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Pitt Basketball Mount Rushmore: Four of the Most Impactful Panthers in Program History

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Summer is a time to reflect on memories and some of the best days of yesteryear. A time to remember, a time to reminisce, and a time to look back on some of the greatest of all time.

One question to ponder with three months until college basketball returns? Who are the four best players in Pitt basketball history? Here’s the top candidates to be carved into a Panther version of Mount Rushmore, or Mt. Washington if we’re feeling generous. 

Billy Knight

2018 Pitt Hall of Famer Bill Knight is a hometown hero who continues to give back to Pittsburgh. The Braddock native scored over 1,700 points in three seasons at Pitt from 1971 to 1974. Knight is one of three players in the long history of Pitt basketball to score at least 20 points per game in three seasons, finishing his career with an average of 22.2 points per contest. 

Knight has stuck around the Panther program and was in attendance during Pitt’s resurgent season this past year, winning two games in the NCAA Tournament. Knight guided the best regular-season team in program history during the 1973-74 campaign, finishing 25-4 and winners of 22 in a row. His No. 34 is retired and constitutes a common trend with members of the program’s Mount Rushmore. Knight helped Pitt reach the Elite Eight and the 1974 NCAA Tournament East Regional Final. He played 11 years in the ABA and NBA before retiring in 1985. Knight was the face of Pitt basketball in the 70s and the program did not find similar success until the next two members came to Oakland.

Brandin Knight

Brandin Knight’s No. 20 is retired at the Petersen Events Center and is currently an associate head coach at Rutgers. He was a former All-American and All-Big East star who totaled a program-high 985 assists and 298 steals. His 6.2 assists per game is a Panther record and was floor general for Pitt’s resurgence in the Big East under head coach Ben Howland. An emotional leader who remains a fan favorite, Knight left a lasting impact on the program and the Oakland Zoo.  

Knight shined in highly competitive and intense moments en route to 1,440 career points. He spent a significant amount of his coaching career so far with the Panthers under head coach Jamie Dixon. Pitt won two Big East regular season titles (2001-2002 and 2002-2003) during his career, spanning 1999 to 2003. Looped in was the Panthers’ first-ever Big East Tournament crown in 2003.

Jerome Lane

“Send it in, Jerome!” You know it, you love it; the dunk that broke the backboard and rocked the Fitzgerald Field House on Jan. 25, 1988, cemented Jerome Lane as one of the best players in Pitt history. 

Jane was a two-time All-Big East recipient in three years at Pitt from 1985 to 1988. He started 81 of the 93 games he appeared in at Pitt and averaged a 15.8 point, 13.5 rebound double double as a sophomore. He followed it up with a junior campaign scoring 13.9 points and grabbing 12.2 rebounds, including 4.5 offensive boards per game. Lane was an offensive rebound machine during his season, averaging 6.0 per appearance. He was drafted 23rd overall by the Denver Nuggets in 1988 and spent five years combined with the Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks. Lane averaged 5.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Charles Smith

The best of the 1980s Panthers, Smith is one of the most memorable players in Pitt basketball lore as a dynamic big with a dominant scoring touch. The 2018 Pitt Hall of Fame inductee played for the Panthers from 1984 to 1988 and is the program’s all-time scoring leader (2,045). 

Smith has so many accomplishments, both with Pitt and the pros that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. He played on the 1988 USA Olympic Team in Seoul, South Korea, and helped Pitt burst onto the national stage. The 1985 Big East Rookie of the Year and 1988 Big East Player of the Year helped Pitt become co-champions in 1987 and win the conference the following year. Smith earned All-Big East honors four times and the High-School Parade All America.

He was selected 3rd overall in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and spent 10 years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs. Smith averaged 14.4 points per game and starred for the Clippers with two seasons pacing at 20 or more points. His No. 34 jersey hangs in the rafters at the Pete.

