Sunday, December 18, 2011

Khem Birch leaving Pitt is not the best idea

Khem Birch is leaving Pitt.


After just one semester with the program.

"I'm leaving," Birch told on Friday night. "I'm headed to Toronto now. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, I love Coach (Jamie) Dixon, had no problems with the staff and the players. It just wasn't the right fit for me."

I have no idea who is advising Birch and no clue why he left, but if you love the head coach, got along with the staff and your teammates and enjoyed your time at the school, how is the school the wrong fit? If he transferred because he wasn't getting enough playing time than he didn't do his research into the school he was attending. (Shocker, right?) You don't play as a freshman at Pitt, particularly if you are a big man. Since Jamie Dixon has taken over, only three freshmen were full-time starters -- DeJuan Blair, Chris Taft and Birch. Talib Zanna started a couple of games as a redshirt freshman when Nasir Robinson was injured at the beginning of last season.

Still, Birch was apparently disappointed with his minutes. He told the Sporting News earlier this month that "It's hard because I don't get a lot of minutes like I did back in high school, but I'm adjusting ... Coach Dixon knows what he's doing". Birch began starting six games ago, and in his first two games he went for 23 points, 21 boards and nine blocks in wins over Penn and Robert Morris. But once Dante Taylor returned, Birch saw his playing time cut from almost 30 minutes a game to less than 15.

There's more to it, however.

For starters, the coach that recruited Birch to Pitt, Pat Skerry, is now the head coach at Towson. Birch is also a Canadian, meaning that he is spending a lot of time away from his home and his friends and family. One report listed homesickness as one of the major causes for Birch transferring. And if that is the case than it is difficult to be mad at the kid.

But few believe that to be true. Take, for starters, some of these comments from Ryan Hurd, who coached Birch last season at Notre Dame Prep:

"Khem is a great kid," Hurd said. "This situation is painting him as something he is not. The problem is he is being led down a road by so-called advisors. It's going to end poorly for Khem, and that is sad for me because I care about the kid. This is not going to end well for him."


"If you asked me last year at this time I would have told you Pitt was the perfect place for him," Hurd said. "If you ask me today I would tell you Pitt is the perfect place for him. I don't know that this was his decision. Khem is an emotional person. My experience with Khem is that sometimes he can paint himself into a corner, and he didn't know how to get out of it. This isn't a situation where Jamie doesn't like the kid. He likes him."

Than take a gander at what a couple of former Pitt players had to say on twitter when news of Birch's decision to leave started to leak out:

If Birch is leaving Pitt because he's pissed that his minutes got cut back down when a junior returned to the lineup despite the fact that he has averaged 11.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 4.5 bpg as a starter, than it may be in the best interest for the Panthers to have Birch gone. With Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor and Nasir Robinson still on the roster, the Panthers have plenty of size up front this season, and that doesn't even include talented freshman big man Malcolm Gilbert, who has yet to suit up this season.

A disgruntled player, no matter how talented, can ruin the chemistry of a team.

Pitt should be fine in the future as well, as next year they have another top ten big man joining the program in New Zealand native Steven Adams. The blessing of a deep roster is that losing one player won't destroy a season.

But in now way can I figure out how this decision will be good for Birch in the long-run. We're talking about a kid that attended five high schools. It could have been six if he hadn't reclassified from the Class of 2012 to 2011, a decision which forced Dixon to take away Jaylen Bond's scholarship despite the fact that Bond, who is putting up the same numbers as Birch as a freshman at Texas, had already signed a Letter of Intent.

And now Birch is going to have to sit out a year, lose half of his first two seasons in the college ranks and, potentially (if Pitt doesn't grant him a release, which they should do), be forced to pay his own way at school for at least one semester.

There have been some rumors that Birch may change his mind on whether he wants to transfer when he returns home to Canada.

Let's hope cooler heads prevail.

Because leaving Pitt right now is not in Birch's best interests.

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