Weiss: Pitt Makes Right Hire In Verdi
When Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke made the decision to hire Tory Verdi as the program’s 10th-ever head coach, the latter stated in his opening remarks that it was a great decision, which while humorous also was true.
This, as Lyke very much knows is not Verdi’s first rodeo in bringing a program which has been hungry for steps and then building it into a winner, after all, both previously worked together at Eastern Michigan.
Verdi just came from a Massachusetts program which featured the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year in Sam Breen. That same UMass team recently won its first ever Atlantic 10 regular season title and advanced to the conference championship game for a third consecutive time, losing in a thriller to Saint Louis.
By all means, Verdi will be able to embrace Pittsburgh as his new home as evidenced by recruiting Breen, a Gibsonia native, who transferred from Penn State and questioned whether basketball was for her and she has transformed into a player who has a great opportunity to play professionally.
A source told PSN way back in January that if the Pitt job were to open up, Verdi would be interested.
Really this job is coming at the right time professionally for Verdi as Breen and Destiney Philoxy both graduated, each with much acclaim. Earlier Friday, guard Ber’Nyah Mayo entered her name into the transfer portal and while she did not rule out a return to Amherst, reuniting with Verdi is certainly a possibility.
Mayo has gotten better each season and is a two-way player who have success and bring instant credibility to Pitt.
UMass will still need to hire a new coach and AD Ryan Bamford has many returning players calling for associate coach Mike Leflar to be elevated to the head job.
If that does not happen, a mass exodus is certainly possible, though of course that is pure speculation. Among those also potentially on next season’s team are starters Sydney Taylor and Angelique Ngalakulondi and key reserve, Farrell native Makenna White.
With that being said, multiple players have announced transferring from the program, with another publicly liking social media postings expressing their departure.
Verdi certainly had a talented roster, though he also had a strong seven-player rotation with others losing minutes as the season progressed. Some of those who saw less minutes are among those who are seeking other options.
Even so, Verdi will always show his passion for basketball and his players. That will and has been made clear.
Many circles consider Verdi a player’s coach who possesses the ability to win players over on and off the basketball court.
It is no secret that Pitt is a challenging job and not for everyone, Verdi himself acknowledged it in his opening press conference, but his past experience, which spans over two decades place him in a spot where he could succeed in areas immediate predecessors were unable to.
Given the current state of the transfer portal, there are plenty of options that can jump start a program and Illinois coach Shauna Green showed that winning in year one of a high-major job is certainly possible.
Green inherited a mix of players from her previous Dayton job, returners and fit all of the puzzle pieces into an NCAA Tournament berth.
The same can certainly not be guaranteed for Verdi as he will have to find the right pieces for how he desires to play and do so against coaches who have had up to a month’s head start.
Verdi believes he can win at Pitt and anyone who calls him crazy has not followed his career closely enough.
In its current state, Pitt returns Gabby Hutcherson, Liatu King, Aislin Malcolm and Marley Washenitz, while welcoming in three freshmen in Hannah Mills-Watson, Lauren Rust and Wexford’s Jasmine Timmerson. It will be on Verdi and his staff to construct the remainder of the roster to compete in year one.
Verdi admittedly is not the most patient of people, which will help Pitt in the sense of a desire to be competitive and find success, specifically in conference play, something which has been a struggle in recent years.
Past Pitt coaches have shown the ability to recruit and display growth but have not been able to find enough results where it matters. Wins.
By all accounts, Verdi believes he is just the person that can do that.
In year one at UMass, his Minutewomen lost by 40 points to Saint Louis and he tweeted an apology to the fans afterwards, while also promising that such a result would never happen again. Four years later, Verdi’s team beat that same SLU squad, advancing to its first of three consecutive A-10 championship games.
The ACC provides an opportunity for several of its programs to earn NCAA Tournament berths, while the A-10 saw just one this year after his UMass team had a historic season which concluded in the WNIT after falling just short in an overtime thriller.
Verdi’s press conference was a strong one and gives fans reasons to be excited, but now it will be on his relentless approach to bring success back to Pitt.
With Verdi’s hire, the A-10 certainly becomes even more wide open.
There certainly is a lot of unknown with how UMass will look next season from both coaches and players alike.
Duquesne plans to return all contributors, though Liv Westphal announced earlier this week her transfer to Eastern Michigan.
The Dukes certainly have a lot to prove next season in returning everyone and may in some circles be considered one of the top programs in the conference, though there will be a greater sense of urgency across the board.
Coach Dan Burt saw his team take a big jump last season, but by the same token were a few plays away from being a top four team, ultimately falling short in several close games, which led to having to play in the first game of the conference tournament.
Duquesne’s season ended in difficult fashion as its opponent hit a game-winning shot in the closest seconds, a feeling that certainly did not sit well with the team.
The big question will be if the City Game will continue and in his introductory press conference that was not fully answered.
Verdi of course is familiar with Duquesne going 5-1 against the Dukes and schematically his teams have been the source of frustration. The season, UMass bested Duquesne by 22 points, a fact Verdi not-so-subtly reminded the audience.
What was answered that it was a great game and opportunity for both schools, but that he was that was focused on building his roster, not exactly a ringing endorsement of continuing the City Game. As everyone knows, the men’s edition has not taken place since 2018.
Time will tell if these two teams meet at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse next season.
Good article. You cover the A10 so I
trust your analysis.