Kevin Stallings discusses Pitt's point guard, 2017 recruiting on CBS podcast

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 14 hours ago

With practice beginning later this week, and with his first season as Pitt’s coach officially beginning in six weeks, Kevin Stallings joined CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein on his “College Hoops Today” podcast to discuss a slew of topics, most notably the Panthers’ point guard situation.

After having few, if any, questions about the position for four years with James Robinson, Pitt now has a gaping hole at the spot on a veteran-laden team. It has three more traditional options at the spot, at least from a size and speed standpoint, in Justice Kithcart, Damon Wilson and Jonathan Milligan. Then, of course, there is the intriguing-but-unsettling possibility of Jamel Artis, who has been a small forward his three previous years in Oakland, manning the role.

As of now, Artis is what Stallings described to Rothstein as “the leader in the clubhouse” to be the team’s point guard. We’ve known for months that Artis is being seriously considered at the position, so I was a little surprised at, well, the surprise people exhibited yesterday when Rothstein tweeted that information out, especially given the Panthers’ inexperience beyond Artis. But with the season fewer than two months away, Artis remaining as not only a legitimate possibility at point guard but a favorite is news-worthy.

For context, Stallings’ full comment to Rothstein on the point guard situation is below…

“It could be something that’s done by committee. We’ve got I’d say three guys that have shown in practice, as point guards, they will help our team. Jamel Artis, who has been primarily a small forward here, would be the leader in the clubhouse at this point to be our starting point guard. Damon Wilson has certainly shown some signs of being able to be a very effective player, be it at the point or maybe in another guard spot. And Justice Kithcart, our freshman, is a guy who has a tremendous amount of tenacity and toughness to him for a freshman and could figure into the mix, as well. But right now, I would say Jamel is the guy who has the best chance. I’ve liked the look of him in practice at the point. He’s our team’s best passer. There’s a lot of upside to it, if he can establish himself as the guy. I think he’s doing that right now and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”

As we get closer to the season, and perhaps even later this week, I’ll have a more in-depth breakdown of Pitt’s options at the position.

For now, here are some other highlights of Stallings’ appearance on the podcast. The full interview can be heard here.

** While Stallings inherits a talented and experienced team, what the program has beyond this year is a mystery largely dependent upon how successful he is in constructing his first recruiting class. Pitt has four seniors on its current roster and an open, unused scholarship that can be handed out to someone in the 2017 class, meaning it has at least five scholarships to fill for the 2017-18 season.

The importance of that task is not lost on Stallings.

“That may be the most important thing we’re doing right now,” he said. “As much time as we need to spend with these guys and getting ready for this season, we have an extremely heavy lift in front of us relative to turning our team over. We could very well be looking at signing five, six or maybe even seven guys depending on if you have a guy leave, which happens a lot in your first year. The good news to that is we’re going to turn the team over and maybe half of our team will be guys we have recruited. The downside of it, obviously, is your second year will feel like you’re going through year one again. It’s certainly a critical aspect of what we’re doing. We’re excited about it.”

** Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones, according to Stallings, have shown as much progress as anyone on Pitt’s team since he arrived at the school in late March.

** Stallings was asked about how he was first contacted about the Pitt job and, in response, he provided the following timeline:

He was down at spring training in Florida in March watching his son, Jacob, play. He and his family were driving from Bradenton, the Pirates’ spring training home, to Fort Myers to watch Jacob play against the Red Sox. During that trip, his phone rang and he was asked if he’d have any interest in the Pitt job. He replied by saying he’d have to talk to his family about it, a convenient proposal seeing as they were all packed in the car with him.

His wife, Lisa, provided a quick response.

“You’ve turned down quite a few jobs in the last several years because of timing for our family,” Stallings recalled her saying. “Make this decision for you.”

After mulling it over for a few hours, he called back and expressed his interest. Two or three days later, by his estimation, he interviewed for the position and a day or two after that, he accepted the job. The Pirates and Red Sox played on March 25, three days before Stallings was introduced as coach, so the process may have been even quicker than Stallings remembered, unless of course they were driving to Fort Myers the day before (the two teams also played on March 14, but that was four days before Pitt’s season-ending loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament and one week before Jamie Dixon left for TCU).

** Given the height and athleticism of his team, Stallings envisions Pitt being a matchup problem for teams they face.

“The flexibility we will have both offensively and defensively could make us difficult to play against if we can utilize those things in the right capacity,” he said. “It will be a little bit of a different team for me, but it’s one I’m really energized about and really excited to coach because of a different approach we can take with it and, in some ways, a different approach we have to take with it.”

** As opposed to Vanderbilt, where he was handcuffed by the school’s academic restrictions, Stallings said recruiting has been easier and more natural at Pitt.

“Very refreshing, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s nice to have a larger recruiting pool and it’s fun to be able to go into different kinds of environments and recruit different kinds of kids. As long as I was at Vanderbilt, it feels more natural to me this way.”

** Without going into details, he said he has regrets from his time at Vanderbilt.

“Certainly there are some incidents I would have changed and some other things like that, but I don’t reflect that much and say ‘I wish I would have done this or hadn’t done that,’” Stallings said. “Most of my time is spent looking forward.”

** And as for how he would have responded to people who told him last year he’d end up being the head coach at Pitt?

“I would have laughed heartily,” he said. “I did not see this coming, but I’m excited it did come. I’m excited I have this opportunity.”


