Pitt Basketball’s foundation was built on toughness. It was built on grit. And, frankly, it was built on New York.
Throughout some of the best years the program has ever had, it was led by New York products that resemble those characteristics perfectly. From Brooklyn natives Tray Woodall and Levance Fields to Bronx natives Ronald Ramon and Carl Krauser, the list of past Pitt greats hailing from New York goes on and on. Currently, the Pitt-New York connection lives on through Justin Champagnie and Femi Odukale, two players from Brooklyn.
“We feel like we’re underdogs because everybody always says something about Brooklyn,” Odukale said Friday after practice. “Brooklyn guards can only dribble, they can’t shoot, Brooklyn guards can just be tough, they don’t have any skill. So we just got an edge to us, and we’re just going to compete.”
As Pitt gets ready to take on conference foe Georgia Tech on Sunday, its main focus lands on Jose Alvarado, the team’s leading scorer who is also from Brooklyn. Alvarado is known as one of the loudest mouths in the entire ACC, and while this will be the first time Odukale has faced the guard, he said, he has heard it all before.
“I am going to show him with my actions,” Odukale said about responding to the trash talk. “Later in the game, hopefully, I am going to show him with the score. I am from New York so I’m used to it. It’s like being back in the playground, doesn’t really mean anything to me.”
Playing ball in the playground is something that kids around the entire nation cherish while growing up. However, New York ball is just different. From Rucker Park to The Cage to Dyckman Park, the playground basketball scene in New York is second to none.
“No blood, no foul, you’re just going to keep going,” Odukale said about the rules in New York streetball. “You’re always going to hear something negative in the crowd. There’s always going to be people against you, so you’ve just got to beat the odds.”
Odukale stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs around 185 pounds, a solid, but relatively skinny frame for a guard. The freshman is averaging 4.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game this season, along with 16.1 minutes. Even though he may not be the biggest guy on the court, he plays like he is.
“I am just showing that I am still tougher than everybody, mentally,” he said. “I might not be physically the strongest on the court, but I am going to make them feel like I am the strongest on the court. Just being tough, showing the New York in me.”
Champagnie, Pitt’s other Brooklyn native, has been nothing but spectacular in his sophomore season in Pittsburgh. Through 13 games, he is averaging 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, leading the ACC in both categories. Although he is just 6-foot-6, he is one of the most physically dominating players in the conference and arguably in the entire country. Champagnie is now on both the Naismith Trophy Midseason Team as well as the Late Season Wooden Award Watch List.
Odukale, Champagnie, and the Panthers will look to take down an evenly-matched Georgia Tech team on Sunday, Feb.14 in Atlanta. The game will tip-off at 4 p.m. and be broadcast on ACC Network.