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Vukovcan: Patience, Not Frustration is Key With Rebuild of Pitt Basketball



The saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is something that applies to the current state of the Pitt men’s basketball program.

Following last night’s 82-67 loss to No. 8 Florida State, the Panthers have lost 6 of their last 8 games and any hopes of playing in the postseason have been essentially erased.

The thought of playing in either the NCAA or the NIT was something that Pitt fans were getting excited about but as the losses have mounted over the last few weeks, fan optimism has seemed to turn to frustration and negativity. Which is silly.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Jeff Capel’s second season has been a success. This year’s team has improved both its overall and ACC record from last year, have more quality wins than a year ago and have just been more competitive.

I get what the fan base is feeling. After years of unmatched success under Jamie Dixon, it looked as though Capel was going to do the impossible and get this year’s team into postseason play. The rebuild of this program was going to happen quicker than anyone expected. Pitt basketball was back!

Unfortunately that’s not the case and things don’t work like that when you’re trying to resurrect a program from the dead. Capel was very emotional and spot on in his postgame comments about the current state of his program.

“We need time,” Capel said. “I’ve been here for a little bit over a year. We need time to recruit and we have to win some recruiting battles. It’s gonna happen, but it’s not gonna happen right away. Maybe because of the start we got off to, people thought this was going to happen quick. It’s not quick. It was a dumpster fire that I took over and we’ve done a really good job. Those guys have fought and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve won more games than we did last year. We’re won more conference games. There’s an energy about our basketball program right now. But it’s not going to happen over night.”

Like it or not, Capel is 100% right.

College isn’t like professional sports in that you can go out and sign a few free agents and make a couple trades to improve your roster. College basketball teams only have a certain amount of scholarships that can be used every year.

Capel and his staff have done a nice job adding Justin Champagnie, Trey McGowens, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney but that’s not enough to really compete in the ACC. It’s going to take multiple recruiting classes and they’ll need to hit on a few transfers.

The good news is that more help is on the way next year with John Hugley, Max Amadusun, Noah Collier and incoming transfer Ithiel Horton, who will be a key addition to the rotation. It’s also likely that Capel will add at least two more players to the roster. They appear to be in good position to add 4-star wing Will Jeffress, hope to get a commitment from 3-star guard Femi Odukale and adding a grad transfer is always a possibility.

These additions will definitely help and make Pitt even more competitive but even that won’t truly be enough. In reality, Capel will need one more solid recruiting class to get his depth where it needs to be.

One other thing that he said last night that needs to be considered and it goes back to the depth of the roster. Capel said “We have three guys that we’re excited about coming in, we have a kid sitting out I think that is really, really good so if we can keep the core together.

That last part is important and needs to be considered when trying to forecast ahead to next year’s Pitt team. By keeping the core together, Capel is referring to keeping the soon to be juniors on his roster. For a year, we’ve heard speculation about Xavier Johnson possibly leaving early for the NBA Draft or going to play overseas and the name Trey McGowens is starting to pop up as well. Potentially losing one or both of those players would be a big hit for the 2020-21 Pitt Panthers and would call into question as to whether they have the depth yet to properly replace their minutes and production.

I’m not going to make any predictions on when it’ll happen but I will tell you that Jeff Capel will turn Pitt into a winner again, it’s only a matter of time. He’s a tremendous recruiter and communicator, has a dynamic personality and has a presence about him that tells you he’s a winner.

This year might have teased Panther fans a bit but it’s glimpse of what’s ahead if they can remain patient with the process.

Pitt Panther basketball is back and just a matter of time before they’re dancing in March again.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

There is no way either McGowens or Johnson are ready for the NBA. To me, they’ve still not yet adjusted to ACC play. They still play out of control, don’t shoot within the flow of the offense, take stupid fouls, and neither one of them has a consistent mid range or long range jumper. I think they both have future potential for the NBA but no way next year.

Chuck Verdeber
Chuck Verdeber
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave

Dave, you are right. If those two try and make the NBA leap it would be a grave mistake. They would go undrafted. If they stay two more years that picture may change completely. Mike, good article and I agree. A quality big man with offensive skill and another guard that can run the offense and score will help immensely. The Horton kid would have really helped this year, especially on the nights that Johnson and McGowens had lousy games. The team is back to respectability and from a fans perspective you can see tangible improvement. He just needs some… Read more »

Eric Payne
Eric Payne
1 year ago

When Coach Capel was hired, it was like Christmas came early. It STILL is. Despite all of the negative noise, we tend to forget that Coach Capel has been here less than 2 years. Although this team has some weaknesses, they continue to improve, they play hard and they don’t quit. This team will get better because Coach Capel is a great coach and recruiter,and it will be fun watching him build a great team.

1 year ago

Real tired of people complaining. This team was void of any talent when Capel came in. Lat year was a pleasant surprise, say what you want but they have won 6 conference games this year. An improvement. Would I have liked more wins? Hell yeah, but I am still looking and pumped up for next year. We also need to realize that the team the last 2 years has had a very limited inside game. Hopefully with the kids coming in next year it will open things up for Johnson and McGeowens.

Let's Believe
Let's Believe
1 year ago

What I don’t like is a couple weeks ago when coming up short at Duke it was “we are right there, at some point it has to offend you for being close.” A few losing streak losses later it’s “hey, I took over a dumpster fire and we need time”

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