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Pitt's 2016-17 schedule finalized

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 weeks ago

Anyone who follows Pitt basketball with even a modicum of interest has known for seven months what Pitt’s ACC schedule would look like as far as the opponents and game locations were concerned.

The arrangement of those matchups, a smaller but sometimes really important detail, was unknown over that time, though. On Monday, almost two months exactly until the Panthers’ basketball season kicks off, we found out.

What stands out, of course, is Pitt’s rotation of repeat opponents, a group that includes three teams that are listed in the top 15 of almost any preseason ranking — North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville — as well as a Syracuse team that many have as a top-25 squad after its surprise run to the Final Four last season. We knew as much based off the ACC’s announcement in February, but now, we have the full order in which those games will take place.

Pitt's 2016-17 ACC schedule (Craig Meyer/Post-Gazette)

I have a separate table detailing this that I tweeted, but the winning percentage last season of Pitt’s four repeat opponents this season is .745, with those foes going a combined 108-37 last season. That, by far, is the highest mark of any ACC team. The next-closest team, Virginia, has repeat opponents with a win percentage of .698 last season, meaning the gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 team in this category is as great as the difference between the No. 2 and No. 7 team.

A few thoughts and observations regarding the schedule...

** The thing that immediately stood out to me and several other people was the three-game stretch against Virginia, at Syracuse and at Louisville. There’s obviously the challenge of having to play three teams that will likely begin the season ranked, but having to do so in a stretch of just seven days will be a brutal welcome to conference play.

Even the ACC opener against Notre Dame that precedes that trio of matchups won’t be easy; while the game’s at home and it comes against a team having to replace some key pieces, the Irish have won at least 20 games in nine of the past 10 seasons.

** Ten of Pitt’s 18 conference games will come against teams ranked in ESPN’s most recent top 25, which was compiled after players’ NBA draft decisions were finalized. If we look at the Panthers’ entire schedule, 11 of their 31 games are against such teams and if it’s extended to include the teams listed under ’honorable mention,’ that number increases to 13.

** As difficult as the schedule is, Pitt never plays more than three consecutive games on the road. While the first two contests in that stretch are against North Carolina and Duke, the third is against Boston College, proving there’s some benevolence in the hearts of the scheduling gods.

** Aside from the week-long gap between the North Carolina State and Louisville games, the Panthers won’t have more than a four-day break between ACC games.

** Two of Pitt’s repeat ACC opponents, Syracuse and Louisville, were handled by the Panthers with varying degrees of success the past several years, going back to their days in the Big East. The Panthers have won nine of their past 13 meetings with the Orange dating back to the 2008-09 season, including their past five, but they’ve gone 1-9 against the Cardinals in that same span. All of that occurred under Jamie Dixon, though, with his teams often getting the better of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone while never being able to contend with Louisville’s unrelenting press and (typically) superior athleticism.

It’ll be interesting to see if their fortunes against those respective programs change at all under Kevin Stallings.

** All of the conference games will be televised. The ‘RSN’ listed for several of the games is shorthand for the ACC’s regional sports network, which, in Pitt’s case, includes Root Sports.

I also got the chance to talk to Kevin Stallings for a few minutes this afternoon about the schedule and some of his immediate impressions of it. Below are some of his comments from that conversation:

On what immediately stood out to him: “It’s certainly exciting. It looks almost comically difficult. It’s just one really good team after another, but that’s the part that makes it exciting. I used to feel the same way when I looked at an SEC schedule. I just thought ‘Gosh, this looks hard,’ but it looks hard every year. I’m sure that will be the case with any ACC schedule I receive, too. It’s obviously an exciting challenge. It’s something our players will embrace readily. It’s certainly a motivator, as well to try to get our team as ready to play as we can.”

[Quick note on this: Tone’s never evident when something is in text, be it on Twitter or in a newspaper. When Stallings said it was ’almost comically difficult’ he did so with a slight chuckle, making a lighthearted note that a lot of other people did about the schedule, but just in different terms. Simply put, it’s really, really hard. I took that phrase as more of a coach stressing out and obsessing over the games rather than waving a white flag and effectively saying ’Oh my god, I’m so overwhelmed.’]

On if he prefers having that rough three-game stretch earlier: “We have 18 to play and the 18 are very, very difficult. You start with your two permanent opponents, two of the premier programs in college basketball in Syracuse and Louisville, and you work from there. Our other two-play opponents this year are Virginia and North Carolina, so right there are eight of your 18 games. You have three hall-of-fame coaches and another that might be on his way. It’s just very difficult from start to finish.”

On his adjustment from the SEC to the ACC: “Any time you go from one league to another, there’s an adjustment because there are things you get used to after a period of time being in one league, whether it’s opposing venues or whatever. This will obviously be a very new challenge for me. My players, at least most of them, will be more experienced at it than I am in terms of the different places we play and even our home court for that matter. It’s the reason I took the job. It’s the reason I wanted to be at Pitt, because of the challenges of the ACC and the excitement of trying to bring a championship-level program to the University of Pittsburgh.”

And one final note...

I can confirm that Pitt will be playing in the 2017 Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, along with Penn State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. The news was reported earlier today by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Ranking the 13 teams of the Jamie Dixon era

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

I’m not going to attempt to sugarcoat or justify this – it’s early August, we’re still three months from basketball season and with training camp not starting until next week for Pitt football, I’m a little bored.

Jamie Dixon’s departure to TCU in March provided a quick and clear demarcation for the end of the most successful era in the history of Pitt basketball. The apex of that success was achieved years ago and hasn’t been reached since, but without Dixon’s presence, we’re clearly on to a new chapter in the program’s history.

