Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said on Thursday that senior forward Ryan Luther, who has missed the team’s last three games with a stress reaction in his right foot, has resumed shooting, but his status is still uncertain for the start of ACC play on Saturday against No. 15 Miami.
“He’s been re-evaluated,” Stallings said. “He’s done some shooting. I think to some degree, the pain has subsided. We still don’t know. We’re unclear on what his availability is going to be. Obviously, our hopes are that we can get him involved in practice things sooner rather than later, but we’re not sure right now what that will mean for Saturday and beyond. … I think we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”
In Luther’s absence, freshman forward Terrell Brown stepped up to the plate with his most minutes of his career. He’s played 24 minutes in two of the last three games, and in the non-conference finale against Towson on Dec. 22, he came through with his most productive game of the year, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Big men are notoriously slow to develop and it took Brown 12 games of his freshman year to post the kind of performance that gives hope for his future at the center position. With Luther on the shelf, there wasn’t much of an option for Brown to continue his development at that kind of pace. Much like freshmen guards Marcus Carr, Khameron Davis and Parker Stewart have been from day one this year, he was thrown into the fire. He said the biggest hurdle has been mental, not physical.
“(It’s) just learning fast as a freshman,” Brown said. “Ryan’s a senior, so he’s got all the tricks handled. I’ve just got to learn quick.”
Brown isn’t the only young forward that has had a mental hurdle to clear early on in 2017-18. Stallings said Thursday that small forward Shamiel Stevenson has the talent level to be a difference-maker, despite his minutes waning from a season-high 38 against West Virginia to 20, 24 and 16 against McNeese State, Delaware State and Towson.
“He’s a guy that from a talent perspective, has a chance to be a difference-maker over the course of his career,” Stallings said. “I’m not saying that he’s an all-league player right now or anything like that, but he’s a guy that can get a lot of things done. He’s got a unique body and level of athleticism with that body and can do multiple things.”
The thing that Stallings and his staff are hoping to instill in Stevenson is a measure of consistency. A small forward in more than one sense of the word, Stevenson, at 6-foot-6, will have to earn his way against taller competitors. But it isn’t enough to do it once. He’ll have to be able beat bigger men over and over again throughout the course of a game and season to make an impact.
“There’s a consistency that we’re trying to pursue and get to with him: consistency of approach, consistency of concentration, intensity and things like that,” Stallings said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a great teammate. He’s not a resistant kid, it’s just that some things come natural for some kids. … He can improve his defense, his rebounding. The thing that we would most like to help him improve is his consistency.”
In that regard, the potential return of Luther can be a boon to both young forwards, in addition to the team. Obviously, adding a player that’s averaging a double-double will have a big benefit. But it also comes with Stallings and his staff being able to match the playing time, minutes and competition for Brown and Stevenson to a level that befits their progress on and off the court.