On Thursday morning, Pitt announced that wing Au’Diese Toney had left the team, the second starter this week to leave the program amid a massive collapse of a team that started off the year with a strong 8-2 record.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the departure on The Jeff Capel Radio Show on 93.7 The Fan on Thursday, Capel downplayed the significance of losing Toney and Xavier Johnson to the team going forward.
“It’s been an interesting week, to say the least,” Capel said on 93.7 the Fan’s The Jeff Capel Radio Show. “We wish those two well. They’re both good kids and as I have said all year, this has been an incredibly difficult year with everything that’s going on. With the pandemic, with the mental health of these young people, the pressures, the things that they feel. As I have said all year, I hope that people don’t judge these kids both on and off the court for decisions that they make. There are a lot of factors that go into these decisions. We wish them well.”
While the Panthers have lost four straight and seven of their last eight, there are still three games remaining plus the ACC tournament. The move to exit the program by both of the players has left many wondering whether or not Capel has lost control of the team or whether it was other factors that played into the departures. While he did not address the specific causes, Capel did talk about how the moves affect his team, in both the short term and the long term.
“Right now it obviously hurts our depth, more so with Xavier, and I say that not diminishing Au’Diese, but there was probably a good chance that he wasn’t going to play the rest of the season anyway with the concussion,” he said. “It definitely affects our depth, our experience. You know, those two guys were two of our most experienced guys.
Toney did indeed miss Pitt’s last game against Florida State, due to what we now know is a concussion. However, if a player was going to transfer after the season and suffered an injury with a few games left, they would not leave immediately with games left on the schedule, right? Not the case with Toney. There had to have been something up. There has to be another reason why he would leave with the three remaining games.
After mentioning those short term effects of depth and experience for these last few games, Capel shifted to the future, something that Pitt fans have been concerned about ever since Johnson’s announcement.
“Long term, I don’t see any effects, to be honest with you,” Capel told Jeff Hathhorn, who hosts the show. “Again, that is not doing anything or saying anything to diminish them, but we have to recruit. We have to get guys. We have to continue to develop the young men that are in our program. That’s what we plan to do. I look at it as it gives us two more scholarships to go out and to get guys that really want to be here and be a part of what we are doing align with the guys that we have.”
Before this week’s announcements, there had been no outward indication that Johnson or Toney was set to leave the program after their junior seasons. Pitt does not have any players committed in the 2021 recruiting class and no transfers pledged to the Panthers at the moment. The Panthers entered the 2020-21 season looking like they may have just one scholarship opening this summer, but with Nike Sibande gaining NCAA eligibility, the departures of Johnson and Toney and the suspension of John Hugley, the Panthers have at least four and possibly five opening.
As Capel said, the job of recruiting players to the program will continue to be a significant one for him and his staff.