With that move, and with some precious downtime at work, I decided to rank Dixon’s 13 teams. It’s an inherently arbitrary exercise, but I based it off a combination of a few different variables – mostly the team’s record, how far it advanced in the NCAA tournament, its offensive and defensive efficiency numbers, as well as, to a lesser extent, the amount of professional (namely NBA) talent it had.

I would have tried to do a slide show, but I figured an early August ranking of past Pitt teams was click-baity enough. After reading, feel free to use Twitter and/or the comments section to call me an idiot. And here we go…


13. 2011-12

Record, postseason result: 22-17 (5-13), won the CBI

Final KenPom rank: 68

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 31/149

The team that blessed everyone with the ecstasy of #CBIncredible is the same one that earns this ignominious, totally meaningless distinction. What made this season so difficult to stomach for Pitt fans stems from the way this team was viewed heading into it. The Panthers returned seven of their 10 leading scorers from a 2010-11 team that earned a No. 1 seed and were adding a top-15 recruit in Khem Birch, two things that helped make them into a preseason top-10 team.

From there, it all fell apart. Birch was gone by mid-December, leaving the program under strange circumstances. Second-leading scorer Tray Woodall missed 11 games with a groin/abdominal injury. Non-conference losses to Wagner and Long Beach State shattered any illusion that this team, despite its 11-2 record, was anything formidable. The Wagner setback marked the start of an eight-game losing streak and a brief four-game rebound was followed by a five-game losing streak. Only two wins against 13-19 St. John’s prevented Pitt from finishing the regular season under .500.

To their credit, it mustered up enough of…something…to win the CBI, beating Washington State in a best-of-three championship series, 2-1. This team, unlike ones listed just above it, didn’t struggle because of inherent mediocrity or some kind of incompetency; due to a confluence of factors, it was just kind of a mess. At the very least, though, it led to the most somber, and therefore excellent, championship picture ever taken.


At least Malcolm Gilbert was enjoying the moment.


12. 2014-15

Record, postseason result: 19-15 (8-10), lost in NIT first round

Final KenPom rank: 78

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 30/202

Statistically speaking, this team makes the strongest case for being the worst of Dixon’s tenure. By most any meaningful measurement, this group was even worse than the aforementioned CBI champions. The only reason they avoided the bottom spot is because a) they won more than five conference games b) they made a better tournament and c) I’m an arbitrary person who’s easily swayed by those two earlier-stated facts.

Defensively, this was, by far, the weakest team of Dixon’s career, a title that may live forever even after he tries to rebuild the charred remains of a program Trent Johnson left him at TCU. The Panthers gave up 104 points per 100 possessions, meaning the only thing that kept them from allowing some really gaudy point totals was their slow-as-fingernails-growing tempo (among the 30 slowest in Division I). The NIT loss to George Washington also remains one of the worst games I’ve ever forced myself to watch.


11. 2015-16

Record, postseason result: 21-12 (9-9), lost in NCAA first round

Final KenPom rank: 43

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 41/56

Dixon’s final Pitt team was one in a handful that made his eventual exit much easier to comprehend. This was, by far, his worst NCAA tournament representative, one that was probably the only one that could be considered a legitimate bubble team.

A promising 14-1 start, albeit one achieved primarily by beating up on the 20th-easiest non-conference schedule in Division I, was undone rather quickly and precipitously. The Panthers lost nine of their final 15 games, six of which were decided by at least two possessions. They weren’t without talent – Mike Young, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter and James Robinson are all good players – but while they weren’t particularly bad at anything, except outside shooting, they weren’t especially strong in any area besides offensive rebounding and, if we’re in search of silver linings, free-throw shooting. And, as it was in many of their worst seasons, their run ended with an unsightly loss.


10. 2004-05

Record, postseason result: 20-9 (10-6), lost in NCAA first round

Final KenPom rank: 21

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 12/58 

This moment deserves a statue. (Brian Batko/Post-Gazette)

The season that blessed us with “Booty Patrol”, a topic that I won’t delve into in depth since I already did so with the summer league roster post (but I included the picture for good measure). It was somewhat of a disappointing record for a team that started the season at 17 in the preseason poll and climbed into the top 10 in December before coming apart late and falling out of the poll entirely, a drop that ended with a 79-71 loss to Pacific in the NCAA tournament.

Carl Krauser improved on his already-strong sophomore year numbers with a line of 16 points, 5.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game while our man Chevy Troutman played to the standard of a man who would sport such an awesome shirt to an NCAA watch party. With Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Antonio Graves all sophomores on this squad, and with Krauser coming back for his senior year, it’s interesting (and, for Pitt fans, hard) to think about what the 2005-06 Panthers could have done had Chris Taft not entered the NBA draft after this season. What could have been.


9. 2013-14

Record, postseason result: 26-10 (11-7), lost in NCAA second round

Final KenPom rank: 19

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 19/29

A sneakily decent team, the 2013-14 Panthers finishing in the bottom five of this list is proof that Dixon’s time at Pitt was undeniably and sometimes wildly successful. Pitt experienced its share of struggles in its first ACC season, losing four of its final seven regular-season games after a 20-4 start. That subpar finish relegated it to a No. 9 seed and created a scenario in which it had to play No. 1 overall seed Florida in the second round, a game in which it lost by 16.

During this campaign, Lamar Patterson turned in one of the better seasons in recent Pitt history, averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on his way to earning second-team all-ACC honors and being selected in the second round of the NBA draft.


