PITTSBURGH — For the first time since March 2020, the Pitt men’s basketball team got to enjoy seeing fans seated in close proximity to them with the band and cheerleaders both actively performing.
Sophomore guard Femi Odukale was puzzled trying to find where his fall classes were located and then subsequently upon entering did not know where to sit.
Odukale did decide to lead by example, sitting in the front seat, which is not something he did before, but it is another step in his process of being a leader for this Pitt team.
This transition is something he has welcomed. Odukale has also received help from senior guard Jamarius Burton, a transfer from Texas Tech who the team revealed underwent a successful procedure on his left knee Friday morning.
“I feel like a leader and Jamarius is helping me with it even more with being more vocal,” Odukale said. “I’m stepping it up making sure I’m talking and huddling with the guys. (Burton) made sure he wanted to motivate people to work better and show us his why. He’s a great vocal leader, he over talks. Even when you don’t want to hear it, he pushes us and is an extra voice in our ear.”
After Saturday afternoon’s Blue-Gold scrimmage, Odukale was enthusiastic about what he saw. Much of preseason is about team work and building a connection together.
Though both teams had multiple players switch jerseys at halftime, the gold team assisted on 10 of 14 made baskets and not to be outdone, blue recorded 10 dishes on 16 field goals.
“There’s a lot of energy, more fight,” he said. “Every day we come and compete for spots. Everyone is competing hard, a couple of words exchanged but it’s all love.”
Pitt now will prepare for a Nov. 1 exhibition against Gannon.
GUEYE GAINING COMFORT, CONFIDENCE
Saturday was the first chance for many to see graduate transfer Mouhamadou Gueye play and he did not disappoint.
Entering Pitt from Stony Brook, Gueye was known mostly for his defense, which was on display with three first-half blocks, he did score 12 points on five-of-seven shooting and added eight rebounds.
“I just came out wanting to have fun,” he said. “When I go into games, I don’t go out there trying to get a certain amount of blocks. There were times I was looking for shots because I knew I would be open, but trying to go for offense instead of defense, I just try to let the game come to me.”
Gueye was able to show off his range making two of his four three-point shots attempted. In his two years with the Sea Wolves, Gueye made 23 baskets from beyond the arc.
“I’m still improving on my shooting, but blocking shots is my main thing,” said Gueye. “Here I’ve had the freedom to work on other areas of my game, putting the ball on the floor a little more. I feel more comfortable.”
Comfort is not the easiest thing to find which switching schools and for Gueye, he has moved from the America East Conference into the ACC.
He considered the transition a crazy one, seeing the Petersen Events Center, but the transition itself was not incredibly difficult for him.
Just getting a small taste for the crowd Saturday has him hungry for more and excited for when the building is filled to capacity.
Though Gueye conceded that playing at Pitt comes with a bigger stage, he refuses to shy away from it.
“I feel in my short time, my game has improved so much and I feel comfortable on the floor,” said Gueye.
HUGLEY ELECTRIC IN RETURN
Seeing the entire team come out to the floor, it was John Hugley that was the first one out and he had an extra jump in his step, even allowing a smile to form across his face.
Hugley played in seven games, starting one last season and then after being sidelined by COVID close-contact protocols was suspended indefinitely after picking up three felony charges for his involvement in the theft of a car in South Oakland, a move which wound up ending his season.
On the court, Hugley scored all six of his points in the first half. He was able to display multiple facets to his game, whether it was working in the post and scoring a reverse layup, nailing a face-up jumper to beat the shot clock, or even feeling confident to stretch his shot beyond the three-point line.
“It feels great seeing him out on the court competing,” Odukale said. “I know he always had it in him, he’s becoming more mature and handling situations right so it means a lot that John comes back to our team. He’s a post guy, always strong and battles down there. I’m happy to have him back.”
Even in the opening possession of the second half, Hugley was pressured tightly just outside of the paint and he recognized this in time to fire a pass for an open shooter.
With Pitt’s post depth on display in the scrimmage, it was that look which differentiated himself from other bigs on the court.
“Even if he decides he doesn’t want to score on a play, teams know how much of a threat he is,” said Gueye. “That shrinks the defense in… that helps everyone else around him find the ball to get better shots.”