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ACC Preview #13 - Pitt

Last year was a disaster but this year Pitt could be a really fun team

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NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh
Feb 25, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Kevin Stallings reacts on the sidelines against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. The Tar Heels won 85-67.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Our standard take during tournament season is that it’s impossible to really know much about any team, much less the less-well known ones, unless you spend a lot of time around the gym and the trainer’s room.

Even so, you can scan the roster, look at stats and get some idea of what the players have done over a 1-4 year period.

You hardly ever see a college team starting from near scratch.

Welcome to Pitt basketball, 2017.

Kevin Stallings took over last year and had a fair amount of talent, including Chris Jones, Michael Young, Shelden Jeter Jamel Artis, who all exhausted their eligibility. There was a lot of weirdness last year with his team and from a distance it seemed like an unhappy group. It was a reasonably talented team but finished just 16-17. Pitt just never came together.

In fairness, it was really Jamie Dixon’s team and transitions are hard. Still, it seemed pretty rough and when the season was over, the following guys had either been kicked off the team or transferred:

  • Rozelle Nix
  • Cameron Johnson
  • Chrisshawn Clark
  • Damon Wilson
  • Justice Kitchcart
  • Corey Manigault

Nix is now at South Alabama, Clark is at Portland, Wilson is at Georgia State, Kitchcart is at ODU (after being dismissed), and we’re not sure about Manigault.

As for Johnson, he’s a fairly rare intra-conference transfer, leaving Pitt for UNC as a grad student.

That leaves Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan as the only returning scholarship players. They combined for 27.7 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.3 app, 0.2 spg and .7 bpg.

Luther missed a dozen games in the middle of the season, returning to action at the end of February. He might’ve done better otherwise but his stats weren’t all that far off from his junior season.

And Milligan really wasn’t a significant factor.

Stallings brought in 11 new players in response to the graduations and transfers. And they are:

  • Monty Boykins, 6-5 GS (Lafayette)
  • Malik Ellison, 6-5 junior (transfer from St. John’s)
  • Jared Wilson-Frame, 6-5 junior (JUCO)
  • Kene Chukwuka, 6-9 sophomore (JUCO)
  • Parker Stewart, 6-5 freshman
  • Marcus Carr, 6-1 freshman
  • Khameron Davis, 6-4 freshman
  • Shamiel Stevenson, 6-6 freshman
  • Samson George, 6-7 freshman
  • Terrell Brown, 6-10 freshman
  • Peace Ilegomah, 6-9 freshman

The last time an ACC team brought in a class this big was when Steve Donahue brought in 11 freshmen at BC. That didn’t work out too well. We’re much more intrigued by this group.

Stallings brought in a mixed group, with seven freshmen, one D-1 transfer, two JUCO transfers and one grad student transfer, and a number of them come highly commended either as leaders, versatile talents or both.

With a group that big, some guys are obviously intended to be practice players or may redshirt.

Start with Ellison, who is required to sit out as a transfer. A 6-6 wing, he averaged 7.4 ppg and 2.5 apg for the Johnnies as a sophomore. His quote about choosing Pitt speaks volumes: "They want me to come in and be a leader," he told ESPN. "I'll be one of the older guys. They see me as a guy who can help as an older guy. There will be a lot of young guys on the team."

He’ll be doing it in practice this year and we’ll see about later. But even in practice he should be able to simulate a lot of things for the coaches.

Boykins was injured and played in just one game as a Lafayette senior but as a junior he averaged 10.7 ppg and 1.9 apg. He could be a useful guy this season as the younger players are seasoned.

Wilson-Frame comes to Pitt from Northwest Florida State where he averaged 16 ppg, 5 rpg and four assists.

He was heavily recruited and is a big pickup for Pitt and likely to start. Pitt needs leadership and he clearly likes the idea:

“I’m already talking to the coaches. They’ve already told me what they are looking for out of me next year. They told me that they’re building the team around, one, my ability and then, two, my leadership role. That’s one thing they told me I’ll be stepping into. I already know what comes with the basketball part and just my God given ability. As [far as] leadership is concerned, that’s one thing they always stress, just making sure I translate that to next year...That’s one thing I actually am looking forward to, is a lot of people come in and the new look roster. We can develop a new attitude and our own identity...I’m looking forward to, just building our identity...I want to set an example and have the younger players follow our lead. I want to make sure we’re all together and playing as hard as we can.”

He should be useful and maybe a good bit more than that. His JUCO coach says he can play at least three positions, so another nicely versatile addition.

