PITTSBURGH — After a long summer of trying to find a big man to add to the 2019 recruiting class, it seemed that Jeff Capel had finally broken through when he landed UNC Greensboro graduate transfer Eric Hamilton.
Hamilton was expected to work alongside Terrell Brown and freshman Abdoul Karim Coulibaly in a rotation in Pitt’s post, with the hope that the three could form a three-headed-monster in combining Browns’ shot-blocking, Hamilton’s rebounding and Coulibaly’s raw offensive talent.
But through the first five games of Pitt’s season, Hamilton had just seven total rebounds and only one on the defensive glass.
He broke out of his shell on Thursday, scoring 12 points in the first half and grabbing eight rebounds before foul trouble limited his minutes in the second half. The rebounds, in particular, were essential, as Pitt struggled on the glass as a team, even though the undersize Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions were playing a defensive zone.
“I thought the very first thing was rebounding,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “He and I met the other day. I just told him, ‘We’ve played five games and you have one defensive rebound. That’s unacceptable.’
“That’s something that we need from all of our post players. He has an energy that he plays with and I thought he did a really good job there. I thought he concentrated on trying to rebound, trying to talk, trying to defend, doing those things. Then, he was able to finish some things around the basket own some really good passes from some of his teammates and then he was able to do some things on the offensive glass.”
Brown has mostly impressed in his junior season, showing an improved offensive touch to go along with his shot-blocking abilities. His emergence has meant for limited minutes for Hamilton. But Pitt still needs help on the glass, and Hamilton’s emergence in that area could be a key going forward.
The Pitt players have seen the player that Hamilton became against the Golden Lions and have just been waiting for it to come out in a game.
“During the summer, when he first came in, he was dominating the board, making jump shots,” point guard Xavier Johnson said. “He was just being himself. We tried to motivate him, at the same time, because he was struggling to. We tried to push him and push him, and he’s starting to come out of his shell.”
More than any other position, post players also have to deal with the vagaries of officiating. Against West Virginia, both Brown and Hamilton were in foul trouble and Coulibaly had to step up. That’s likely to work in Hamilton’s favor at some point, with the minutes that he was hoping for when he transferred to Pitt coming is way.
Perhaps now after his breakout performance on Thursday, he’ll be in a better place to show that he’s the player Capel and the Panthers think he can be.