After the 2021-22 basketball season came to a close, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel’s number one priority was to make sure star big man John Hugley was returning to the Panthers.
Less than two weeks into the offseason, Hugley announced he would return to Pitt for this upcoming season. Job number one? Accomplished. Next, as several players began to exit the program into the transfer portal, Capel’s job turned to adding new talent and revamping this roster around Hugley, Burton, Sibande, and the other returnees.
After months of recruiting transfers, junior college players, and high-school recruits, Pitt’s staff has now completed its 2022-23 roster, adding several guards and forwards to the mix just in time for summer workouts to get started. As the newcomers have each signed, Hugley and his teammates have gotten a chance to to meet their new teammates, interact with them, and watch them play.
While getting to know his new counterparts, Hugley, the longest-tenured Panther on the roster along with Will Jeffress and Sibande, has been focusing on the goal of leading the newest Panthers. He has developed into one of the team’s mentors ahead of this season, and this summer, he has decided to take the team’s younger players under his wing.
“I’m a big brother to them,” Hugley told PSN about Jorge and Guillermo Diaz-Graham, the team’s freshman twins from Spain. “They’re really good, they’re really good. They have a good feel, a good IQ for the game, they can really pass. I feel like they’re going to be really special to this team. G [Guillermo] brings a little more length to the team, you know, he’s a shot-blocker, he can really shoot the ball, he can really pass. Jorge is more of a skilled face-up [player]. They’re both bringing aspects of the game that we need for the team… They’re always happy, they’re always happy. I love the boys, man.”
Another young player that Hugley has taken under his wing is Dior Johnson, the prized top-40 recruit who filled Pitt’s final open scholarship. Johnson, unlike any of the players currently on the Pitt roster, is entering his freshman year as a nationally-recognized name in the sport of basketball with over 500,000 followers on social media and fans in every corner of the country.
“So me and Dior played against each other, I think it might have been his freshman year, my junior year,” Hugley said. “We didn’t really know each other that well. But two days before finding out Dior was coming, me and him had a good talk, just like, he’s going to help us a lot. Like I said how I’m the big brother for Jorge and G, I’m Dior’s big brother. Helping him, leading him in the right direction. Some things that I saw in my freshman year that I needed to get fixed. And I see it in him. So, it’s like, I am going to help him before he makes other decisions.”
To help out with the mentoring, Hugley is also collaborating with some of the team’s other veterans — including Blake Hinson and Nelly Cummings — to lead the Panthers.
“Blake’s mentality, it reminds me a lot like myself,” Hugley said about Hinson. “Just having that dog mentality. Blake can really stretch the floor out, he’s a really nice shooter, he can really handle the ball. He’s a good all-around player. Great guy, great locker-room guy. It’s great to have players like him around.”
“I was like, we’ve got to get him, man,” Hugley continued about Cummings. “He’s a star. Just to keep bringing stars in and players that are going to help our program win and take us to the next level. I feel like that was the big thing. Nelly is a leader. He’s got that championship DNA in him, so I feel like that experience is going to help us really much next year, plus the experience that we already have.”
Check out Pittsburgh Sports Now’s complete, exclusive interview with Hugley below.