Ben Howland, Members of 2003 Big East Championship Team Return to the Pete
The University of Pittsburgh honored the 2003 Big East Champion men’s basketball team back to the Petersen Events Center Saturday. Remembering the 20th anniversary of the Panthers’ first Big East Tournament title, former players and coaches were in attendance for Pitt’s 71-68 comeback victory against No. 20 Miami.
Head coach Ben Howland, assistant coach Barry Rohrssen, Julius Page, Chevon Troutman, Carl Krauser, Ontario Lett, Mark McCarroll, Levon Kendall, Donatas Zavackas, Yuri Demetris, Carlo Dorazio, and Gino Federico entered Oakland to be recognized mid-game.
“I was here in September, watched them practice before the season began,” Howland said. “I love their togetherness, unselfishness, obviously they shoot the ball well.
“We talked about what a blessing it is to be a Pitt Panther… learn and keep striding to get better every day. It’s all about playing together, being unselfish, being tough, and giving yourself up for your team. That’s something our team exemplified. All they cared about was winning.”
Howland finished his Panther career, spanning 1999-2003, with an 89-40 (.690) overall record. He praised Capel for the program’s turnaround.
“They’re very well coached,” Howland said. “Coach is doing an outstanding job in terms of getting them to all mesh together. Great schemes both offensively and defensively.”
Howland credited his decision to come to Pitt from previous eras, making the job “a great opportunity.” The former Northern Arizona, UCLA, and Mississippi State coach finished his career with a 533-306 (.635) line and 11 tournament appearances including 2002 and 2003 in Pittsburgh.
“To be in the Big East, to be in the best basketball league in the country, which in that time no doubt was the Big East, was really exciting,” Howland said.
The Big East Tournament remains one of Howland’s fondest memories, dominating UConn 74-56 and moving on to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed.
“It was great for the fans. For our fans in the Big East, the Big East Tournament was the biggest setting in basketball every year,” Everyone loved going to New York… it was great for our program and fans.”
When reflecting on the 2003 championship team, Howland praised his team’s toughness in the old-school Big East and the leadership of guard Brandin Knight. Knight’s No. 20 hangs in the rafters above a portion of the Oakland Zoo.
“Toughness, physical, blue collar, work ethic, togetherness, unselfishness, physicality, great kids, great players,” Howland said. “Brandin was the heart and soul… we were really blessed.”
An associate head coach at Rutgers, Howland said a team will be fortunate to have Knight lead their program soon into the future.
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,508 people helped energize Pitt to victory, holding No. 20 Miami scoreless after trailing by eight with just under two and a half minutes remaining.
Howland said he sees similar qualities in the 2022-23 Panthers.
“I see them making the extra pass, penetrating and kicking out,” Howland said. “I really like their chemistry. And they’re young.”
The energy and passion of the Panther faithful helped guide Pitt to now double-digit home wins (10-3). Howland’s team helped open the doors of the Petersen Events Center in 2002 and hopes the enthusiasm and pride of the sports-crazed city wraps its arms around the Panthers.
“That’s one of the things that was so fun when I was here, and Jamie’s [Dixon] teams, it was sold out,” Howland said. “I hope the fans will get behind this team. They have a chance to do something special.”