Connect with us

Pitt Basketball

Pitt Basketball’s Different Generations Connect as Zoo Crew Prepares for TBT



Pitt basketball returned to national prominence last season with a 24-12 record and two wins in the NCAA Tournament.

The Panthers, in year five of the Jeff Capel era, had finally made it back to the big dance after six years of despair in Oakland. Now, as Capel’s a brick-by-brick culture at Pitt has had clear success, hype and excitement around the program is as high as it’s been since he took over in 2018.

Players from all generations of Pitt basketball have taken notice and have publicly shown support for the program and its endeavors. Throughout last year, countless alumni returned for games. Capel’s alumni game at the Petersen Events Center has been a hit with seemingly all of them. And now, with Zoo Crew preparing for its upcoming run in The Basketball Tournament (TBT), the different generations of Pitt hoopers are all coming together once again.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m a part of that group,” last year’s point guard Nelly Cummings said. “It’s just kind of surreal for me still, just being around these guys that I used to idolize, and being one of them, not just a little kid looking up to them anymore. It’s a different feeling.”

Cummings — who just days ago signed his first professional contract with AEL Limassol BC — is on Zoo Crew’s roster for next week’s tournament. He will play in TBT, and then fly out to Cyprus to begin his professional career early in the fall. He joins Zoo Crew’s well-known roster that also includes former Panthers Gary McGhee, Gilbert Brown, Greg Elliott, Levance Fields, Jamel Artis, Josh Newkirk, Nike Sibande, Talib Zanna, Sam Young, and Ryan Luther.

The team will be coached by DeJuan Blair and Jaron Brown — two more former Panther stars.

“The players on our team, we all know the Pitt system,” Blair said. “I think they mesh perfect. We’ve got a good group of guys rounded out, and we’re going to have a lot of fun. I can’t wait. We already all have the Pitt foundation in us. A lot of us ran the same plays every year. We’re just putting them in. I just want it to be as easy as possible. Don’t think, just play basketball.”

As Zoo Crew looks to bring in the $1 million jackpot by winning the 64-team tournament, Panthers of all generations will be looking on in support of those still representing the University on the court. Justin Champagnie, who starred at Pitt from 2019-21, is currently on the Boston Celtics, coming off of his first NBA Playoff experience and heading into year three of his pro career. Over the past two years, Champagnie has been back to Pitt countless times, working out with the current Panthers and catching up with his old coaching staff — who he refers to as his family.

“I love Pitt,” Champagnie said. “I’m always back here every chance I get. I always come back to school. Just seeing guys like G, Nelly, even the younger guys now, I talk to them all the time. It’s a blessing. I came here as a 17-year-old, I left as what, a 21-year-old, 20-year-old. I have roots built here with Cape and the coaches and the players. I just love it here. It’s like my home.”

Although the 6-foot-7 double-double machine is no longer suiting up in Oakland, Champagnie still makes an effort to watch the Panthers play whenever he gets the chance. That included the team’s recent NCAA Tournament run, which, to say the least, had Champagnie fired up.

“I actually broke my TV in my hotel because they won in the tournament,” Champagnie added. “Seriously. I was super happy. Obviously, I wanted to do things like that, and I didn’t get to, but I’ll be living through them. Watching them play and watching them go out there and compete. Super happy for Cape, he deserves all of the recognition he gets. ACC Coach of the Year, obviously. It was just dope watching them do it.”

All eyes now turn to Wheeling, West Virginia, where the Panthers of the past will begin their run towards $1 million against Herd That, a team full of Marshall alumni. That game will tip off at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25.

“It’s just a full-circle moment for me,” Cummings added. “I remember being a young kid, watching these guys, hopping in some drills. Now, playing on the same team for a million dollars, it’s just a full-circle moment.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
Click to comment
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get PSN in your inbox!

Enter your email and get all of our posts delivered straight to your inbox.

Like Pittsburgh Sports Now on Facebook!
Send this to a friend