8. 2007-08

Record, postseason result: 22-9 (10-8), lost in NCAA second round

Final KenPom rank: 24

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 12/64

This was a team that, when I first started doing this, I planned on ranking higher. On paper, it’s a pretty impressive group, one that, most notably, won the Big East tournament.

When you dig a little deeper, though, what you find is a pretty thin resume. This was the worst defensive team of Dixon’s first eight seasons, giving up 99.3 points per 100 possessions. In contrast to teams ranked higher on this list, this Panthers’ season featured a handful of puzzling losses like double-digit loss at 11-20 Rutgers, a loss at rebuilding Cincinnati and a 25-point stomping at the feet of Dayton.

Pitt’s season remains one of unfulfilled promise due to Mike Cook’s torn ACL in a thrilling 65-64 overtime victory against Duke that ended his season and, ultimately, college career. To that point, Cook had been averaging 10.4 points per game, the fourth-most on the team, so it stands to reason he would have been an important piece the rest of the way for what was then an undefeated team. Instead, this team’s legacy may be as a group that took its lumps and gained another year of experience before coalescing into an absolute force the following season.


7. 2009-10

Record, postseason result: 25-9 (13-5), lost in NCAA second round

Final KenPom rank: 25

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 45/28

Perhaps no team in Dixon’s tenure surprised more than his 2009-10 squad. The Panthers had to replace four of the top five scorers from their loaded 2008-09 Elite Eight team, prompting some to believe the following year would represent something of a rebuild. What they uncovered in that process was a collection of strong, dependable and developing contributors.

Four players – in order, Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Jermaine Dixon – averaged at least 10 points per game. Gibbs’ jump was particularly noticeable, going from 4.3 points in 10.7 minutes per game to 15.7 points in 34.6 points per game. The 2009-10 group wildly exceeded preseason expectations, cracking the top 10 in mid-January after beginning the season unranked. That run ended with two missed 3s in the final three seconds that would have sent their game against Xavier into overtime.


6. 2012-13

Record, postseason result: 24-9 (12-6), lost in NCAA first round

Final KenPom rank: 11

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 17/21

I didn’t think I would rank a team that bowed out in the first round of the tournament this high, but alas, here we are. This team, in some ways, is the opposite of the 2007-08 group, one whose resume is a lot stronger than many people (or at least I) remember. With Talib Zanna and Steven Adams, the Panthers were one of the best rebounding teams in the country, with Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson leading the way offensively.

This group, like some others on the list, remains something of a ‘What if?’. What if Adams had been more developed or used more effectively, a question that gets posed with his each passing year in the NBA? What if a team with really strong credentials were rewarded with more than an eight seed? Once there, what if they didn’t have to face a Wichita State squad that came within four points of knocking off the eventual national champions in the Final Four?

Overall, this stands as a very balanced team that gets overlooked in the program’s recent history because it suffered first-round exits in its two postseason tournaments and had the misfortune of being paired against one of the best non-major conference teams of the past quarter-century. 

Steven Adams in his lone City Game. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

[Side note: One of the biggest tragedies in the history of Pittsburgh sports is Adams not being able to peacock his full and genuine personality while he was in Oakland. Whoever is responsible for depriving us of that wonderful character in his one year here – whether it was Dixon, Pitt media relations or the media itself – deserves some serious shaming.]


5. 2005-06

Record, postseason result: 25-8 (10-6), lost in NCAA second round

Final KenPom rank: 11

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 25/11

This team provided some wonderful memories, none of which conjure as much joy as the TV score icon from the Panthers’ second-round loss against Bradley.

Gray morphed from little-used, clumsy-looking white big into a legitimate star who averaged a double-double (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds) and made first-team all-Big East. Sam Young, as a freshman, gave fans a sneak peek at a player who would eventually blossom into a star by his senior year. Krauser, in the final year of his lengthy run on campus, made a slew of 3s and threw up a whole bunch of Xs.

It was a group that surprised many, going from unranked at the beginning of the year (and into 2006) to No. 8 in the country by the end of February. They stumbled against Bradley in the second round, giving up 28 points to Patrick O’Bryant, who parlayed a strong tournament and a 7-foot frame into the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA draft. There was once a time when the Warriors didn’t always made great decisions.


4. 2006-07

Record, postseason result: 29-8 (12-4), lost in Sweet 16

Final KenPom rank: 11

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 14/30

If these rankings were divided into groups, the 2006-07 Panthers would find themselves at the top of a second tier muddled with teams that lost eight to 10 games and experienced varied levels of success in the NCAA tournament.

Pitt entered the season with high expectations, ranked No. 4 in the AP preseason poll after bringing back six of their seven leading scorers from the previous year. They shouldered those hopes fine, rebounding from two December losses to win 22 of their first 25 games. From there, though, they dropped five of their final 12 games, including a nine-point loss to UCLA and former coach Ben Howland in the Sweet 16.

Gray pieced together one of the more statistically well-rounded seasons in Dixon’s tenure, averaging 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a senior. Given the lofty goals affixed to the team entering the season, though, it’s hard to think of this season without at least a small dash of disappointment.


