PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Once upon a time, the senior Class of 2015 looked like a force to be reckoned with for Jamie Dixon. After the announcement by redshirt sophomore center Malcolm Gilbert that he plans to transfer, that trio ceases to exist.

“Malcolm has asked for his release and has informed me that he wants to play with his brother,” Dixon said in a brief press release. “He’s a great kid, hard worker and good player. We thank Malcolm for his contribution to our program over the last year and a half and wish him much success in the future.”

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Gilbert, who earned Big East All-Academic Team honors while playing sparingly last season and was projected as at least a semi-regular next season, will be united with younger brother and freshman forward Marcus Gilbert at Fairfield (CT). It’s a D-1 program that competes in the MAAC (Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference) with such teams as 2012 March Madness qualifiers Loyola-Maryland and Iona.

All three members of the 2011-12 freshman class have left the men’s program at Pitt in little over a year. Promising but disgruntled forward Khem Birch vacated Oakland last December after starting six games and appearing in ten as a pure freshman, and backup guard John Johnson said Nov. 12 he was leaving in search of more playing time.

Some scouts projected first-year center Steven Adams as an NBA-ready player. But the New Zealand native, who is averaging 7.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and just under 2.0 blocks per game, has never suggested he would be one-and-done, and the rest of Pitt’s frontcourt has made progress in this young season.

Still, even if Adams does stick around for at least his sophomore campaign, it would leave Pitt, as of now, without another center, making 6’9″ Talib Zanna the only other proven big man on the roster.

So it is a blow to Pitt’s depth up front, and as Panther-Lair.com editor and 93.7 The Fan insider Chris Peak told substitute late-night host Paul Zeise, it is tough to fathom right this moment how Dixon can fill that void effectively.

“It leaves Pitt in a tough situation for next year,” Peak said Thursday evening. “Now you need to start all over, hit the recruiting trail, and find young guys that can come in. And you don’t like to rely on freshmen, or, at least, Jamie Dixon doesn’t like to rely on freshmen, because he doesn’t usually get the freshmen who are good enough to play.”

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So far, Dixon’s forthcoming recruiting class consists of St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, NJ) power forward Michael Young (6’8″, 225 lbs.), and Word Of God Christian Academy (Raleigh, NC) point guard Josh Newkirk (6’2″, 170 lbs.). Panther-Lair.com deems Young a four-star recruit and awards Newkirk three stars.

Peak talked about how much luck, if history is any guide, the Panthers might have if Dixon went the junior college route as a stopgap at Gilbert’s position:

Another local slant on this story is the fact the brothers Gilbert have a chance to play alongside former Pittsburgh Central Catholic standout Lincoln Davis. Davis, who will spend his true freshman year in prep school, led the Vikings to the WPIAL Class AAAA Final back in March.

Meanwhile, Dixon’s No. 24 Panthers will host No. 8 Cincinnati, which now also has one loss after being upset by New Mexico Thursday, in their Big East opener on New Year’s Eve at noon on The Fan.

(The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributed to this post.)

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