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.
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.
We are excited to introduce a new campaign highlighting 60 yrs of the Varsity Letter Club Awardees of Distinction! Over the next year we will be sharing stories about what it means to be an Awardee of Distinction.
— Pitt Life Skills (@Pitt_LIFESKILLS) February 10, 2021
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’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.
"This is the best place to play in the country!"
— Pitt Panthers (@Pitt_ATHLETICS) December 4, 2019
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.
Brandin Knight, who’s No. 20 hangs in the rafters at the Pete, reflects on the 2003 Big East Championship team pic.twitter.com/j0mXDH0hEf
— Austin Bechtold (@AustinRBechtold) January 28, 2023
“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.
"SEND IT IN, JEROME!"
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) January 25, 2023
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.
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.