PITTSBURGH — Jeff Capel is a pretty cool dude.
That’s been known for quite some time, back to the days of Capel’s playing career at Duke, when none other than Tupac Shakur was seen sporting his No. 5 Blue Devils jersey.
Since then, Capel has become one of the most down-to-earth and relatable collegiate basketball coaches, traits that have allowed him to retain the connections he’s built as a player and a coach.
Former teammate Grant Hill came to Pittsburgh for the preseason Coaches vs. Cancer gala. When Capel took his kids to Cleveland to watch the Golden State Warriors play the Cavaliers, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant stopped to say hello. Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving donated two pairs of his signature Nike sneakers to each Pitt player before the season.
Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center, he topped all of that, when legendary rapper Jay-Z nonchalantly strolled into the Petersen Events Center to with the Panthers play the Blue Devils.
Jay-Z was more than likely there to check out top Duke freshmen RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson on behalf of his Roc Nation Sports agency. But the Blue Devils play 31 games just like everyone else, including one in New York, where the rapper grew up and Roc Nation’s offices are located.
He undoubtedly chose to come to Pittsburgh because of the panache of Capel and the excitement he’s injected into Pitt’s program that made for a rousing atmosphere on Tuesday night.
“His people reached out to me a few weeks ago, actually, about them wanting to come — Roc Nation,” Capel said after the game. “Our athletic department and our ticketing people did an amazing job of accommodating that. Obviously, it’s great to have the greatest rapper ever in your arena and one of the world’s greatest entertainers. It’s pretty cool.”
Capel will have a tough time topping having Jay-Z at courtside, but expect him to try. The ability to connect with people and forge lasting relationships is perhaps his greatest strength, whether that’s forging connections in the greater sporting realm or in recruiting the next wave of basketball players for his team.