In 2020, nothing has come easy for Jeff Capel and the Pitt basketball program. After a shocking season-opening loss to St, Francis, the Panthers were faced with a tough challenge against Drexel, but came out on top. Those were just on the court challenges.
Off the court, the Panthers, like everyone else in the country, are dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. With constantly rising cases and deaths in the country, basketball seems to be the least important worry in the mind of Capel.
Throughout recent weeks, many have pondered the idea of a mid-season pause for all teams. When asked if he thinks such a hiatus in the season would be a possible solution to all the chaos, Capel nodded yes.
“Maybe they would think about a little bit of a pause, so kids could be with their families, coaches could be with their families,” Capel said. ” But most importantly what’s going on in our country right now as far as these numbers are staggering.”
While previewing Wednesday’s matchup against Northwestern on Monday, the third-year head coach took time to sound off on all of the hardships the players and coaches are facing this year, especially not being able to see their families for the holidays.
“It’s something that I’m really struggling with as a coach on what’s the best thing to do for our team, for my guys,” he said. “We have this ACC rover game on Dec. 22, and the way it is right now, we play Dec. 29. The NCAA mandates that you have to give guys three days off, but there are a lot of programs that are not allowing their guys to go home for Christmas.”
During those three days, the NCAA has declared that coaches are not allowed to be with players. The facilities will be open, but players can not workout with coaches. During this time, the NCAA is encouraging players to do some “team building stuff,” as Capel called it.
“What they’ve done is that they’ve adjusted where you can do some team building stuff,” he said. “But what the hell can you do during a pandemic? You can’t go to a movie theater, you can’t go to a restaurant.”
Capel, a former player at Duke and now a longtime coach in the NCAA, knows the struggles of not being able to see family on the road. However, this year is very different, and he is directly feeling the effects of the pandemic along with his players.
“For me I’m really struggling with that because of all the years that a kid should be with his family, 2020 is at the very, very top of that,” he stated. “I’m trying to figure out what’s the best thing for my guys.”
On Wednesday, the Panthers will travel to their first road game of the season at Northwestern. Capel questioned why the team can get on a plane to travel to play a game, but not go home to see their families over the holidays.
“We can get on a plane to go to Evanston, Illinois, we can get on a plane to go to Miami, we can get on a plane to go to Durham right after Christmas, but none of those places are gonna have fans, which means their families aren’t gonna be able to be there,” Capel said. “Families can’t come to the hotel. But they can’t go home for Christmas. There is something that just seems not right about that.”
Looking back on the decision to even start the season before the new year, Capel is still skeptical about that call. He added in that looking at the current COVID numbers, he thinks that the season should have been pushed back until at least January.
From 2011 to 2018, Jeff Capel served as an assistant coach at Duke under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. When asked about how the NCAA has handled this season, Capel took the time to quote the hall of famer.
“Coach K used to say this when I worked there all the time. One of the biggest problems in our sport is that we have no leadership. You don’t know where to turn to to get answers or who is looking out for truly the best interests of the young men and women that are out there competing.”
He also took time to shine light on all the hard work these college kids have been putting in during the pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone can say anymore that these young men are amateurs, he said. “That’s out the window, because they’re not. They absolutely aren’t. I’m proud of them. All of them around the country. I’m proud of every young man, young woman, that’s laying it out there on the line, that’s competing. Especially in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and football, because they’re the ones where there’s more attention.”
With social media being so prevalent in modern times, it can be very easy for people to hide behind a screen and criticize others, especially athletes, in 2020. Early on in this season, many teams, including Pitt, have faced tons of criticism after early losses.
Capel felt that his players, as well as other players around the country, should not be judged on the court in a season where there is endless amounts of uncertainty off of it.
“I don’t know what’s being said, but I think it’s shameful if stuff is being negatively said or being written about a kid,” he said. “I saw something the other day where Kentucky is struggling-well, the world is struggling. You don’t know what these kids are going through. I know what my guys are going through, I know how hard this is for them.”
While the season is still set to continue for now, look for Capel and the Panthers to make a statement on the court during their upcoming game against Northwestern on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 8:15 p.m.