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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When it came down to who to choose to represent the Pitt men’s basketball team at ACC’s Operation Basketball — the day for league-wide media to get a feel for the ACC’s 14 teams ahead of basketball season — the Panthers had a pretty obvious choice.
Each team was asked to send two representatives, and it just so happens that the Panthers have exactly two scholarship players returning. So it was senior forward Ryan Luther and redshirt senior guard Jonathan Milligan that flew to Charlotte along with head coach Kevin Stallings.
Luther, of course, is well know to Pittsburgh basketball fans. The Gibsonia native and Hampton grad is in his fourth year with the Panthers, and he was a critical bench piece for the team over the last two seasons.
Milligan, on the other hand, does not have the same high profile. The junior college transfer redshirted his first season at Pitt and in 2016-17, started just one game while averaging 1.6 points per game in a bench role.
This year, that paradigm has been flipped on its head. As one of just two returners, Milligan’s importance in what happens on the floor this season is hard to be overstated.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to play 40 minutes a night. In fact, Milligan, who has moved exclusively to point guard after playing more shooting guard in the past, probably won’t even start, instead coming off the bench to spell true freshman Marcus Carr.
But if Pitt is going to have even a modicum of success this season, it will come from young guards like Carr, Parker Stewart and Khameron Davis picking things up quickly. That’s where Milligan comes in.
“It’s just talking to them and giving them little things that I’ve seen prior,” Milligan said. “Because I’ve seen the bad and I’ve seen the good, so it’s just letting them know the things that are for the good. Just communicating with them.”
But Milligan isn’t sweating the workload.
“It’s not something I stress over too much. I’m fine with that role. I’m fine with being a leader and being vocal and having that calmness that we are going to need when we have moments of adversity. I’ve accepted it.”
Milligan is an emotional player and can often be seen with a smile on his face on the court or a big shout from the bench when a teammate hits a shot. But part of his role in tutoring younger players will be teaching them productive ways to express their emotions on the court.
“It’s a feel,” he said. “I enjoy the game. I enjoy playing the game. I enjoy competing and playing hard. But there’s those moments where you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to be gritty, and being at University of Pittsburgh, having some toughness is something that we uphold.”
While Milligan’s role off the court in undergoing a big transition, his role on the floor, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, is as well.
“It’ll be a little different, but what Coach Kevin wants is still the same,” Milligan said. “At the end of the day, he wants execution and he wants to push the ball.”
Though he hasn’t worked out there yet, he also feels like he can contribute as a shooting guard, as well. Milligan was a 31.6 percent 3-point shooter in 2016-17.
“I played 2 before,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll be doing both.”
Here’s more from Milligan as he answered questions from the ACC media pool on Wednesday.