John Hugley’s freshman season at Pitt certainly did not go as planned.
Hugley, who came into Jeff Capel’s program as a four-star, top-100 ranked prospect out of Brush High School, played in just seven games and started only one during that freshman campaign. After being sidelined by COVID close-contact protocols in early January, Hugley was ready to come back to the team and contribute.
However, things took a quick and major turn when Hugley was suspended by the team indefinitely for picking up three felony charges for his involvement in the theft of a car in South Oakland.
Hugley would not play a game for the rest of the season.
However, in May, Hugley’s charges were dropped, and he was reinstated to the Pitt basketball program by Capel.
“We certainly missed him, and [we are] very, very happy to have him back,” Capel said about Hugley after the team’s first official practice. “[He’s been] great. He’s been terrific, terrific, terrific.”
In his seven games for the Panthers, Hugley averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 40% from the field. While not producing as much as Panther fans would have liked to start of his career, he showed flashes of brilliance in his offense during a few of those games, including the Northwestern contest.
— chet mason (@ChetMason32) December 10, 2020
“He’s different from what we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Capel went on. “I thought his last two games last year, he was really starting to figure it out, really starting to get it.”
In those last two games before his off-the-court troubles, Hugley went a combined 6-for-13 from the field, scored 16 points, including a season-high nine against Miami, and grabbed seven rebounds in the contest against Louisville. With that Louisville game (on December 22) being his last game action, by the time Pitt plays its first game of 2021-22 against The Citadel on Nov. 9, Hugley will have gone 322 days between games.
“He was away from us but he wasn’t,” Capel added. “He was away from us physically, he wasn’t with us in practice, and in whatever, but we talked to him and were part of his daily routine every day. One of the things that I am so proud of is that even in the midst of all of that – and it was a lot – he still had a 3.0 [GPA], a little bit over a 3.0 during the second semester.”
Hugley’s academic successes came all while going through legal troubles, a COVID-impacted school year, and much more. How did he do it? For a kid going through so much uncertainty in his life all at the same time, how did he stay the course and persevere through all of this?
“John has an incredible support system,” the fourth-year head coach said. “I think we are a part of it, but, from his mom, and especially his high school coach and his community back home. As he was dealing with the adversity that he was dealing with and the uncertainty, the thing that he always had was that he was surrounded by love. I’d like to think that we were a big part of that, but certainly his mom, his grandparents, his high school coach, his community did that. So even though physically he couldn’t be here with us, he was still working, getting better. One of the big areas of growth is mentally how much stronger he has gotten. And how much he has grown up.”
Throughout the time that he was suspended all the way up until now, his high school coach, Chet Mason, would tweet out support of Hugley.
— chet mason (@ChetMason32) September 24, 2021
Now, even after so much time off, Hugley is ready to come in and make a difference on both sides of the ball for a new-look Pitt team. After the departure of big men Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly and Terrell Brown, Hugley is going to be the main post presence down low for the Panthers, alongside Noah Collier and potentially Mo Gueye, who plays more outside than the previous two.
“He’s a wide body, he is getting in better shape, and he’s got really good hands,” Capel said about Hugley’s game. “He has a really good feel. He is a willing and capable passer, and he gives us something that we haven’t had in the three years I have been here. Hopefully he can continue to grow, and build, and get better and give us something that we haven’t had.”