3. 2010-11

Record, postseason result: 28-6 (15-3), lost in NCAA second round

Final KenPom rank: 3

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 4/22

In retrospect, this was a team that simultaneously overachieved and underachieved, if that makes any sense. The sudden and incredibly bitter end of losing in the second round as a No. 1 seed to Butler – which ended up making it to its second-consecutive national title game – is unavoidable when discussing this team, but it’s pretty remarkable that they achieved what they did to even get to that point

Unlike the two teams ahead of it, the 2010-11 Panthers had no player among its top nine scorers eventually selected in the NBA draft. Granted, that’s far from an end-all-be-all measurement of a good college team. Countless college teams have exceled without much, if any, next-level talent; it is, however, a pretty good indication of how many true difference-makers there are on a team, the kind of players that can propel a program to Final Fours and championships.

Regardless, this was a team that won the Big East regular season championship in a year in which the conference sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament, nine of whom made up the teams with the highest 24 seeds. When you take all of this into consideration, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this was Dixon’s single best coaching job at Pitt.


2. 2003-04

Record, postseason result: 31-5 (13-3), lost in Sweet 16

Final KenPom rank: 4

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 25/1

Dixon’s first team at Pitt, the 2003-04 iteration of the Panthers was arguably his best in his time in Oakland. An already extremely stingy defense improved from where it was the prior season to become the best in the country, about one full point per 100 possessions better than second-place Louisville.

Led by a breakout sophomore season from Krauser, Pitt won its first 18 games and 22 of its first 23. This group didn’t ascend to the top of the AP poll like the 2008-09 team, but it did peak at No. 3, a laudable accomplishment for a program that was only five years removed from a string of mediocre coaching stints.

Holy hell, Jamie Dixon looked young at the beginning of his tenure.

There were a few odd results in there – a 79-74 win against Division II Georgetown College stands out – but this was a consistently excellent group that allowed opponents to break the 70-point barrier only three times in 36 games. Its season ended with a Sweet 16 loss against a really good Oklahoma State team, a game in which Pitt shot 36 percent and scored only 23 points in the second half. Sure, that subjected us to pre-Final Four coverage in which the Dickie Vs of the world puzzlingly labeled Eddie Sutton a “class act”, but it can’t take away from an otherwise stellar debut season.


1. 2008-09

Record, postseason result: 31-5 (15-3), lost in Elite Eight

Final KenPom rank: 4

Offensive/defensive efficiency rank: 2/24

An argument could be made for the 2003-04 team, or even the 2010-11 squad, but for me, there was no other feasible option at the top spot. This team basically had it all; it seemed that way at the time and it’s even more apparent seven years later. You had the burly center who rebounded at a rate unmatched in the KenPom era (going back to 2001-02), a prodigious talent who, quite literally, grew up and attended high school in Pitt’s backyard. There was the athletic specimen on the wing who was just as effective shooting from deep as he was flying for thunderous jams (and who had the most beautiful pump fake I’ve ever seen). And then there was the point guard, the burly maestro who put it all together and made one of the country’s best offenses hum.

If there were ever a year for Pitt to make the Final Four or even win a national championship in the Dixon era, this was it, a point that probably doesn’t need to be belabored too much for the sake of Pitt fans’ collective sanity. The Panthers were a juggernaut that season, recording all but one of their 31 wins by at least six points and never losing consecutive games.


It’s hard to say how Pitt would have fared against a star-studded North Carolina team in the Final Four had it knocked off Villanova. At the very least, we would have gotten an awesome DeJuan Blair-Tyler Hansbrough matchup in which Blair, for the betterment of western civilization, could have flung that pasty, bug-eyed oaf to the court, much like he did to Hasheem Thabeet earlier in the season. Alas, we’ll never know if that would have come to fruition, something that probably lingers as this team’s most painful shortcoming.


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Takeaways from the PBC Pro-Am

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 months ago

The Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am wrapped up last Wednesday, with Shale Land Services (and Summer League GOAT Rene Castro) defeating the Duca Nepa Road Warriors in a highly-entertaining 133-24 game.

But let’s be honest – outside of an extremely select few (they’re out there somewhere), the results of these games between cobbled-together teams are immaterial. You, very understandably, care about how the players at your favorite college performed.

So what exactly did we learn from the two weeks of games? It varies. For players like Mike Young and Jamel Artis, it wasn’t a ton, mostly because these are established players with little to prove in that kind of a laid-back setting. For others, like Justice Kithcart and Damon Wilson, it was a valuable glimpse at, respectively, a newcomer and a player still early in the developmental process.

With the Pro-Am over and the start of the season still several months away, I figured now would be a good opportunity to evaluate what we saw from various Pitt players in that brief viewing window. As always, there’s something important to note with these games, namely that overarching conclusions and concrete expectations shouldn’t come from them. There’s little to no defense played and the free-flowing structure of the games is a stark contrast to the more regimented schemes that await them once the season begins. How someone performs in one has no bearing and limited insight on how that will translate to actual games.

With that in mind, let’s get started. I didn’t include Young, Artis or Sheldon Jeter in these write-ups because they’re largely the same players you have watched the past several seasons. Without anything revelatory emerging from the Pro-Am, I’ll trust that kind of body of work over what we saw this month.

And, for reference, here’s a composite box score from the event.

