Pitt Women's Basketball
New Pitt WBB Head Coach Tory Verdi Promises Change in Culture and Winning Sooner Rather than Later
PITTSBURGH — New Pitt head coach Tory Verdi arrived at his opening press conference last Friday, April 7, beaming with confidence and ready to take on another challenge in his long coaching career.
Verdi has had a long career of coaching in women’s basketball and great success turning programs around as a head coach. He led Eastern Michigan from just eight wins in his first season in 2012-13 to three straight postseason appearances the next three years. EMU made the WBI Second Round in the 2013-14 season and then made the WNIT the following two seasons.
He then took the job at UMass in the Atlantic-10 starting in the 2016-17 season. Verdi once again turned another program around, leading UMass from an 8-22 record his first season to three seasons with 20 or more wins and postseason appearances in his final three seasons.
Verdi managed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2022, as the Minutewomen won the Atlantic 10 Tournament for the first time in program history. This gave the Minutewomen their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998 and only their third ever as they made it for the first time in 1996. The Minutewomen won the Regular Season Title for the first time in 2023 but settled for the WNIT after losing in the A-10 Tournament.
Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke had a relationship with Verdi as she served as the athletic director at Eastern Michigan from 2013-17. The relationship between the two made negotiations much easier and allowed for them to progress going forward.
Verdi visited Pitt’s campus for the first time last week, which provided him a new perspective on the program. He said he knew he wanted to join the program the moment he stepped on campus and that Pitt was truly a special place.
“I know that we are going to be able to recruit here,” Verdi said. “I know we are going to be able to get special players. But more importantly, we’re going to get special people and we’re going to turn this thing around and it’s going to be pretty special when we do it.”
The plan going forward for Verdi is simple: put in countless hours on the recruiting trail and try to rebuild this Panthers roster.
Nine players from the 2022-23 Panthers roster have placed their names in the transfer portal following the dismissal of head coach Lance White. White served as the Panthers’ head coach for five seasons, before athletic director Heather Lyke fired him for accruing a record of 42-99, the worst five year stretch of any head coach in Panthers history.
Pitt only brings back four returning players in rising senior forwards, Gabby Hutcherson and Liatu King, as well as rising sophomore guards, Marley Washentiz and Aislin Malcom. They also have three first-year players in North Allegheny star Jasmine Timmerson as well as Canadian forwards in Lauren Rust and Hannah Mills-Watson, who signed their National Letters of Intent.
Verdi has made ties across the country for players, with New York, New Jersey and the DMV metro area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) as his hot spots. He also has experience coaching in the Midwest with Nebraska for five seasons as an assistant coach and with Kansas for two seasons as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator.
He has great faith in himself and his future staff that they will bring in top-caliber players to the Pitt program. His staff will have to catch up to most coaches, who have already had a month to recruit and bring in transfers, but Verdi is not worried and says that he will bring in the right players.
“We have a great opportunity to bring in great players,” Verdi said. “Players that can impact and help us win. We’re not waiting for three years. We’re not saying that we need all this time to rebuild and get the right people in. We’re not waiting, we’re winning.”
Verdi brings confidence to the Panthers, something that fans haven’t seen in quite some time at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers have only had one winning season in the last 10 years, which saw them finish with a 20-12 record and an appearance in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Pitt women’s basketball has never had sustained success as a program. The only time period with consistent winning came under star guard Shavonte Zealous, who played from 2005-09. Pitt accrued an overall record of 95-39 (.709) and 50-23 (.685) in the Big East during her time at Pitt. Pitt also made it to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2007-09 and back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Verdi announced that Pitt will be different in the ACC going forward. He declared that no longer will teams come into the Petersen Events Center and win in blowouts like they have done in the past. He will construct his team to play tough, physical basketball that isn’t afraid to change things up and keep opponents guessing.
Much of his success in these rebuilds has come from his offensive production. UMass finished first in scoring his last three seasons there and no lower than fourth in the final six of his seven seasons as head coach.
Verdi promised that the Panthers will play “fast and furious” going forward, leading to an increase in offensive production. This is a big plus for a program that finished in the bottom four or lower in the ACC in White’s five seasons as head coach.
Creating this vision that Verdi wants to impose on this program would normally take patience, something that Verdi is not a fan of. He holds himself accountable with an incredibly hard work ethic and declared that no one wants to win more than he does.
A big key to building up this Pitt team for Verdi is creating a great culture around the team and also bringing in student-athletes with outstanding character.
“You can have great players, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” Verdi said. “You need to be connected. You need to have a foundation. There needs to be a level of love and respect for one another because you hit adversity and you’re not together, you’re going to implode and you’re not going to be successful. Last thing is we need character. We need players who have an unbelievable, competitive spirit. You can see that, and you can identify that. As a coach, you got to identify someone’s love for what they’re doing. We need players who are invested. We need players who have two feet in here all the time and we need players who are on the bus.”
One important part of Verdi’s plan going forward is to engage the student body with the team and encourage them to come to games.
The Oakland Zoo have done great work throughout the years, especially last season, to try and bring people to games. This worked great for men’s basketball, as the team improved back to an NCAA Tournament, but with the women’s team still playing poorly, most students didn’t bother to turn up.
Verdi promises to not only work with the Oakland Zoo, but also to get the message out to all students to attend the games and support their women’s basketball team.
“I’m going to do everything possible and I’m going to get with marketing and try to get on campus,” Verdi said. “I want to meet the students here on campus. I want to give them reason watch our players because they deserve that. We’re going to put a product out on the floor that people are going to be super excited to watch. That’s my message, that’s my story. I’m going to rip it and I’m going to run all over campus.”
The success of Pitt’s athletic programs under Heather Lyke is also something that Verdi will take advantage of. Volleyball made back-to-back Final Fours and men’s soccer earned two trips in the last three seasons to the College Cup. Football finished the past two seasons in the AP Top 25 for the first time in over forty years, plus won an ACC Title in 2021 under head coach Pat Narduzzi and men’s basketball bounced back under head coach Jeff Capel for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years in 2023.
He plans to meet with the head coaches of other programs and to see how they have helped build up their teams for success over the past few seasons.
“I would be a dummy if I didn’t go rub elbows and talk to the coaches here on campus that have successful programs,” Verdi said. “I want to know what they’re doing. I want to know what they’re selling. I want to know their philosophies. Eventually I’ll come up with my own thing, but I’d be crazy not to ask them. If they’re doing it, I want to know. I’m going to be relentless.”
Verdi promises Pitt fans that he will construct this team filled with players that they will be proud of. He also says that, while the team will work harder than ever before, they’ll have a great time doing it and that it will show on the court.
“We will have fun,” Verdi said. “There’s a lot of coaches around the country that miss that element. But when our fans and when our community leave our games, they’re going to say one thing. “Wow, they played really, really hard.” Because that’s controllable. You can control how hard you play and we’re going to play the right way.”
The sleeper is their. Hopefully you are the right person to awaken it. Talent is around you, now how are you going to get it? H2P.