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October 24, 2013

Randall ready to make instant impact

Freshmen forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis are the focus of much attention when sizing up Pitt's frontcourt this season, but there's another newcomer who should be ready to contribute.

Whether it was his lack of participation in the summer league, the pedestrian numbers he posted at his former school or his absence from the most recent Blue-Gold Scrimmage, Rutgers transfer Derrick Randall might be the forgotten man inside for the Panthers.

A 6-foot-9 junior, Randall is likely to back up Talib Zanna this season at the center spot - a role he feels is a good fit for him.

"I think I'm going to be more of a 'five' man working inside because I like to rebound and box out the big guys," Randall said last month before the start of practice, adding that he played a similar role at Rutgers. "I like banging with the bigs down low."

The youngsters Young and Artis bring more skill to the table than Randall, who averaged 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 8.2 minutes per game last season for Rutgers, but they haven't yet experienced the grind of college basketball. Randall elected to transfer after his minutes decreased in a sophomore season that also saw coach Mike Rice fired, but he started 10 games his freshman year and played in 57 total at Rutgers.

"I know the game, I know how it feels to be on the court and stuff like that," said Randall, who had seven points and five rebounds in the first Blue-Gold Scrimmage. "Since I've been on the court, I know how to box out, how to control my breathing, how to be composed and not be all wild-fire."

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon likes that he added an instant veteran presence when Randall, 23, received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately this season.

"He's used to physical play, he's an older kid; playing at a college level is a huge transition and that's a big help to the transition," Dixon said. "He's seen things before that we're going to see, so that's a big advantage for him."

While Randall knows what it's like to face major-conference competition, he'll also need to learn Dixon's system like any other new Panther. But it's a system that could suit him well and likely won't ask for much more than the type of energy and hustle Dante Taylor provided last season.

"[Randall] scores better with his back to the basket than I would've anticipated," Dixon said. "He needs to obviously figure out what we want to do defensively, but I think that's for any new guy."

The player Randall will spell most often is helping with that. Zanna has gone from Big East foe to a veteran teammate who should help ease Randall's transition
from Rutgers to Pitt.

"He helps a lot, he's real motivated and he wants to win, so he's helping everybody out one by one," Randall said.

With the regular season now just two weeks away and the first exhibition game Friday, Dixon and Pitt fans will soon see how much Zanna's tips - and Randall's prior experience - have prepared the former Scarlet Knight for his duties as a Panther.

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