This year’s Pitt roster is filled with new talent from almost all over the country, from all different levels of basketball.
One of the newcomers on the team, Chris Payton, came from the Junior College route, playing two years at Indian Hills Community College prior to his time at Pitt. Payton, a former Illinois State commit in high school, was a coveted recruit coming out of Indian Hills in the offseason, hearing from Texas A&M, and Mizzou, among others. However, he ended up choosing Pitt, and so far, it is looking like a great fit.
“He came from a really good JuCo program, where he was coached very, very well,” head coach Jeff Capel said about Payton. “He played with other really good players while he was there. So I think that’s helped him navigate getting to the division one level and certainly the ACC. One of the biggest things with him when he got here was just getting in shape. There are just some things that they didn’t have in JuCo, that we have here. He has learned a lot, but he is open to learning. he understands that he has to learn, he is willing to learn, he wants to learn, and he wants to utilize all of the resources that we have here from strength and conditioning to coaches on the court, to taking care of his body, nutrition, and all of these different things.”
Payton is a 6-foot-7 forward, who played more of the 4-5 position at the Junior College level. After taking in Pitt’s first practice of the year, Payton is looking more like a 3-4 guy for the Panthers. His athleticism, speed, and energy stand out from the second you walk in the gym. He won most of the sprints at the end of practice. He threw down thunderous dunks, handled the ball efficiently, and showed off a back-to-the-basket game when being guarded by bigger defenders.
“He’s the most positive, one of the most positive dudes that I have been around,” Nike Sibande said about Payton. “Regardless of if he’s tired, he’s going to be on the sideline clapping, like, “Come on everybody let’s go!” Chris is a great energy guy. One of the most athletic people I have ever seen, like, really. He’s doing crazy dunks every time trying to break the rim off. Chris is going to be a big piece, for sure, for us.”
In one of the highlights of practice, teammate Ithiel Horton drove the ball and dumped it off to big man John Hugley, who threw it to the anxious Payton in the corner. The 6-foot-7 Illinois native caught it, flew down the baseline, blew by his defender, and finished a smooth reverse layup. Horton let out a huge scream and a Tiger-Woods-esque fist pump. The energy that Payton brought to the scrimmage was clearly rubbing off.
His athleticism is clearly elite, his knowledge of the game is growing, and his eagerness to win is evident. After one day of Pitt practice, Chris Payton is looking like a solid addition to the Pitt locker room.
For more sights and sounds from Pitt’s first day of practice, check out the link below.