Freebeck flips to Vanderbilt

Written by Sam Werner on .

What was originally supposed to be a stress-free signing day (if there is such a thing) for Paul Chryst and company tomorrow took a late twist this afternoon when quarterback Wade Freebeck decided that he will sign with Vanderbilt, not Pitt, tomorrow.

Freebeck had been committed to the Panthers since June, but received a lot of late interest from new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason had to find a quarterback to replace Trace McSorley flipped from Vanderbilt to Penn State to follow coach James Franklin.

Freebeck was a three-star quarterback on Rivals, and was generally perceived to be a potential multi-year starter (though he likely would've redshirted this year). His defection leaves Pitt with Adam Bertke as the only quarterback set to sign tomorrow.

Ultimately, it's tough to put much of a positive spin on this. Not only does Pitt lose out on a talented player, but it happens so late in the process that it's not like Chryst and his staff can just go out and try to get the next guy on their board. The quarterback depth chart next year will be Chad Voytik, Trey Anderson and Bertke. Voytik looked good in the bowl game, but if he gets hurt, the options are pretty dire.

From a couple of conversations I've had during this offseason, the staff wouldn't necessarily be opposed to adding a fifth-year graduate transfer, but there just aren't really any out there that fit Pitt's profile. The urgency to add another body, or potentially a junior college guy, might increase now that Freebeck's gone. That'll certainly be a topic of discussion at Chryst's press conference tomorrow.

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Know the new guys: Chuck Oliver

Written by Craig Meyer on .

(Photo: Tulsa World. Oliver is the one that is not Marcus Smart.)

Somewhat lost in the wave of suspensions, eight-man rotations and actual games has been the team itself and the individual players that comprise it.

A few weeks ago, I introduced a small feature I'm going to be doing throughout the year where I do a quick Q & A with the players who are in their first season at Robert Morris. With only three such players left on the roster, it's probably time to get through to more of these, which I'll start back with today.

About two weeks ago, before one of the team's practices, I talked for a few minutes with junior guard Chuck Oliver, a junior-college transfer in his first season with the program. We talked a bit about the transition to Division I, growing up in North Jersey and what his experience in junior college was like.

Chris Cappella over at Chronicling the Colonials kind of beat me to the punch with a feature he did on him last week, but right below is a transcript of the conversation I had with Chuck:

How’s the season been going for you? “It’s been a little up and down, you know. I’ve hit my learning curves a little bit, but I’ve been sticking with it. The coaches have been helping me out a lot. I’m just trying to learn everything I can because this system is new to me. I’m just trying to process everything, take it in day by day, get better, learn from each game and other stuff like that.”

What was it like growing up in Scotch Plains? “It was a nice suburban town. It’s a small, small town, but they have a lot of basketball players that I looked up to growing up – Ashton Gibbs, Lance Thomas, who went to Duke. He lived down the street from me. I was real good friends with Derrick Caracter. I knew all three of them pretty well growing up and those are people I look up to them.”

Do you have any siblings? “I have two sisters, one older and one younger.”

Did they mess with you a lot growing up? “I was the only boy, so I would get messed with a lot. I grew up with all girls, so that can be annoying at times, being the only male in the house, but I got used to it.”

You spent a year at Rider and after that season, your coach [Tommy Dempsey] left for Binghamton. Was that a big factor in your decision or was it other stuff? “I had decided to transfer before that even happened. It was just more of an opportunity. I decided to go to junior college. I figured that would be good for me to play and get experience and then get ready to come back to DI the following year.”

What was the one season of JuCo ball like? “It was pretty good for me. I got to learn a lot of things, I got to play a lot. My JuCo team was a good one, so we won a lot of games and I played well, so I got to build my confidence. It was good for me. It was a good experience.”

What are some of the biggest differences between DI ball and JuCo ball? “Probably the size, for me personally. In JuCo, there were a couple of teams that were big, but you’re not going against seven-footers like you are almost on a daily basis on the Division I level. And the speed of the game is a little faster. JuCo ball is pretty fast, too, but obviously the DI college game is a little bit faster.”

Was the transition from junior college to Division I easier than the one from high school to college? “It was easier for me because I’m a little bit older now, a little more mature and it was easier because I came from JuCo to Robert Morris and not straight out of high school. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into because I heard about Robert Morris, the program and the winning tradition it has here.”

I’ll get you out on this one – if you were stuck on a desert island and could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be? “That’s a good question. I’d just say Jay-Z’s ‘Song Cry.’”


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Bylsma on Martin, Orpik - 02-04-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik (right) are expected to serve as the Penguins' shutdown defensive pairing. Injuries caused each player missed a large portion of December (and January in Martin's case). As a result, they've only been able to play together for the past eight games since the start of the calendar year. During that span, the Penguins have surrendered 14 even-strength goals. Orpik and Martin, who will presumably be teamed together in Sochi, have been on the ice for four of those goals as a duo.

Following today's practice, head coach Dan Bylsma was asked to assess their games as individuals and as a pairing since both have returned from injury:

"I think for both guys, they’ve worked back from injury. For Paul, an even longer injury and more significant than Brooks. They’ve had to work to get back to their game. They’ve had some ups and downs in that time period. I think Brooks’ last three [games] have been really his best going back to the [Los Angeles] game and even in Phoenix game, I think he played a strong game there. He was our highest rated [defenseman] I believe that game.'

"The last game, the two of them together were I thought really good. Paul and Brooks together both played really well. I thought they defended well. They’re getting back with their timing and denying defensively. And Paul with the puck last night, he has one or two games similar to that with the puck but last night his best. Ended up with six shots on net and key on the power play there. They’ve had to work to get back that timing in their game and to get back up to speed. Thankfully for both of them, they’ve had 10 games, 12 games to do it and two more here before the [Olympic] break."

