Jeff Capel had a job to do this offseason.
“We have to get better players,” he said after the team’s season-ending loss to Boston College. “I mean, that’s the reality of it. It’s nothing against — it’s not anything personal. We have to continue to add better players.”
After four seasons of despair to start his Pitt head coaching career, Capel knew he had a lot of work to do with his roster that finished last season 11-21 overall. Obviously, there were injuries and off-the-court issues that Capel’s team endured that were out of his control. But there are no valid excuses for 11-21 in year four without a single winning season at a program with rich hoops history like Pitt. None.
He knew that. He took a step back, examined what he had, and realized that he had to do everything he could to turn this program around in one offseason.
It all started with the departures. Within ten days of the last game of Pitt’s season, Noah Collier, Chris Payton, and Onye Ezeakudo entered the transfer portal. All three players served as reserves on last year’s team, and were now heading off to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Three spots had opened up. Then came another wave the next week, as Dan Oladapo and Ithiel Horton entered the portal. Five spots were now open. Then came Max Amadasun, another reserve, and shortly after, Femi Odukale, a starting guard.
With Mo Gueye running out of eligibility too, Capel had eight new scholarships to work with this offseason. He got off to a nice start with the addition of Nelly Cummings, adding the Pittsburgh native on the same day that Odukale left. Cummings had entered the portal shortly after being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with Colgate. After visiting Pitt and hearing from a long list of other D1’s, he decided to commit to the Panthers. A solid place to start for Capel, who had seven more scholarships to award.
Then came two commitments in one week: Blake Hinson and Fede Federiko. Hinson is a question mark because of his inactivity in the past two seasons. Federiko because he last played at the junior college level, and his production there did not scream high-major starter. However, despite the questions around the two, both have years of experience past high school, and multiple years of eligibility remaining. Hinson has produced at the high-major level. Federiko has upside with his length and athleticism. At this point, momentum was swinging in the right direction for Capel.
Next came two commitments in one minute. Both Jorge and Guillermo Diaz-Graham, prospects in the 2022 class, committed to Pitt at the same time in early May. Scouts such as Adam Finkelstein (247 Sports) have raved about the twins’ early developments since arriving in the U.S., and both twins were recently selected to compete for the 12-man U20 Spanish national team (FIBA). It is safe to say that the twins provide skills and potential that has not been seen at Pitt in Capel’s tenure.
After that, two more commitments rolled in for Capel in May with the additions of Greg Elliott, a veteran guard out of Marquette, and Cashius McNeilly, a sharpshooting junior college prospect. Elliott provides outside shooting and more experience in the veteran-loaded back court, and McNeilly, who still has not really shown off his talents much at the college level, has shown off a smooth stroke from three-point range in the JuCo ranks as well.
And on Monday, the recruiting journey reached its peak with the commitment of Dior Johnson, a four-star guard who is ranked within the top 40 in the nation in the class of 2022. Less than one year ago, Johnson was rated as a top ten prospect in the class. After committing and de-committing from both Syracuse and Oregon over the past few years, he finally decided on Pitt. He brings a boatload of talent in right away, on top of the bright lights that come with him and his 500,000+ fans on social media. Johnson is a unique prospect. A celebrity within the game. An untold story. But the one thing that everyone knows about Johnson is that he has legitimate talent and untapped potential.
So there you have it. Capel is all in. He has enough talent on this overhauled roster to win. He has enough veterans, enough experience to win. He has the big names. He kept John Hugley. He’s getting Nike Sibande back. He has his leader in Jamarius Burton. He has all of the new pieces he needs. The shooters. The athletes. He has stacked all of his chips up heading into this make-or-break season, and he is ready to play his hand.