Jeff Capel is coming off his best year leading the Pitt hoops program after taking the team to the Round of 32 in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The vets from last year are gone. Nelly Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Nike Sibande, and Greg Elliott did their job bringing Pitt back into the national conversation. Now, it’s up to Blake Hinson and Federiko Federiko — the lone returning starters — to lead Pitt in year six of the Capel era, which will be the first time he’s been head coach for more than five seasons at one program in his career.
“I’m excited,” Capel said on Wednesday. “I’m excited about our season. I love my team. Obviously, we’ve been together for a little bit because of our trip to Spain. We’ve been together where we have everyone since we got back in school, so late August. Federiko wasn’t with us in Spain, obviously Mike [Hueitt] wasn’t with us. Jorge should be cleared for full go this Friday. He’s been back in practice, just hasn’t been able to go five-on-five. So, it’s exciting. It’s different. One of the things that’s new is that we’ve gone from four 22 to 23-year-old guards, to now we have some young guards. But they’re talented, and we’re excited to watch them grow.”
Last season, Hinson led the Panthers in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.3 points and six rebounds per game as a junior. The Deltona, Florida native tested out the NBA draft process this past spring after his breakout year, but ultimately decided to return to Pitt. For Hinson, the decision was pretty clear.
“The opportunity to go pro wasn’t as good as the opportunity to come back here,” Hinson said. “So, I’m back.”
The team’s leadership structure has changed significantly with all of those vets departing. Burton was widely regarded as a team leader. Cummings as well. Now, Hinson is taking it day by day and not trying to force anything leadership-wise, despite being the lone senior on this year’s roster.
“Not forcing it, I think is the best way to do it,” he said. “You can’t force people to like each other. We’re just going to keep practicing and putting ourselves in situations that are hard, keep creating those tough situations and coming together through those situations is going to create a really good bond.”
Hinson and Federiko will be joined by wing Will Jeffress as well as transfers Zack Austin, Mike Hueitt, and Ishmael Leggett as the college hoops veterans in this year’s locker room. In addition, the young core of Jaland Lowe, Carlton Carrington, the Diaz-Graham twins, and more will look to break out early on in their collegiate careers this season. Pitt opens the 2023-24 campaign on Nov. 6 against NC A&T at the Petersen Events Center.
To view the full 2023-24 season schedule, click here.