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Nelly Cummings Was Born to Represent Pittsburgh



Nelly Cummings

PITTSBURGH — A dream was born in the back gym of the Petersen Events Center in the early 2000s.

As a kid, Nelly Cummings would make the 40-mile trip from Midland, Pennsylvania down to Oakland every weekend for AAU practice at the ‘Pete,’ which, at the time, was one of the most invigorating basketball environments in the entire country.

While in the midst of basketball greatness, it didn’t take long for the young Cummings to start dreaming.

“That was my vision, that was what I had seen,” Cummings said on PSN’s Just Buckets podcast. “That’s what I saw myself as. I’m looking around, seeing all of these greats, I’m like, one day, this could be me one day. Being from here just adds that extra goal that I knew I could attain one day. My AAU team, we practiced there every single Saturday and Sunday. I ran the stairs, I did all of the same things the college guys were doing. I saw Sam Young in there getting extra work in. Seeing all that, it made it that much easier for me to say, that’s what I want to do one day, I’m going to do that.”

The Pitt basketball teams that Cummings grew up around were dominant. From 2005-09, Sam Young, LeVance Fields and company led the Panthers to a 112-31 record across four years. The second round of the NCAA Tournament was the bare minimum. The electricity in the building each time Cummings stepped inside as a young boy — whether it was for AAU practice or the occasional Pitt game — sent chills through his body.

“I remember when it was Sam Young and LeVance Fields, those guys were here, and the gym was rocking,” Cummings added. “The Pete was rocking. I remember all of that vividly. I have some stories about some back gym stuff. I was in there. I’d seen it. I was around when they were doing these types of drills they used to have, these toughness drills. Seeing all of that type of stuff, it’s crazy man, especially looking at where we’re at now.”

Pittsburgh Panthers guard Nelly Cummings (0) February 21, 2023 David Hague/PSN

The young guard had always been a potent scorer himself, and had developed his game to the point at which he was able to dominate throughout all four years of his high-school career.

Cummings kicked off his high-school hoops journey at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School back in 2013, when he started on the varsity team as a freshman. One of his coaches at the time, Mike Bariski, soon became the head coach of the Leopards, and has since watched Nelly’s career blossom.

“I remember when he was a little kid in 7th grade, and I’m licking my chops for him to come and play for us,” Bariski told PSN. “Nelly is the kid that would have probably done anything for me, basketball wise and off the court too. He knows that I was the same for him. Anything he needed, I’d do it for him.”

Cummings and his Lincoln Park teammates left a historic legacy behind in Midland, winning two WPIAL championships and one PIAA state title in his career. Cummings himself finished as a top-five scorer in WPIAL history with 2,411 points at the prep level, cementing himself as a local legend. But his legendary high school run was only the beginning.

“At guard, a six-foot graduate student from Midland, Pennsylvania, number zero, Nelly … Cummings!” shouts Bill Hargrove in front of the rejuvenated University of Pittsburgh basketball fan base.

Cummings is the last one off the bench in the team’s starting lineup introductions each game. He is the hometown kid. He is the starting point guard. Along with a group of savvy veterans of college hoops, he is now leading Pitt basketball to its best season since 2015-16.

Now, he has his sights set on a third career NCAA Tournament appearance as he leads his hometown Pitt Panthers into the depths of March. Before that opportunity arises, Cummings will be honored on Senior Night on Saturday, Feb. 25, against conference rival Syracuse.

“The story on how it worked out, you couldn’t write it any better,” Bariski said. “Hometown hero. I love that. I know it’s going to be special for the Cummings family on Saturday. For me, it gives me goosebumps about him.”

Cummings and the Panthers have been chasing first place ever since they were picked to finish 14th in the ACC in the conference’s preseason poll. The veteran group — led by Cummings (24 years old), Jamarius Burton (22), Blake Hinson (23), Greg Elliott (24), and Nike Sibande (23) — has used the preseason disrespect as motivation, as fuel to rip through the ACC and shatter all expectations.

Pittsburgh Panthers guard Nelly Cummings (0) January 3, 2023 David Hague/PSN

Earlier in the season, Elliott nicknamed Cummings “The Voice.” His out-spoken leadership is evident in each game, and has been all season long. The Pittsburgh kid has done all he can to ensure that the Panthers win each game and each day, and for Bariski, Cummings’ first-place mentality is not surprising in the slightest.

“We won a couple of silver medals when he [Cummings] was here, and he is a respectful kid,” Bariski continued. “But he hated every second of taking one. Hated every second of wearing one. He did it out of respect, because he understood the accomplishment he got. But he hated that silver medal. I know he has them somewhere, but I guarantee you that they’re not hanging on a wall like his gold medals are.”

Nelly Cummings Chooses Pitt, Tells Why: ‘I Want to Put Pitt Basketball Back on the Map’

On any given night, any one of Pitt’s veterans can light up the scorebook and lead the Panthers to victory. Each of those five — even Sibande, who comes off the bench — has scored 20 points in a game this season. The team’s on-court success and each star’s unique leadership style have served as a recipe for greatness in the form of a 13-4 ACC record and the school’s first 20-win season since 2016.

“I think it definitely means something, but we’re in the grind right now, so we’re focused on the next opportunity that we’re going to have,” Cummings said after Pitt’s win on Tuesday over Georgia Tech, one in which he scored 22 points. “Yeah, 20 wins is special, but we’re not done.”

While Cummings is proud of what the team has accomplished, he knows that the season is far from over in Pittsburgh. His team will now look to turn its 20-8 record into a March Madness birth with a strong finish down the stretch, starting with a win over Syracuse on Saturday.

“He’s a competitor,” Bariski said. “There’s no ands, ifs, or buts about it. He’s out there on the basketball court just messing around shooting, and he’s not walking off until he makes one. He’s not letting you make more shots than him warming up. He’s not losing one on one. He’s not losing walking up the steps with you, and that’s all seriousness. He’s playing his hardest against you in anything for a stick of gum. He just has that in his DNA, and that’s why he is such a winner, because he hates losing.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

Nelled it George!

1 year ago

Tuesday, GT overplayed Blake and Jamarius daring Nelly to shoot. Tuesday he was a big piece in the puzzle. Congratulations.

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