Khem Birch signs with Pitt a year early

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The big news Saturday at the National Prep Showcase wasn't necessarily the action being played on the floor, but instead a major development on the recruiting scene.

Khem Birch (Montreal/Notre Dame Prep), the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2012, has decided to forgo his post-graduate year by signing a letter of intent with the University of Pittsburgh.

While word of Birch's commitment began to swirl around the gym at Albertus Magnus College by midday, it wasn't until early evening when his mother, Wendy Sparks, confirmed the news to ESPN.

"He's a Panther," Sparks said. "Khem is ecstatic and we are all so happy."

Birch was on the floor leading his team to an 87-81 win over Westwind Prep while news of his signing began to swirl around the gym. Following the game he spoke about his decision and why he felt it was best to forgo his intended post-graduate year.

"As the year went by my coaches told me I might have a chance to go to 2011 and I thought that was a good idea because it will help me to get better in college instead of staying in high school," Birch said. "I just felt really comfortable with all of the coaches and players at Pittsburgh and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible because I knew it would help me to become a better player."

While Sparks confirmed that both she and Birch signed the letter of intent Wednesday, the final day of the early signing period, she also said that this was something that had been in the works for several weeks since Birch made a verbal commitment to the Panthers in late September.

"We decided a while ago that this is where we wanted to go," Sparks said. "We were keeping things very quiet because we wanted to make sure it came from us. We are quiet people. We just wanted to make sure the time was right.

"He has had a great experience but it was time for him to move on and excel his game. He is so ready to face that challenge of playing in the Big East and really determined to build his skills."

Birch grew up in Canada spending time in Ottawa and Montreal before transferring to the Winchendon School to begin the 2009-2010 school year. The 6-foot-9 power forward transferred to Notre Dame Prep later in the year and is expected to graduate this spring.

"This process is very different for us. American ball is a lot different than Canada ball," Sparks said. "There is a lot of talent but a lot of times it goes unrecognized because there aren't as many scouts. Khem has always said he wanted to put Canada on the map."

Birch is the fifth player to sign with Pittsburgh this month, joining PF Jaylen Bond (Plymouth Mtg., Pa./Plymouth-Whitemarsh Sr.), SG John Johnson (Philadelphia/Life Center Academy), SG Durand Johnson (Baltimore/Brewster Academy) and C Malcolm Gilbert (Philadelphia/Academy of the New Church).

"He's a Panther," Sparks reiterated, "and I'm a proud future Panther parent!"

Adam Finkelstein has been a coach or scout at the high school, college and pro levels. He was an assistant coach in Division I by the age of 24 and also worked as a scout for Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.