Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pitt-Cuse game filled with potential recruits

The stars shined bright during Monday night's Big East Conference basketball game between Pitt and Syracuse, a game won by the Panthers after they squandered a 19-0 lead to the Orange.

Steelers like Ben Roethlisberger (who received a raucous round of applause from the record crowd of 12,925 when shown on the big screen above the court), James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley and Max Starks were on hand. So were former Pitt football players Larry Fitzgerald - who heard repeated 'Larry! Larry!' chants every time he stood up, Tyler Palko, Dorin Dickerson and even former Pitt basketball players Mark McCarroll and Sam Clancy, who is a fixture at the University.

The most important guests were probably seated about 20 feet to my left, where a believed 40 potential football recruits had spots next to press row. While I didn't recognize every recruit, I was able to spot a few targets for new head coach Todd Graham.

Greensburg Central Catholic junior Josh Stepoli, a Monessen resident, was there. So were Clairton standouts Desimon Green and Trenton Coles. (One student in the Oakland Zoo held up a sign that read, "Our favorite color is Green.") Hopewell running back Rushel Shell, possibly the WPIAL's most coveted recruit since Terrelle Pryor, was on hand. Penn-Trafford's Manny Simpson was two seats from me and McKeesport's Delvon Simmons received plenty of attention from Graham and his assistants.

Getting all those recruits to that game was a smart move on Pitt's part. I'm not sure I ever heard Petersen Events Center as loud before and senior forward Gilbert Brown said the same thing in a much more humorous manner after the game.

And, in an unusual change of pace, Graham and his coaches wore Oakland Zoo t-shirts and encouraged the recruits to stand up and cheer on occasion. As someone who has covered Pitt basketball games dating back to Walt Harris, I can't recall that happening before.

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