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Michalowski: Capel, Pitt Staff Staying Ahead of the Curve with Transfer Portal Strategy



All things considered, this offseason has been a pretty smooth one for Jeff Capel and his Pitt staff.

The Panthers have hosted two visitors so far: Zack Austin — a 6-foot-7 wing from High Point, and Ishmael Leggett — a 6-foot-3 guard from Rhode Island.

Austin came first. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina native hit the portal in mid-March, and heard from more than 35 programs shortly after entering. That list included high-major programs such as Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, West Virginia, Clemson, Michigan State, and others. After a couple of weeks went by, Austin scheduled his visit to Pitt for April 6-8, and also initially had a visit to Georgetown in the works that would follow his trip to Pittsburgh. However, after taking that visit to the Steel City and touring campus with Capel and co., he quickly realized he had made up his mind. He then committed to Pitt on April 11, just days after his visit.

“The visit went great,” Austin told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I really liked it, and it was way better than I thought it was going to be, honestly. I didn’t realize how big of a city Pittsburgh actually was. The stuff around it, all of the colleges, how close it was to downtown. I think that’s what I took away from it the most.”

Leggett’s situation was pretty similar. The Rhode Island star heard from a long list of schools after entering the portal, including Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, Minnesota, Boston College, Arkansas, and others. Soon after, he too scheduled a visit to Pitt for the weekend that followed Austin’s trip. Leggett arrived on campus on April 14, spent time with the staff and his family in Pittsburgh, and loved what he saw. Three days later on April 17, Leggett’s recruitment was closed, and he had committed to the Panthers.

“I saw the opportunity, then I went on the visit, and it was just great people down there,” Leggett told PSN. “Coach Capel said he had a plan for me so that was really good. Just the vibe of everybody, I could see myself there next year thriving on campus and off campus. My mom as well, she enjoyed herself, and my dad he got to be a part of the experience, so those are the reasons why I chose Pitt.”

More than 1,520 players have entered the portal this year, and there are different tiers of players available in it. You’ve got the top-of-the-line, bag-chasing players who are receiving six-figure NIL offers from high majors. Then you’ve got the producers, the scorers who have dominated the low or mid-major level. Next, you’ve got the high-major players who barely touched the court. Those guys are often former four and five-star prospects who end up dropping down a level. Lastly, you’ve got the group of guys who barely produced at lower-level schools, including some walk-ons.

Pitt’s strategy has been to target that second tier: the producers. The guys who have shown that they can compete — and score — at a high-level of college ball.

By my count, Pitt has reached out to 25 transfers in the portal, and the majority of those transfers — 13 of them — have come from non-Power 5 schools. When it comes to serious targets, the Panthers have been on a tear. Both confirmed visitors have committed. Capel did travel out to see Syracuse transfer Joe Girard, and that recruitment seems to be heading in a different direction at this point with his recent visits to Clemson and LSU. However, compared to staffs around the country, Pitt’s leaders have been efficient as anyone in the portal, targeting mid-major veterans to fill the void left behind by a loaded graduate class that included Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Greg Elliott, and Nike Sibande.

Pitt still has two scholarships left to fill, and is attempting to go a perfect 3/3 on visits with a recently scheduled trip for Niagara transfer Noah Thomasson — another high-level mid-major producer who was all-conference at his previous stop. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed guard earned First Team All-MAAC honors this past season at Niagara after posting averages of 19.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He fits the mold perfectly — another veteran who has scoring experience and can shoot it from outside (39% three-point shooter). He’ll be on Pitt’s campus from May 5-6, after taking trips to San Francisco, St. John’s, Penn State, and Georgia.

Niagara Transfer Noah Thomasson Schedules Official Visit to Pitt

The Panthers had another tall task ahead of them heading into this offseason with such a remarkable, program-changing senior class leaving. However, up to this point, Pitt has done about as good of a job as possible in the portal with its efficient strategy.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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