(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

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Farewell to magical Magnitogorsk

Written by By Brady McCollough on .

magnito hosts200As I sit down to write this final dispatch from Magnitogorsk, I am greatly saddened that this will probably be my last day ever spent in this wonderful, fascinating place. Evgeni Malkin's parents were right when they told me that it is not like Pittsburgh, despite the obvious steel connection. But it is very much like Pittsburgh in that there is a charm about the people who have poured their heart into making this a city with a soul.

Two of those people -- Anton, the marketing employee with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk hockey team (left in picture), and Kirill, the chief communications officer with the Magnitogorsk Steel and Iron Works (right) -- I will be forever indebted to. Not many people speak English here, including the Malkins, so I would not have been able to do any interviews without them. Anton has shown me the best his city has to offer and has been incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. Kirill put in all of the leg work to help me get my visa and gave me a very extensive tour of the factory.

magnito factoryone490

I do not know what the average Magnitogorsk person thinks of me being an American, but in the conversations I have had I have not felt unwelcome at any point. I even was invited to sing karaoke with a gentleman named Oleg on Saturday night. He wanted to sing American songs because he thinks they are better. So we sang Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Californication," and regretfully, he was a Creed fan, so we also sang "My Sacrifice." Ultimately, me singing Creed in front of a group of people was my sacrifice to Oleg, and Magnitogorsk. Anton shot video of it, and I hope that it never sees the light of day.

The interesting part of being out on the town was that nobody could believe I was American. Most people here have never met one. I had to show my passport numerous times as proof. Plus, they just assumed that Pittsburgh was in Canada, because they know that hockey is bigger there. I hope I at least educated some people in that regard!

One of the things I could offer the folks with the Metallurg organization was perspective on marketing and American sports. They of course couldn't believe when I told them about college sports and my days going to Michigan games with 110,000 others. I gave them some insight into what franchises in America do to get people to come to games. Metallurg, despite being a successful team, does not sell out most of its games in a 7,000-seat arena. I told them about the Terrible Towel, and they were very interested and might try something like that. I also told them about pre-game hype videos that get the fans going before the game starts and create pride in the team's history and accomplishments.

Here are a few of my favorite experiences from over the weekend, when I had some time to explore (when I wasn't sleeping off my jet lag!):

* Anton took me to an Armenian restaurant on the outskirts of town. It looked like the type of American diner you'd find off the highway in the heartland. I had some of the most delicious pork I've ever had. 

magnito diner490

* We then drove down to the Ural River on Sunday night, and about 15 cars were parked on the edge of the ice. I imagine there was some illegal activity going on, but the most exciting thing was watching the cars attempt to drift on the ice.

* We then went to a pool hall, where I learned that Americans are playing a much easier game. In the Russian game, the balls are bigger (yeah yeah laugh away, I don't know how else to explain it!) and you can hit any ball into any other ball, and the first team to make any eight balls wins. It's extremely difficult because the table is way longer and the pockets have smaller holes. I was embarrassingly bad. If Anton and his friends came to the U.S., they would run the table most nights, I assume.

magnito pool490

* Next up was Ice City. An entire square in town has ice sculptures, including this one of the Olympic rings. 

maginto iceolympicrings490

* Not surprisingly, nobody here cares about the Super Bowl. I hardly did either, considering I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to watch streaming video from my laptop. As soon as it got out of hand, I went back to bed. Plus, it's just not that fun watching the Super Bowl without your buddies. 

magnito supwerbowl490

* Lastly, I leave you with the obligatory mascot photo. This is the Steel Fox. 

 magnito mascot490

On to Sochi!


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Counting down to signing day 2014: Linebackers

Written by Sam Werner on .

Two more position groups to get to today before the faxes start rolling into the Pitt football offices tomorrow morning. First off, let's take a peak at the linebackers...

Verbal commitments:
Jamal Davis (6-2, 215 lbs)
McKinley High School (Canton, Ohio)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 100 OLB
247: 3*, No. 78 OLB

James Folston, Jr. (6-3, 201 lbs)
Cocoa High School (Cocoa, Fla.)
Rivals: 3*, NR
Scout: 2*, NR
247: 2*, No. 176 S

Quintin Wirginis (6-2, 225 lbs)
Fox Chapel High School (Fox Chapel, Pa.)
Rivals: 2*, NR
Scout: 3*, No. 111 OLB
247: 2*, No. 117 OLB

Much like with the defensive linemen, I'd be surprised if any of these guys sees the field in 2014. Each could definitely have an impact long-term, but linebacker is just a position where Pitt is pretty set for next season. The only real loss from this year's team is Shane Gordon and he was on and off the field so much due to injuries, that Pitt has a couple guys who could step in and fill that role (though it will probably be Matt Galambos).
That said, each of these prospects is a bit interesting. Davis was a late addition to the class after Pitt offered him in mid-January, and didn't take long to make a decision after that. Folston, meanwhile, is a bit of a football legacy. His father spent nine years with the Oakland Raiders and his older brother, Tarean, just wrapped up his freshman year as a running back at Notre Dame (which should make Notre Dame's return to Heinz Field in 2015 a bit more interesting). I'm interested to see what Wirginis looks like when he gets on the field, too, as he missed his entire senior season at Fox Chapel after suffering a Lisfranc injury during 7-on-7 drills in the offseason. He's back playing basketball at Fox Chapel right now, so all indications are that he's good to go.


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