Entering the 2020-21 season, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel brought in one of the best recruiting classes Pitt basketball has seen in years. That class was headlined by center John Hugley, who was ranked as the No. 80 prospect in the nation by Rivals.
The Cleveland native started the first game of the season against St. Francis, in which he played 20 minutes and went 3 for 10 from the field. He finished with seven points, eight rebounds, and four turnovers, a shaky but promising stat line for his first career game.
In Pitt’s next two games against Drexel and NIU, Hugley came off the bench, scoring two points and six points, respectively. He only logged 14 and 10 minutes in those games and was replaced by Abdoul Karim Coulibaly in the starting lineup.
In their first two games, the Panthers shot 25% and 26% from 3-point territory. In its third game against Northern Illinois, Pitt’s shooting improved greatly, going 14 for 29 from deep and blowing out the Huskies.
While the Panthers hope that this hot shooting carries over into the rest of the season, the poor shooting performance seen in the first two games may very well happen again. In that case, Pitt will need to be able to turn to a big man for scoring as well as strong rebounding, two facets of the game that Hugley excelled at in high school.
“He’s done some good things, but we need him to be better,” Capel said about Hugley’s early season performance. “He has to understand you have to work every day, the discipline that it takes to be a really good player at this level every day, the mindset that you have to have every day, showing up every day with all of those things intact, and competing every day.”
Capel then made it clear that it is still very early on in the season and that Hugley will play a big role for Pitt down the stretch.
“It’s difficult for freshmen and I would imagine this year is maybe the most difficult year for any freshman maybe ever, because of the things that are going on in the world. But he’s a good player, he’s talented, and we need him to be good for us.”
Junior wing Au’Diese Toney, who is averaging 18.3 points on 63% from the field so far this season, also emphasized that the Panthers will need Hugley down the road this season.
“He brings us a lot of size, takes up a lot of the paint,” Toney said of the 6-foot-9 freshman. “He’s a physical, grown man down there to be a freshman. I have high hopes for him, and see a lot of things he could do big for us this season.”
When Pitt takes on Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois on Wednesday, Hugley and Coulibaly will face a tough challenge inside from versatile 6-foot-10 forward Pete Nance and 6-foot-10 center Ryan Young.
Through two games, the two have combined to average 20.5 points and 14 rebounds for the Wildcats.