On Thursday, Pitt announced that freshman forward Papa Amadou Kante will miss the 2023-24 season due to a non-contact knee injury suffered on Wednesday evening in a workout.
“Papa is a terrific person with great spirit and a relentless work ethic,” Jeff Capel said. “We feel for him to have this happen so early in his collegiate career. We have an outstanding medical and athletic training staff, and we know that Papa will attack the rehab and recovery process. This will be a minor setback for a young man with a great future in our program.”
Kante, a 6-foot-10 four-star forward coming out of high school, was set to play a role inside for the Panthers as a freshman. Although Federiko Federiko unquestionably would be the starting five man on day one, Kante would have had the chance to compete for minutes behind Federiko with Guillermo Diaz-Graham, last year’s backup big.
Scouts and coaches seemed to describe Kante almost exactly how they describe Federiko: an athletic, rim-running and rim-protecting big man. Unfortunately for Pitt, it will have to wait at least one season to see what Kante can bring to the table at the collegiate level.
Beginning in the back court, Ishmael Leggett (Rhode Island transfer), Carlton Carrington, Jaland Lowe, and Mike Hueitt Jr. will be the contributors for Pitt. Leggett will bring his veteran experience, scoring ability, and ball-handling skills to the starting lineup, while I see Carrington and Lowe duking it out for the point guard spot. In Europe, both freshmen played the one and both showed positive signs with the ball in their hands. The Panthers also have a more experienced veteran in Hueitt, but it’s a bit too early to tell how much he will be able to contribute after not playing this past season (and making the jump back up to D1).
On the wing, I see High Point transfer Zack Austin earning the starting spot. Austin showed why while in Europe, averaging 14.5 points and 6 rebounds per game along with several highlight slam dunks. Behind Austin, Will Jeffress returns to the rotation after missing last season due to a nagging foot injury that eventually led to surgery. I’d imagine sophomore Jorge Diaz-Graham and Jeffress will split time on the wings, offering Pitt a different look with Diaz-Graham’s length and shooting ability. Freshman Marlon Barnes will look to crack the lineup behind those three outside.
In the front court, Pitt is now looking to Federiko and Guillermo Diaz-Graham as the lone bigs after Kante’s injury. Federiko proved that he could hold his own with the top bigs in the league last year, and I expect him to improve with his international experience this summer and more time in the gym. Diaz-Graham showed flashes of being a solid five-man last year as well, especially showcasing his ability to step out and hit the three at times. He’s a stretch big who can pass it well, but will have his hands full with stronger, heavier bigs in the league.
The concerning part about Pitt’s lack of depth — even if Kante wasn’t going to play all that much as a freshman — is that Pitt barely has any room for error, injury, or any other circumstance down low. If foul trouble becomes an issue for Federiko, Diaz-Graham is the only hope down there. If one of the two gets injured, the Panthers will be playing true small ball and will have to gamble on their offense to win them games.
With that being said, Diaz-Graham is no slouch. Look towards the end of last season when Federiko missed Pitt’s first couple of NCAA Tournament games. Remember Diaz-Graham’s heroic effort against Mississippi State’s All-SEC big Tolu Smith? The Panthers’ staff and Diaz-Graham himself have figured out ways to keep him effective down low, even without Federiko in the mix. It’s not total panic time in Oakland.