The Pitt men’s basketball season will tip off in just 30 days and developments over the last 24 hours raise the legitimate question if this will be another lost and long season for Pitt. The Panthers haven’t had a winning record in seven seasons and following last night’s news, that number could very well grow to eight.
The Pitt athletic department has suspended talented freshman guard Dior Johnson following his arrest after some serious charges have been levied against him. The 18-year-old Johnson has been charged with one felony count of aggravated assault, one felony count of strangulation, one misdemeanor count of unlawful restraint, one misdemeanor count of simple assault and one misdemeanor count of false imprisonment.
This is obviously a serious situation and one that no college coach wants to be dealing with at any time.
The disturbing part and one that starts raising red flags is that this is the third consecutive year that there’s been a serious off the court player incident/allegation at the start of the season. First it was John Hugley and an allegedly stolen car, then last year Ithiel Horton had an incident with a police offer and now Johnson looks like perhaps the most serious of the three.
I want to be very clear. I’m not saying Dior Johnson is guilty, nor am I saying he’s innocent. Only the two parties involved know what happened and the legal system will determine Johnson’s fate.
While I don’t and won’t have an opinion on this alleged incident, I will say something about the big picture of this.
In terms of on the court, this is a disaster and the worst thing that could have happened for Pitt. Just days ago, I wrote an optimistic column regarding the future of Pitt basketball and a lot of that was based on the impact Johnson would have on this 2022-23 Pitt team.
Jeff Capel would finally have his star guard that would take pressure off John Hugley and give the Panthers a 1-2 punch that they haven’t had in quite some time. Following the news on Friday, the chances of that happening now appear to be very slim as Johnson has some legal battles that he will be trying to beat.
The more important thing to focus on is the big picture issue that this raises and the negativity and questions that will surround the program regardless of what is determined in the courts. If by some chance Johnson returns to play for the Panthers, this story and negativity will follow him and the Pitt basketball team. Right or wrong, a percentage of the fan base and basketball world will have many questions and skepticism over this if Johnson is cleared after reading what was in the criminal report.
While that might not be fair, that’s the life and that’s the world we live in.
Here’s something else that people are asking and rightly so.
The alleged incident occurred at the beginning of September, yet Johnson continued to practice with the Pitt team and apparently nothing was done by the athletic department. The fact that no one knew about this for a month, is something that I find hard to believe and if they didn’t, that’s very concerning. And if they were aware of this, why was Johnson not stopped from practicing until he was charged and arrested?
Whatever ends up happening, this 2022-23 Pitt basketball season is already a mess and one that is filled with negativity and controversy, something Capel didn’t need, especially considering his resume thus far at Pitt and what’s happened on and off the court.