Beginning your college career away from home is hard for almost every player.
Especially when you’re 3,630 miles away from home.
Last May, Pitt received two commitments in one day courtesy of two Spanish prospects, Jorge and Guillermo Diaz-Graham, who grew up and still reside on the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain.
The twins, who played one year of post-graduate basketball at IMG Academy in Florida, had initially thought that they would go their separate ways when it came to colleges. Although they took numerous recruiting trips together, they did split up for some as well. Just weeks before their commitments, Jorge was visiting George Washington, while his brother was across the country visiting Utah State. They did not know where they would be going until the very end of their recruitment.
However, when May 4 rolled around, the two had made up their minds: They were going to take their talents to Pittsburgh. Together.
“I remember we were down in Florida with IMG, we had a game in a little gym,” Guillermo said on Friday. “My coach said, ‘Today, you have a coach from Pittsburgh coming.’ I didn’t really know much about Pittsburgh, and after the game, we met T.O [Tim O’Toole]. He came to us and talked to us, we talked to him for a while. Then they came two or three weeks later to talk with my dad and my mom, they were in to Florida so he came to talk to them. He talked to us about Pittsburgh, he talked about us, he talked about how me and my brother, we can play together and come together to Pitt. We chose to make a visit here, and we made the visit here, we fell in love with Pittsburgh, and after I finished all of my visits, I knew I was coming here.”
“Because I have family back home, far away, they [Pitt] told me that they were going to take care of me,” Guillermo added. “It’s a big family here, so I feel that’s the number one thing. It is the ACC, it’s big time, and we wanted to be challenged.”
Since their commitments, both twins have seen their fair share of game action as rookies in the Steel City. To start the season, Pitt seemed to roll with Jorge, the shorter of the two (6-foot-11 compared to Guillermo’s 7-foot), more often. Now, Guillermo has been one of the first Panthers off the bench to relieve starting big Federiko Federiko down low, and has seen his minutes increase as the season continues to move along.
“G,” as the team refers to him, has played more than ten minutes in three of Pitt’s last five games. The 7-footer scored six points in 19 minutes in the Panthers’ recent road victory over Louisville, as he slammed home a two-handed dunk, hit a three-pointer, and knocked down a free throw. He also grabbed eight rebounds in the win, tying his career-high on the glass.
Guillermo is listed at 7-foot, 205 pounds on Pitt’s official roster. When you look around the ACC, it doesn’t take long to see how undersized he is for the position he plays and the opposing bigs that he has to guard. Since arriving at Pitt and seeing his role increase, the youngster has found out that the bigs aren’t even the only ones who are physical in this conference.
“I think it’s way more than I expected,” Guillermo said about the physicality of the league. “Of course, when you see the big guys on the TV, you expect, you know, ok, it’s going to be hard. But it’s not only the big guys that is the one that’s pushing. It’s like, every one of the guys that is on the floor is pushing you, and even if that’s a five-eleven guy, he’s going to push you, he’s going to go for your knees. So it’s like, be ready for 40 minutes of being pushed around. It’s a grind.”
Diaz-Graham’s growth on the court has been clear, as he has stepped in during some of Pitt’s most intense games this season and provided energy off the bench each time. His defense appears to be getting stronger. His offensive bag continues to grow. He is becoming more comfortable with each game, on and off the court.
The Spaniard has become especially close with fellow international prospect Federiko Federiko as well as Nate Santos, another underclassmen. The four of them, who can always be spotted across Oakland together, share numerous similar interests, with one being soccer. And when the World Cup came around this year, the four young Pitt players were excited to watch together.
However, after turning one of the tournament games on in the Panthers’ locker room one day, they realized that they were not the only ones locked in to the matchups.
“I wasn’t expecting it, because here in the U.S.A, soccer is not that big of a thing,” Guillermo said. “Ok, me, Fede, and Jorge, and Nate too, Nate is a soccer guy too, we’re just going to watch by ourselves. But then, we started putting the games on in the locker room, and I got Greg, I got Nelly, I got Nike watching soccer, like, asking me. And then, they’d see me celebrate Messi goals, so I’m going crazy in the locker room. So they’re like, ‘Yeah, G!’ and they come in with me. I feel like these guys really care about each other and they care about me, because they don’t care about soccer, but they’re getting excited about a game that they don’t know how it’s going, just because they see me excited. I think it’s like a big family… If I was overseas, I would be watching the World Cup and getting excited every day with my friends. I don’t have my friends here to be excited with, so instead of watching it alone, or with two or three of us, I get the whole team doing it. So it’s like, you don’t feel that far away from home.”
Meanwhile, the Diaz-Graham family still lives on the Islands while the boys are off at college playing hoops. Although they still reside on the Islands, the twins’ parents were able to make it to Pittsburgh for a couple of games this season: North Carolina and Virginia. For perhaps Pitt’s two biggest wins of the year, the twins’ original family was able to share in the moment with their newfound family in Pittsburgh.
“We won both, so I was saying, ‘Ok, you gonna move here? You’ve got to live here now, because every game you come here, we win,” Guillermo said. “You’ve got to stay here.’ But yeah, they follow all of the games on TV, and it’s hard for them, because some of the games are at 2 a.m. over there, so they support us from there. My whole family. I’ve got my mama sending the links for the family group, and my grandfather, my grandparents watching the games too. So it’s pretty cool.”
Guillermo, Jorge, and the rest of the Panthers will look to continue their hot streak on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. when they take on ACC foe Florida State.