Virginia 61 – The score didn’t really reflect how one-sided this game was. The Wildcats never trailed after 2-0 in the opening moments and got out to as large as a 21-point second half lead and were never threatened by the Mountaineers. Will Spradling had a night with 19 points and a 7-for-7 performance at the free throw line as K-State shot 50-percent from the field (23-of-46). Only Deniz Kilicli scored in double figures for West Virginia with 16.

Bucknell 61, Lehigh 55 – This game lost a bit of its luster long ago when C.J. McCollum broke his foot. It still lived up to the Patriot League hype. Mike Muscala went for 12 points and nine rebounds and teammate Bryson Johnson scored a game-high 19 in the win. The Mountain Hawks were 1-for-15 from three-point range in the loss.

Fairfield 66, Iona 64 – Derek Needham’s three pointer with five seconds left lifted the Stags over the Gaels at home. Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones carried Iona in the loss (see below) and Fairfield got 30 points from their bench, including 12 from Justin Jenkins and 10 from Maurice Barrow.

Villanova 71, Rutgers 63 – All five starters scored in double figures for the Wildcats, who needed it because they only got eight points from their bench. JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono all had 14 in the victory. Myles Macks poured in a game-high 24 in the loss for the Scarlet Knights.

Starred

Fred Sturdivant, Texas Southern – A monster night for a player who is sure to garner first-team All-SWAC honors. The forward went for 21 points and 17 rebounds in a 73-57 victory over Mississippi Valley State.

Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones, Iona – The Gaels lost to Fairfield, but the former Arizona transfer dropped in 29 points in the loss. He was 9-of-17 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.

Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova – The Wildcats big man went for 10 points and 12 rebounds in the win at Rutgers. They needed every point and every rebound from him on Monday night.

Struggled

Eron Harris, West Virginia – The Mountaineer guard averages 9.2 points per game, but finished a rough night against Kansas State with zero points and fouled out in just eight minutes. He spent a majority of the night on the bench and put the bow on his performance by getting a technical foul for his fifth to send him to the bench.

Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh – The forward averages 10.5 points per game. He finished a bad offensive night for both teams with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, five rebounds and four fouls in 26 minutes in the loss.

Stuffing the Stat Sheet

Rarlensee Nelson, New Orleans – I preface this with the fact that the Privateers played Central Baptist College, a school in Conway, Ark. that plays in the NCCAA. But Nelson had a night with 11 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for UNO in the 100-65 win.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten