It’s been four months since Kevin Stallings was hired as Pitt’s head basketball coach. I caught up with Stallings in his office for a long chat about what he’s learned in his time on the job, his team this upcoming season and more. This is part one of that conversation.
It’s been a busy summer for Kevin Stallings. Hired by Pitt on Easter Sunday as the program’s 15th head coach, he’s spent most of his days putting together and getting acquainted with a new staff, his new team, and starting a new life in Pittsburgh.
When just-finished open recruiting period, things got even more hectic, with seven-day work weeks becoming the norm for him and his staff.
Stallings said the first thing he learned had little to do with the job directly, but has made a big impression.
“I didn’t know that Pittsburgh was as cool of a city as it is,” he said. “I’d liked it when I had been here, but I didn’t know how good it was, how fun it is. I didn’t anticipate the people being so friendly. I think there’s a genuine warmth to the people here.”
That’s certainly made the transition easier, as Stallings’ hire was greeted by disaffection if not out-and-out anger back in March.
He also has seen a lot of good will directed toward Pitt and his basketball team, both out in the community, and in the greater basketball community, at places such as camps and summer leagues.
“From a recruiting aspect, I’ve been very pleased with the reception that we’ve gotten,” he said. “Coaches, players, families, that part has been really as exciting as anything, because that’s ultimately what [success] boils down to.”
Recruiting is essentially Stallings’ calling card. He sent 10 players to the NBA Draft during his tenure at Vanderbilt, and his ability to attract top-flight talent in the ultra-competitive ACC is the reason he was brought to Pitt.
Stallings’ experience and that of his coaching staff has had an added benefit, as well. He’s been able to hit the ground running on the Class of 2017, already securing a commitment from Virginia guard Aaron Thompson.
“That was intentional on my part,” Stallings said. “I wanted to hire guys that didn’t have to be trained. The ACC is not where you want to train people to do a recruiting job. You have to know how to recruit, have done it. I was very intentional about hiring guys with experience and experience in the ACC footprint.”
A big part of the ACC footprint for the Panthers has and will continue to be the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. The hiring of assistant coach Kevin Sutton, who has long ties to the area, has been in particular, a boon in that region.
“He’s well-respected and has a number of years of experience being right there at both George Washington and Georgetown,” Stallings said. “He has a ton of contacts and friendships and relationship there. [Assistant coach] Jeremy Ballard was at VCU with Shaka Smart. He has a bunch of contacts there, too. Between the two of them, we have that place in some ways pretty covered for a new staff that is coming in its first year. Kevin has been there for eight or nine years right there in DC, recruiting it, so he knows all those people. That’s been a tremendous asset to us thus far.”
When I spoke with Virginia small forward Aamir Simms, he said that Stallings was playing a big role in his recruitment, even early on in the process. That’s a marked change from the way Jamie Dixon did business.
“These kids want to know the head coach,” explained Stallings. “They want to know the guy that’s going to put them in and take them out of games. Therefore, I feel that it’s my responsibility to lead our recruiting efforts. I don’t think that is something that can be delegated to other people. Obviously, my assistants play a big role in that part, too. I feel that it’s something I have to do for the betterment of the program. I do have energy for it.”
Pitt still has one scholarship available to use in 2016-17, but Stallings seemed to think the most likely scenario would be that they push it back a year.
“There’s an option or two that we’re looking at. If it transpires, fine and if doesn’t, that’s fine,” he said. “We’re prepared to go forward with it. We’re recruiting now as though we’re going to have that scholarship available to us [in 2017]. We’ll see what happens here at the end of the summer. At this juncture, it feels like there’s a better chance that we will carry it forward, but that can always change.”
Any player added at this late date would undoubtedly be a transfer, something that Stallings wasn’t able to do much of at Vanderbilt. He said he’ll pursue all avenues to improve his team at Pitt.
“I’ve gone right back to the mentality that I had when I had when I was an assistant and Kansas and when I was a head coach at Illinois State,” he said. “If an opportunity presents itself with a young man that is of the quality that we need both in the classroom, on and off the court, we’re going to go for it. We’re not going to restrict ourselves to a certain way of recruitment.”
While Stallings is enthusiastic about recruiting and recognize its vital importance toward his success at Pitt, with the open period closed, he’s now looking forward to getting back in the gym with his current team.
“When the three recruiting weeks come — which have been the last three weeks — we have Monday and Tuesday in the office, then we’re gone Wednesday through Sunday and then we’re back Monday and Tuesday,” he said. “There’s three consecutive weeks of that. Fortunately, we’re out of that and can put our focus back on our players, which is where it belongs. It’s been very hectic between trying to meet people and get in front of the right people and making contacts with summer coaches and recruits and parents and all of that aside from establishing the culture you want from your program with your own team and building those bonds and relationships. It’s been quite hectic.”
Look for more from Stallings on the 2016-17 Pitt team in the second part of our conversation.
// Header image: The Petersen Events Center by Flickr user sabreguy29 | CC BY 2.0