PITTSBURGH — Jamel Artis, a 6-foot-7 small forward a season ago, is going to be Pitt’s point guard this season, at least to begin with.
Artis and head coach Kevin Stallings both confirmed that the senior will be moving to the top of the offense, at least to start the season, with sophomore Damon Wilson and freshman Justice Kithcart providing depth.
Artis said he half-jokingly suggested the move back at the beginning, but Stallings took him at his word, and so far, it’s been working out.
“We didn’t have a true point guard that was going to start,” Artis said. “I came to him and said this is the best fit for us. He trusted me and I like that.”
Stallings called Artis his team’s best passer and a quality defender and said that his biggest hurdle to overcome was with his decision making. Artis agreed.
“Making good decisions, I think that’s the most important thing,” Artis said. “Trying not to do too much, that’s the most difficult thing. Everything else is natural to me. Before practice, I try to tell my self not to make turnovers. … The most important thing I want to do is take care of the basketball. That’s going to be a key for our team.
Some players might not be enamored with making a position move entering their senior season, but Artis seems as if he’s been waiting for this opportunity all along.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a natural thing for me to bring the ball up, make plays for others and myself and create. It’s the best opportunity for our team. We can go big in the starting lineup.”
That’s the plan, for the Panthers to be both big and small at the same time. With junior college transfer Rozelle Nix the only player on the roster taller than 6-foot-9, the Panthers will undoubtedly give up size in the paint to many ACC opponents.
But with Artis at 6-foot-7 and Chris Jones at 6-foot-6, Pitt will certainly have the tallest backcourt in the league. Artis said that will be an advantage offensively, and he is confident he’ll be able to hold his own defensively.
“We’re playing defense differently this year,” he said. “It’s not going to be one man sticking or me playing the point guard the whole game. We’re switching. Everyone else on the floor can switch. … I’m not going to say I’m the quickest guy, but I know how to manage my spots on the floor and get there on the defensive end. We’re going to be switching a lot. I’m not going to be on the point guard all game, but I’m going to set the tone on the point guard.”
Offensively, Stallings plans to use his big backcourt in a fast-tempo offense. He mentioned not wanting the ball to hit the ground after a made basket, and the ability of players like Artis, Young and Sheldon Jeter to operate in space should be a positive.
“We’re going to be a lot faster,” he said. “We’re not that big. We don’t have true big men. We have a lot of guy that are going to go out there and play hard. That’s all it takes. I don’t think we’ll need true big men. We’ll be fine. We’re going to play up-tempo and we’re going to score the basketball a lot more.”
SPEED AND COMFORT
Artis seems to be a big fan of the new, up-tempo offense in general, not just his role in it, and thinks it compares positively to what was done under departed head coach Jamie Dixon.
“This is a team that’s going to have more freedom than in the past years that I’ve been here,” Artis said. “I liked that a lot because I don’t think I could really show my talents. When I watch other teams I see guys that can’t really handle the basketball. But teams in this offense let them run the point guard and push the ball up the floor. For me to push the ball up the floor, that’s a good thing because I can make those plays and make scouts see me as versatile. I don’t think I was that in the past three years here. I’m happy Coach Stallings is here right now.”
Artis isn’t just pleased with Stallings’ offense, either, Artis and the rest of the seniors have really taken to the amount of responsibility Stallings has placed on their shoulders.
“Guys are more comfortable out there,” Artis said. “With Jamie Dixon, I think guys were scared to make a play. Coach Stallings put the trust in these guys that you can go out there and make a play. You have more freedom like we talked about. Don’t give too overcome with the freedom, but play within the system and make a play.
“We had a nine-guy rotation last season that I think we shouldn’t have had. Guys would come in for two minutes and get pulled out. That’s not well on a player. He can’t get comfortable like that. We don’t have that much depth right now, but Coach Stallings put this freedom on us. It’s going to come down to the seniors. … You can’t be scared to mess up or guys aren’t going to be able to play their game. Coach Stallings makes guy feel comfortable, I would say.”
ROTATION STILL NOT SET
Stallings said that beyond the four seniors, junior Ryan Luther and redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson will be a part of the rotation, but other roles are still up for grabs.