The Pitt Panthers basketball team returned home from an up-and-down month away from Pittsburgh and quickly have seen the fortunes change.
Much of that has to do with the return of senior guard Cameron Wright, who finally looked like himself Wednesday night, scoring 14 points in 34 minutes of action in his third game back recovering from a foot injury.
That was a big leap forward for Wright, who had scored only one point in his prior two games, playing a total of 22 minutes.
Wednesday against Manhattan, Wright looked more like his usual self and made an impact at both ends of the floor, something that Jamie Dixon’s team was sorely missing at the start of the season.
“This was my first full week of practice this year,” said Wright. “My teammates did a great job getting me re-acclimated and had a lot of confidence in me. They passed me the ball and I was able to knock down some shots. I was feeling a lot better out there. I give a lot of credit to my teammates for having faith in me.”
Wright was Pitt’s leading returning scorer this season, having averaged 10.5 points per game as a redshirt junior.
Offensively he gives Pitt an experienced guard, one who started all 36 games last season. Wright gives Dixon something that he was missing the first seven games of the season, an athletic presence that can get after it at both ends of the floor.
While Wright certainly will make an impact with the ball in his hands, giving Pitt a guy who can attack the basket with his size, athleticism and speed, his biggest impact the rest of the way could come at the defensive end of the floor.
Wright is Pitt’s best man-to-man defender and it was evident that the Panthers struggled in that area without him.
He also is a guy who can rebound in traffic as the Pitt guards were not rebounding very well without him.
“I told the team that we are 3-0 with Cam in the lineup,” said Dixon. “I feel like our defense improved with the addition of Cameron, and that’s a good step. Offensively we have been taking good shots, but we hadn’t shot the ball well until the second half (vs. Manhattan), so he helps in that aspect also. I’m excited about where we are going to be. We’re battling through some challenges but we’re going to get right and continue to improve and get better in our execution.”
In addition to the numbers he will produce the rest of the way, Wright brings all the intangibles that winning players usually have.
He was built in the mold of what a Pitt player truly is, if you think back to some of the greats during the Dixon era.
For his sake, at least Wright is back on the floor helping his teammates and doesn’t have to watch them any longer.
But the time away from the floor opened up his eyes.
“I saw the game from a whole different perspective,” said Wright. “I felt like Coach Wright. It is a blessing to be back out there. I will do anything for these guys and I love them to death. I’m just excited to be back on the floor.”
Judging by how he played on Wednesday night, his teammates are glad to have him back as well.
This is a different Pitt team with Wright in the lineup and if he continues to progress and continues to look for comfortable on the floor with each game, then Pitt’s slow start to the season will become a thing of the past.
The Panthers will be back in action Saturday, December 20 when they host Oakland at the Petersen Events Center.
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports