PITTSBURGH — College basketball players go through a ton of adversity on the court throughout their careers. Fans, coaches, family members may get on them about the way they’re performing in games. They also may be struggling in the classroom or dealing with personal setbacks in the real world.
Sometimes there are more to on-court losses than just not scoring as many points as your opposition. Pitt sophomore guard Au’Diese Toney has dealt with this first hand over the last six months.
Toney lost his grandmother in July before the Panthers took a trip to Italy to participate in some exhibition games. The Huntsville, Alabama, native was extremely close with his grandmother, saying that she ‘was like a mother’ to him.
So naturally, leading up to the start of this basketball season, Toney had many other things on his mind besides perfecting his jump shot.
“I’ve just been going through a lot, the first half of the season,” Toney said. “I lost a loved one, my grandmother. So, it’s been like a rough year for me. That’s like my mother. … I’ve had to come back together.”
Those tough times carried over into the start of Pitt’s season, and Toney wasn’t playing to the level that he knew he was capable of – but how can you blame him?
Toney scored in double-figures just three times in his first 11 games this season. After starting being in the Panthers starting lineup the first four games of the season, he began to come off of the bench during their next five contests. Then after his inconsistency in non-conference play, Toney was sidelined with an injury for two ACC games against Wake Forest and North Carolina.
But he came back a different player.
He returned on Jan. 12 against Miami and has completely turned his season around. He’s averaging nearly 13 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, and has been Pitt’s best defender up to date.
“I’ve just felt more comfortable,” Toney said. “After the injury, I just felt more comfortable and playing like my usual self.”
Most recently, he scored a career-high 27 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, which led to Toney saying he’s received a ton of praise from the people close to him, as well as people he’s never heard from in his life.
“It’s been crazy; it’s been hectic,” Toney said. “But I’ve had to block everything out for distractions. … A lot of people were asking me, ‘Where has this energy been?’ and stuff like that.”
Toney credits his solid play on the court to the fact that he’s in a better place mentally.
“The coaches had to help me a lot with off the court stuff,” Toney said. “It was messing with me, physically and mentally on the court. I just had to accept the fact that [my grandmother] is in a better place. That’s what helped me out a lot.”
Toney’s teammates have also been there for him as his family away from home and have just tried to support him mentally during the tough situation that he’s endured.
“We were all there for him,” Junior Terrell Brown said. “Even the guys that weren’t here yet, they were still contacting him 24/7, and texting him to make sure he was OK. [We just] made sure we were here for him if he needed us.”
And since then, especially the ladder half of the season, Brown has seen a different Toney not only on game days, but every day at practice, and just throughout his daily routine.
“He’s more positive, he’s more engaged,” Junior Terrell Brown said of Toney. “He’s ready. His attention to detail is really good. He’s locked in – especially on defense. That’s a big part for us. We need someone that’s a defensive stopper like him.
“But we also need to help him too.”
Pitt’s squad will look to do just that, as they are back at home on Sunday to play Miami for the second time this season. The Panthers lost 66-58 in Miami on Jan. 12. Hurricanes point guard Chris Lykes [injury] is not listed as a probable starter for the game.