Back before the 2020 season had even begun, Jeff Capel was already feeling the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic had on college basketball, including the recruiting side of the sport.
For a program like Pitt, one that is trying and trying to rebuild itself back to national prominence, a pandemic was the last thing it needed. With the pandemic came cancellations of all visits for months, which meant no day-trips to see the campus, no taking pictures in the uniforms, no weekend-long all-inclusive official trips to bond with the staff, no elevator rides up to the top of the Cathedral to see the city, and more. Capel, out of all of the coaches in the ACC, missed things like these the most.
“Why it’s important for us, look, we’re not a program with a lot of recent success,” Capel said on Thursday. “During my first three years here, one of the things, especially the first two years, one of the things that I have found is that it’s really important and vital to get kids on campus. Not a lot of people have been to Pittsburgh. Some of these young people have been to the Pittsburgh Jam Fest, but not a lot of people have spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh. I think most people have an opinion of what they think Pittsburgh is like. I know I certainly did before I moved here, even as a visiting coach when we played Pitt, all I saw was the hotel we stayed in downtown and the Pete. I would say about 90-95% of the time when we have been able to get kids on campus with their families, the thing that we inevitably hear all the time, is, ‘This place is not what we thought it would be. It’s so much better than we anticipated.’ That’s why it’s so important to get kids on campus, for them to be able to see the University, to see campus, to see the city, to be able to feel all of those things.”
Fast forward to the present. It is now July 1, and Capel just spent all of June back on the recruiting trail, welcomed over 20 recruits onto campus for the first time in over a year, and, landed a top-100 commitment in Judah Mintz.
“It’s been great, it’s been awesome,” Capel went on. “We’ve been pretty busy since the June 1st period opened where we could do that, where the dead period ended and we got into a contact period. So it’s been great. It’s been great to be able to host kids for official, unofficial visits, it’s been awesome to go out and see these young people play the past two weekends we were able to do that. So, it seems to be getting back to a little bit of normalcy.
Capel and his staff, comprised of Tim O’Toole, a northeast guy, Milan Brown, a DMV guy, and his brother Jason, a Carolina/DMV guy, have been working to make these recruits feel at home on their visits to Pitt. While Pitt was a dominant program nationally and in the Big East in the early 2000s through the Jamie Dixon era, that is not the same Pitt program that plays at the Pete today.
Capel and his staff understand that.
“We can sell 2011, that we were a number one overall seed in the tournament, but the kids we are recruiting were six, five, seven, they don’t remember that,” Capel said. “This is a program that is at a new home. It’s been at a new home since 2014. You don’t have the Big East anymore that you can sell. That’s why it’s been really really important for us to get back on the road and more importantly for us to be able to get kids here.”