Stats from the PBC Pro-Am (Craig Meyer/Post-Gazette)

Justice Kithcart – Kithcart enters his freshman season with the kind of expectations usually reserved for top-50 prospects, but given Pitt’s roster situation, it’s not difficult to see why he’s such a person of interest. The Panthers are extremely thin or just flat-out inexperienced at point guard, something that has led to open discussion of Artis manning the position, at least to start the season. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Kitchart is an extremely fast player, both over a distance and, especially, with his first step, the latter of which he used to repeatedly blow by defenders. As you might expect from someone who grew up playing the position, he has an excellent handle and uses it advantageously, routinely turning on a dime and displaying a shiftiness that hasn’t been seen from a prominent Pitt point guard in a bit. There are, of course, drawbacks and I would advise Pitt fans to keep these in mind when mentally envisioning his freshman-year conquests. He was statistically proficient, averaging 27 points per game, but he too often used his impressive skill set to be a high-volume but extremely inefficient offensive player. Kithcart made just 40.8 percent of his shots and 20.8 percent of his 3s, a combination of taking bad shots and simply missing open looks. His two assists per game aren’t exactly encouraging, either, but that could be partially attributed to the nature of the games.

Cam Johnson – Perhaps the biggest revelation of the tournament, Johnson looks primed for a breakout role this season after averaging just 11.7 minutes per game last season. Johnson, at times, looked like an ideal iteration of himself, i.e. an effective two-way player that’s the size of some college power forwards but has the skills of a guard. Most likely, he’ll be a shooting guard in Kevin Stallings’ system, though a player with his kind of versatility won’t be pigeonholed that narrowly. He made exactly half of his 44 3-point attempts during the tournament and looked to be a capable driver as well, one who was quick enough to get by shorter, faster defenders and big enough to wade through the trees in the low post and get his own shot. Johnson cooled down a bit after some outrageously hot showings in the second and third games, but he was an appropriate choice for co-MVP of the Pro-Am. Though it’s obviously debatable, he was Pitt’s best player in the event.

Damon Wilson – Wilson has a year of games for us to look back on, but given those spot appearances (10.8 minutes per game in 2015-16), he’s still something of an unknown. I didn’t get the chance to watch Wilson a ton last year, but I’m familiar with the problems he experienced, from his carelessness with the ball at times to his woeful shooting. From what I saw in the Pro-Am, I was very impressed by him, whether he competes at point guard or ventures into more of a two-guard role. At the very worst, the foundation for a potentially great point guard is there. He’s quick and, in the games I saw, an able passer who regularly put his teammates in good scoring opportunities. The biggest question, of course, is whether he can improve as a shooter. Granted, it was just the Pro-Am, but his stroke looked much better and he has developed more of an arc on his jumper, something that helped him make seven of his 17 3s (41.2 percent). Assistant coach Tom Richardson is known, among other skills, as a shooting specialist and he said he has worked with Wilson more than any other player on the team. While we won’t know the true impact of that instruction for months, Wilson is at the very least off to a promising start.

Ryan Luther – It was interesting watching Luther in a summer league setting, especially since he’s so often deployed as a defensive and rebounding reinforcement off the bench in actual games. Those skills are still apparent in this kind of a format, but he becomes a more proficient and dazzling offensive player, one that averaged 21.5 points per game. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, he played in just a couple of games, taking fewer shots (32) in the Pro-Am than all but one Pitt player. What I saw was good, but there simply wasn’t enough to draw any major observations.

Jonathan Milligan – I wish I had gotten to see more of Milligan than I did, but from what I did catch, he and Kithcart seem like fairly similar versions of each other, though one (Milligan) is clearly more polished. He’s fast, smaller guard who isn’t much of an outside shooter – he missed 14 of his 18 3s (22.2 percent) – but who can cut through the lane and find open teammates, as evidenced by his excellent 3.5:1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Because of his age and his perceived developmental ceiling, Kithcart is certainly a more tantalizing prospect, but Milligan did nothing to show he can’t compete for minutes at point guard.

Rozelle Nix – I probably got more questions about Nix from people than any other Pitt player. Being a 6-foot-11, 300-pound center will generally do that, especially for someone who has yet to play a game for a team lacking a true rim protector. There’s a lot of promise in Nix. He’s got a decent, albeit awkward-looking, outside jumper for someone his height and he has a nice touch around the basket. For someone who has notably lost a lot of weight, it didn’t look like he had too much trouble getting up and down the court, at least in the spurts he was out there. He did, however, look clumsy at times with the ball and his footwork was a bit clunky, both of which were apparent when he wasn’t able to physically overpower his defender. I wouldn’t envision a huge role for Nix next season -- especially with firmly entrenched forwards like Young, Jeter, Artis and Luther on the roster – but if he could play a solid, productive six or seven minutes a game for Pitt in ACC play, that’d be a pretty nice boost.

Corey Manigault – Pitt’s other freshman who participated in the event took the fewest shots of any Panthers player (26) and, like Luther, didn’t play in every game he could have. He was a little slow on defense – again, not unusual for that event – but he seemed to have better vision of the court/open teammates than many young bigs typically do. Manigault also looked winded fairly quickly in his appearances, which isn’t totally damning since the games are played at a faster pace, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. As far as freshmen are concerned, he looks to be further behind on the developmental scale than Kithcart, albeit at different positions, but on a team with so many experienced frontcourt players, he will, at worst, get a valuable year to get acclimated to college basketball without being relied on too much to play a bigger role than he may be ready for.


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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Transcript: Kevin Stallings discusses his first 100 days and his transition to Pitt

By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 months ago

If you missed it yesterday, I had a story on Kevin Stallings and his first 100 days as Pitt’s coach. When beginning a new job, especially one with that kind of a leadership role, the first 100 days can be critical and I wanted to examine how those went for Stallings. He has done a nice job in that time, keeping Pitt’s roster intact — largely thanks to Sheldon Jeter — hiring a good group of assistant coaches and not losing any of the Panthers’ 2016 recruits. More than anything, though, I wanted to examine how a coach whose hire was pretty universally panned goes about changing the perception of himself, if he even tries to at all.

