CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Wednesday afternoon at the Dean Smith Center, Jalen Hood-Schifino got his first taste of ACC basketball.
The prep school Hood-Schifino plays for – Charlotte’s Combine Academy – played a game on the historic court against UNC’s JV team just hours before Pitt played against the Tar Heels.
“It was great,” the sophomore guard said. “Different for sure, because nobody was really out there, but still playing on the court and playing against a college team was pretty great.”
After Combine Academy won 89-73, Hood-Schifino was walking off the court as Pitt was coming on to warm-up. He exchanged handshakes with Ryan Murphy, Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Pitt assistant coach Jason Capel.
Hood-Schifino committed to Pitt just nine days ago, but he already feels like he’s part of the team. Tabbed as a five-star recruit by 247sports and ESPN, he’s the most high-profile recruit that second-year head coach Jeff Capel has landed since being hired at Pitt. And it’s the bond that Hood-Schifino and his family have established with the Capel’s that led to his early verbal commitment.
“You know, Pitt’s the hometown. Me and my mom built a very strong relationship with the Capel brothers. They did a great job of recruiting me and offered me this past summer,” Hood-Schifino told Pittsburgh Sports Now on Wednesday. “When I got the offer, I was pretty happy. I was saying I was going to weigh my decisions but, after building that relationship, I just felt like the right decision was for me to commit to Pitt.”
Hood-Schifino was born in Pittsburgh and grew up there before moving to Charlotte with his mom and sister a few years ago. And his blood runs deep in Pennsylvania athletics.
His mother, Angel Schifino, played basketball at Division II Lock Haven University. His uncles Drew and Jake Schifino were sports stars in Penn Hills; Drew went on to play basketball at West Virginia and Jake played football at Akron. Cousin DeAndre Schifino was a tight end at Pitt.
And his father, Glennard D. Hood Jr., played quarterback at Santa Monica College, a California JUCO.
“It’s going to be a little different, because my mom and my sister are staying in Charlotte,” Hood-Schifino said. “But it’s going to be good to go home and play in front of my family and friends and everything.”
Hood-Schifino was a highly sought-after recruit. He had offers from four other ACC schools, Florida, Ole Miss, Illinois, Wichita State, USF and his other hometown school, Charlotte.
And he had plenty of time to commit as a Class of 2022 prospect, but felt like it was the right move to make his decision early.
“It’s time for me to just focus on getting better, preparing for Pitt and the ACC,” Hood-Schifino said. “It’s just a weight off my shoulders.”
At Combine Academy, Hood-Schifino plays for former Tar Heel guard Jeff McInnis, a two-time All-ACC selection. McInnis went on to play 11 seasons in the NBA.
“Coach Jeff is a tough coach. He’s always on me. He played at the highest level, so he knows what he’s talking about,” Hood-Schifino said. “He’s on me the hardest, and I appreciate it, because I’ve learned a lot from him about being a true point guard, being the leader of my team and being vocal.”
Although he’s 6-foot-4 – and could certainly grow another inch or a few by the time he gets to Pitt – Hood-Schifino sees himself as a true point guard.
“I’m a pass-first guard and I think I do a pretty good job of getting my teammates involved,” Hood-Schifino said. “But I still have to be more aggressive, because I am a big guard.”
Hood-Schifino ended Wednesday’s game by charging into the paint for a basket, getting fouled and going to the free throw line. He’s assertive, crafty and doesn’t shy away from contact.
Still, before he gets to Pitt in two years from now, he has a few things he wants to work on.
“I’d like to get better at shooting, shooting the ball more, cutting down on turnovers,” Hood-Schifino said. “Just basically my all-around game. And keeping up that aggression.”