Just missed the cut: Sean Miller (1987-1992) and Don Hennon (1956-1959)

Not putting one of these three names in the top four is sure to draw controversy. Miller’s Pitt career was overshadowed by the fact he passed the ball to Lane before the glass-shattering dunk. Hennon finished his Pitt career with 1,841 points and his No. 10 became the first to be retired in Pitt basketball history. He later became a surgeon after graduating.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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DRB
DRB
11 months ago

Loved Jerome Lane. But I’d put Clyde Vaughan over Jerome, and potentially over Brandin Knight.

Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
11 months ago
Reply to  DRB

Clyde would be an excellent pick leading the BigEast in scoring one year & 2nd another year, on a team where Clyde was pretty much a 1 man scoring machine. Brian Shorter is also a consideration, also leading the Big East in scoring one year and 2nd in rebounding. And Shorter at only 6’6″ tall to battle both Alonzo Mourning & Mutumbo.

Wilson Jackson
Wilson Jackson
11 months ago

Sam Clancy??? Jerome Lane was great but Bam should be on over him despite the backboard breaking dunk. #H2P

Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
11 months ago
Reply to  Wilson Jackson

DeJuan Blair, co-star on the ONLY Pitt team to be ranked Number 1 for several weeks and the highest ranked Pitt team at conclusion of season. Also only Pitt team since the expanded 64 team NCAA’s, to reach the Elite 8. DeJuan Blair, Pitt’s only Consensus First Team All-American in 2008-2009 season.(in the modern era, Dr. Don Hennon was 1st team AA in 1957-58 & 2nd team AA in 1958-59 season.)

Last edited 11 months ago by Cignetti & Friends
kevin
kevin
11 months ago

IMO, Curtis Aiken was the reason for the turnaround in Pitt basketball in the 80’s. His commitment started Pitt’s recruiting success for the next decade. I’m not saying he should be in the top four, but he did help create the process of winning again at Pitt.

The Last Word
The Last Word
11 months ago

Don Henson, Billy Knight, Sam Clancy, Charles Smith

Pittband
Pittband
11 months ago

Am very familiar with Billy, He didn’t just score, he was the best rebounder though only 6’ 6”. Played Fran Webster’s amoeba defense and graduated on the honor role. Quite a role model.

Biff
Biff
11 months ago

Dejuan Blair instead of Lane. Had much more impact on the successful teams he played on

Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
11 months ago
Reply to  Biff

Tough call…Blair did star on Pitt’s first team (only team ?) to be ranked #1 in the country, and the only Pitt team (outside of the 73-74 team) to make it to the Elite 8. Only Pitt team since the NCAA’s were expanded to 64 teams (now 68). Also led the BigEast in rebounding. So yea perhaps. At least a tie with Jerome/DeJuan.

Cignetti & Friends
Cignetti & Friends
11 months ago

Charles Smith was No. 32. Not 34. Also he wasn’t the first big-time blue chipper to come to Pitt from outside Western Pa. Curtis Aiken was. From Buffalo. Aiken coming led to Smith, Lane, & Gore coming.

Bob Smizik
Bob Smizik
11 months ago

I can only assume the author never heard of Don Hennon.. Hennon, Billy Knight, and Charles Smith are locks. A lot of candidates for number 4.

Pittband
Pittband
11 months ago
Reply to  Bob Smizik

Hennon was before our time. The others are more contemporary. Another candidate not mentioned was Doc Carlson, coach of Pitt’s only national championship team.

Jim Garland
Jim Garland
11 months ago
Reply to  Pittband

And what does that have to do with anything? A lot happened “before your time”, contrary to what you may read or see on TV.

Jim Garland
Jim Garland
11 months ago
Reply to  Bob Smizik

Thank you Bob!

Jim Garland
Jim Garland
11 months ago

Well, you got two out of four right – Billy Knight and Charles Smith. Any list without Don Hennon torpedoes your credibility. With that unforgivable omission addressed, there is a legitimate debate on No. 4. I’d put Clyde Vaughan up there, but that’s just me. And yes, I saw all of them play in person.

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