Part of my reporting for that story involved a 30-minute sitdown with Kevin where we talked about his work in those first three-plus months and how he has transitioned to a new venture at this point in his career. Below is a transcript of that conversation. If you’ve got any questions or anything, as always, feel free to respond in the comments, hit me up on Twitter (@CraigMeyerPG) or shoot me an email (


What was the first thing you wanted to do or accomplish when you took over?

“My first thing was to integrate myself with the players and the recruits. I felt like my first job was to get with the guys on the team and not have anyone leave and get with the recruits and make sure they showed up. I felt like that was job one. I was 100 percent on that. I was able to get that done in pretty short order. That didn’t take as long as I thought it might. I basically had a list of things that I wanted to accomplish in essentially the first three months or first 100 days I was here. That’s still a work in progress, but a lot of the things I thought were really important we’ve been able to accomplish. There will be some we probably won’t get done in the first 100 days, but the first thing I wanted to do was get with the guys on the team, try to make them comfortable with the idea of a new coach coming in and get with the recruits and make sure they understood they were still wanted and welcome here.”

What was tenor like in the room when you first met with the players?

“It was understandably one of apprehension, not knowing and not sure. One thing that really helped me was Sheldon [Jeter] having played for me for a year. He was able to let the guys know ‘Hey, here’s what he’s about, you’ll like playing for him.’ It was nice for me because he was able to say ‘I liked playing for him’. That, I thought, was a big help. He was and still is able to communicate some off-court expectations to them and how I might be similar and how I might be different from what they’ve been used to. That’s been helpful. I think, honestly, the buy-in of all the seniors -- not only Sheldon, but Mike [Young], Chris [Jones] and Jamel [Artis] – has been critical to the transition for me. Those guys have really bought into me and my staff and our culture. I think that has set the tone for everyone else in the program. They were, like every team is when a new coach is coming in, unsure and tentative. We were able to knock down some walls and apprehensions very, very quickly. That was really pleasing for me.”

How surprised are you that everyone stayed?

“What it spoke to was the quality of the experience they were having here. It spoke to the connectedness they felt with each other, the connection the players felt amongst themselves. Was I surprised? I don’t want to say I was surprised. I was pleased we were able to keep everyone. I didn’t know if we would lose someone or not. I really took the approach that if you didn’t want to be here, we’ll be supportive and we’ll help you go. We want you here and we want you to stay. I did that with the current players and the incoming recruits. We want you to come and we want you to be here. If you don’t want to, we’ll help you go elsewhere. We’re not going to stand in your way. Fortunately for me, they all wanted to be here. When they listened to what we were talking about and how they felt things were going to be, they all decided they wanted to be here.”

For a new coach, how important are those first 100 days?

“It’s critical. You’ve got to get your staff in place, which is always a very difficult thing. It’s very difficult to assemble an entire staff and get people put together like that. That may be the most important decision or decisions you’ll make. That took a little bit of time. Setting the standards and expectations for off the court, whether it be classroom performance, off-the-court behavior and social-type things. Obviously, and ultimately, the expectations of what’s happening on the court. Culture is a term that I think gets thrown around pretty loosely these days, but I think the program culture, next to my staff, was the preeminent thought for me going into those first few weeks.”

How have you approached trying to establish relationships with players so quickly?

“The first thing I did was met with them collectively and then met with them individually. Beyond that, it has been a continuation of encounters both in a group setting and a one-on-one setting. It might not be up here in my office. It might be someone comes into shoot and I’ll go down on the court and have a 20-minute conversation with them. It’s communicating to them what my expectations are and what I see in them and how I see they can bring value. I think, more than anything, my approach, and they know this, is to be blunt, forthcoming, transparent and honest. I think they’ve appreciated my transparency. They know I feel, they know what I think, positive and negative. They trust what I think because I tell them both good and bad. I try to praise them more than I criticize them. I told them early on I can either be the encourager or the enforcer. Every day I come to work, all I desire to be is the encourager. I’ll only be the enforcer when you put me in a position where I have to be the enforcer. I think, after some time, they see what I’m saying and believe what I’m saying. I’ve really challenged our seniors to step up their leadership game. We’ve got guys who have been really good in terms of leading themselves, playing within themselves and working on their game themselves. But we need a little more inclusion. We need a little bit more ‘we’. I don’t think we have a lot of ‘I’. But we don’t have enough ‘we’ yet. By that, I mean someone may say ‘I’m going to go to the gym and work on my game’. Okay, that’s great. Why don’t you bring somebody with you? Why don’t you get a teammate and push your teammate and get your teammate here with you so now we’re working on our game? We are getting better instead of just me. Honestly, I asked them when I first got here…I told them here are two things that are non-negotiable – we’re going to play hard and we’re going to communicate. We’ve hit those things every time we’re together. We talk about them every time and emphasize them every time. I really like their chemistry. It’s interesting because they really like each other. Yet, and I’ve told them this over and over again, I know in reality you guys really like each other, but that’s got to show up on the floor. We’ve got to have that communication and have those good feelings out on the court to where we don’t become self-indulged. That’s what I mean by being inclusive and getting out of the ‘me’ territory and into the ‘we’ territory.”

You were talking about your staff. When coaches take on these new endeavors, do you have a short list of guys who you want with you who you target?

