After entering the transfer portal on Thursday, former Drexel forward TJ Bickerstaff had to wait just one day to hear from Pitt.
The 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward averaged 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his sophomore season for the Dragons, greatly improving in both categories as opposed to his freshman year numbers. After entering the portal, he quickly found out that many coaches had noticed his improvements. One of the first coaches to call was Pitt assistant coach Milan Brown, who reached out on Friday.
“He basically talked about the program, like who left and who is coming in,” Bickerstaff told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “He also talked about what they are looking for, which is talented players.”
Bickerstaff comes from a basketball family, as his uncle JB is currently the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and his grandfather Bernie was also an NBA head coach. In fact, prior to his retirement, Bernie shared a bench with Jeff Capel II, the father of the Pitt head coach, as the two both coached for the Charlotte Bobcats.
While he has not spoken to Capel yet, Bickerstaff did say that Brown asked him for his parents’ contact information, and that he will be in touch with him again in the near future looking to set up more calls.
“I know it is a good program,” Bickerstaff added about Pitt. “I know they have a good coach who came from Duke. We played them last year too, so I kind of got to get a feel for them as a team and things like that, so I found that pretty cool.”
In that game against Pitt, Bickerstaff played one of his best games of the season, scoring a season-high 19 points on seven-for-15 shooting to go along with five rebounds and two assists. While the forward struggled with outside shooting throughout the year, he did have a very solid performance from the free-throw line this season, making 47 of his 56 attempts, an 84% mark. Against the Panthers, he drained all five of his attempts from the charity stripe.
“I can really shoot the ball,” he said. “I just had to fix a few mechanical problems. Right now, I am in the gym and I am making a lot of my shots and building confidence as well. That is another important thing, the mental piece, and taking care of that to make sure I stay confident.”
Bickerstaff has a strong, athletic build, and he prides himself on his playmaking ability. He is a very calm ball handler, especially when he is maneuvering through the lane to get to the bucket. With consistent finishing ability and improvement to his jump shot, his offensive game is surely getting better as he develops. In addition to his offense, he also wants to focus on his efforts on the other side of the ball.
“Defensively I can be better, but I am in the weight room constantly and working on my lateral quickness,” he said. “I have the potential to be a great defender, for sure.”
While the jump from the Colonial Athletic Association to the ACC would not be easy, Bickerstaff says he is ready for everything.
“I think it will definitely be a challenge,” he said. “If I decide to do that, then I will have to bring it every night.”
Since entering the portal, he has heard from Pitt, Boston College, Western Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Murray State, Middle Tennessee, Appalachian State, Albany, and a few more smaller schools.
While he does not have a date set for his commitment yet, Bickerstaff knows what he is looking for in a school.
“I am looking for a place where I can fit in their system and where they try to help me be the best I can be and help me reach my full potential.”