Chukwuka is the second JUCO, coming over from New Mexico Junior College. Here’s what his coach, Brian Lohrey, said about him:

“He has worked really hard on his game. He’s about 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-9 inches and he’s around 220 pounds. Kene can really kick and pop. He can really shoot the 3-pointer and he played about 15 minutes a game for us last year. The second half of the season for him was better than the first. He simply needed to get used to the game here in America.”

When he was asked, the native Swede said this: “I feel uncomfortable bragging about what I feel I do well. I’ll leave that for (the fans) to decide. What I can tell you is that I have got heart. A lot of it.”

After he signed, he tweeted out “Dreams do come true.”

Is he a long shot? He only started twice, got just 10 mpg and averaged only 3 ppg but as his coach said, he got better as the year went on. Time will tell, but every team needs practice and role players. If that’s all he turns out to be, he still sounds like a great kid and after last year, the coaches will no doubt appreciate that.

Stallings says that Stewart is a good shot but that he’s “a little better defensively and a little tougher than your stereotypical catch-and-shoot guy.” A native of Northwestern Tennessee, he originally chose Ole Miss but backed out and Pitt lucked into him fairly late.

He has good range and is a coach’s kid: his dad, Anthony Stewart, coaches UT-Martin. He could be Pitt’s best three-point shooter from day one and sounds like another good kid who understands the value of teamwork and working within a group. He’s also said to be an outstanding passer, so could see time at point guard too.

That’ll mostly be Carr though. Carr is the highest rated freshman Pitt has and Stallings calls him a “natural-born leader.”

He was a high school teammate of Duke target RJ Barrett at Montverde Academy. He’s generally considered a combo guard and like some of the other guys we’ve mentioned Stallings likes his leadership skills and also his toughness:

“I would say I’m the toughest guy on the floor at all times, no matter what. I’m tough at all times mentally. Physically, I’m able to rally myself and rally my teammates in whatever situation. I pride myself on being a leader, as well.”

Stallings is likely to toss him the ball from Day One and let him run his team.

Davis, who is from Colorado but who played his high school basketball in Kernersville, has a 6-10 wingspan. That can’t hurt.

Chauncey Billups is impressed: the former NBA star tweeted that Davis is a “[g]reat kid, huge upside. Couldn’t be happier for a kid that works so hard.”

His high school coach absolutely raves about him. Like a lot of the guys we’ve discussed so far he comes across as a high character kid. He’s also capable of playing multiple positions and is a dedicated defender.

Like Carr, Stevenson is a native of Ontario. He arrives at Pitt as a very physically mature player. He’s strong enough to play power forward but fleet enough to go out on the perimeter too.

He says he can guard multiple positions too and calls himself a “do-it-all” player.

George’s high school coach compares him to former Pitt star DeJuan Blair and says he’s an old Big East sort of guy.

Born in Nigeria, George grew up in Buffalo and played at a Christian academy which means he didn’t get the best possible competition. He had signed with Iona in January but was released when he wasn’t cleared in time by the NCAA and ended up with Pitt.

Stallings on George: "Samson is an extremely athletic frontcourt player with a high motor. He is an aggressive rebounder on both ends of the floor and we are excited about his future in the program. He plays with a toughness and grit that are contagious."

Brown is 6-10, size Pitt really could have used last season and can make use of this year too. He’s raw but he should help this year as a shot blocker and defender.

Here’s how Brown sees his role as a freshman:

“I think I’ll be more of a screener and someone who sets up teammates, but at the same time, I can really pass the ball and bring energy and hit shots when available. I’d say I’ll be more of a role player, but I’ll eventually be able to develop into a big piece of the offense.”

As for Ilgemomah, who like Carr played with Barrett at Montverde, Stalling sees him as a rebounder and defender at this stage in his career:

“Peace has terrific size and strength with the potential to develop into an impact player on both ends of the floor. He has shown the ability to be a high volume rebounder and has good instincts on the defensive end of the floor, while playing for a couple of very good programs during his high school and prep year. We are eager to get him to campus and watch him grow as a person and as a player for us.”

When we first started researching Pitt, we figured this was a program destined to fail.

After reading more we’re not so sure.

Youth has to mature, true, but it sounds like Stallings has put together a group of versatile, athletic guys who want to be part of something great.

That’s got to be a relief after last year’s very frustrating season. We think Pitt has a chance to match last year’s win total and possibly exceed it.

If it turns out to be what you’d expect from a team this young, though, then at least Stallings has a group that should stick together and get better as time goes by.

Most importantly after last season, we bet he gets a consistent effort and that Pitt fans will be proud of the team again.

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