“As I knew this was becoming a possibility, I had to make a list of guys that were potential candidates for me. Interestingly, things worked out as well as they could have. There was a lot of interest and things worked out great for the guys I was able to bring with me and for the guys I was able to hire from elsewhere. We kind of did all three things. We kept a guy, we brought some guys and we hired some guys. I couldn’t – and I mean this, this isn’t just rhetoric – be more pleased and happier with the team of guys I’ve been able to assemble here. I’m really, really high on my staff. Really high.”

When you pick these guys, do you try to get guys who address certain blind spots you may have as a head coach?

“Absolutely. I want guys that are smarter than me. That’s probably not all that difficult, honestly, but I want guys who are team guys, not me guys. The same thing goes for my staff as it does for my team. I want team-oriented people, guys that are honest and hard-working. I really value intelligence, guys who are smart. Smart people solve problems. That’s what I want. I want guys who can solve problems, whether it’s recruiting problems or problems on the team or problems in any way. I want guys who can solve problems and help kids grow. That’s our job, is to help these guys get better, not only on the court, but off the court. It’s very difficult for me to hire someone I don’t know. The only guy I hired that I didn’t know was Jason Richards, who was on the staff and had been here with Jamie and he’s been a phenomenal addition. That was my approach. As you put it together, it’s like a team. You figure out what roles guys are going to play and what you think they’ll play and you add based on strengths and weaknesses and how they’re going to come together and be the best as a group that you can make them, just like a team. It is a team. I knew Tom would be with me and I knew Dan Cage would come with me in the ops role. It was a matter of getting a couple of other guys who were going to be in a recruiting capacity who had experience, toughness and knowledge of the ACC footprint. That was a big thing. I felt like I was able to do that well.”

What has the feedback and reception from fans and alumni been like since you took over?

“Overall, the reception has been phenomenal. The tone and the tenor of the press conference notwithstanding, the reception from recruits, coaches, families, our fan base, the people in the city… I’ve been out there a lot and I’ve gotten nothing but really, really positive comments. I’ve experienced the friendliness of the city of Pittsburgh and it has really been an awesome thing. I’ve been told, and I’m sure I’ll have a greater appreciation for it a year from now than I do after two or three months, but it’s there. It’s real. It’s not imagined. It’s not something people just talk about. It’s real. That part has been really enjoyable. It’s nice to encounter so many really, truly nice people. Some of them don’t even know what you do or who you are. The nature here is nice and friendly. I’m very excited about that.”

There was a lot of criticism of the hire. How aware of that were you and how much did it bother or hurt you?

“Honestly, until the press conference, I wasn’t. I’ll be judged on the job I do. I’m not worried about anything other than doing the best job for these players that I can do. It’s about these players. It’s not about me. If people are critical of me, that’s okay. At least they’re not being critical of them. I would rather people criticize me than criticize the players. Not that that was an instance where they would criticize the players, but I’m wired in such a way…it’s like recruiting. People will ask you how recruiting went. I don’t know. I’ll tell you in a couple of years. The job I do will speak a lot louder than the words I say. It’s like I tell the players – people won’t always believe what you say, but they’ll believe what you do. That’s kind of my modus operandi.”

When you’re new somewhere, do you take extra steps to try to ingratiate yourself to the community? Like if you’re going out to a restaurant, do you maybe tip 25 percent instead of 15 or 20? Small things like that?

“No, not really. I’m not good at being fake. I’m only good at being real. As stiff or old-fashioned as it may sound, I’ll tip based on the service. If I get good service, I’ll give a good tip. Honestly, I enjoy getting good service and I enjoy giving a good tip.”

That’s just one example.

“I hear what you’re saying. I’ve done a few things that are probably a little bit out of my nature. I came into the airport the other day and there was a gentleman who had a Pitt cap on and a Pitt shirt on. I just had some regular clothes on, nothing that said Pitt on it. I just walked over and said ‘Hey, I’m Kevin Stallings. I’m the new basketball coach at Pitt. I just saw your attire and I wanted to say hello’. Then he showed me he had a Pitt watch on, as well. That’s a little bit forward for me. I don’t just run up to people who I’ve never seen before and have never seen me before and do such things. I’m a little more private and a little more shy than that. I think I only did that because I want all Pitt fans who want to know me meet me. If that’s a way to promote our program, then that’s my job is to promote our program. Stuff like that. I’ve enjoyed being out at Penguins games and Pirates games and can’t wait to see the Steelers play. I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see our football team play. I’m just trying to be who I am and be real because that’s who I am. But, at the same time, with an eye on reaching out to people I know care about the University of Pittsburgh.”

You were given a short list of people, I think boosters, to reach out to. What were those initial conversations like?

“I actually made the offer to Scott and to the other people that if there are people you want me to reach out to…I got a couple of lists, actually. One turned into two, which turned into three. I did better with the first and second lists than I did the third list. I say list. It was three or four, maybe five, people. The calls were easy and people were really nice and receptive and helpful. I wouldn’t want to get into specifics of any particular conversation, but generally speaking, they’re obviously very supportive of the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh basketball.”

What has been the most difficult thing about the past few months?

“Leaving a place that was home for the past 17 years. It’s been a little more emotional than I thought it would be. I’m a little bit emotional anyway. My kids laugh at me because, as they say, I don’t cry at the movies, I cry at the previews they show before the movie starts. I think the emotional part of being at a place for a long time like that and then sort of uprooting. I underestimated…I never really had a difficult time of leaving. You’re always sad about leaving friends behind, but this one has been a little bit different because 17 years is quite a long time.”


Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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