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More on Capel To Pitt

An interesting but unexpected twist

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Team USA Basketball Showcase
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 13: Assistant coach Jeff Capel of the 2015 USA Basketball Men’s National Team stands on the court before a USA Basketball showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When we saw Jon Scheyer’s name pop up in the Pitt search, our first thought, wow, he’s young but what a great opportunity.

And our second thought was: we’d talk to Jeff Capel, but there’s no way Capel would take the Pitt job.

Shows what we know.

No disrespect to Pitt. Every one has said it’s a crappy job now but that’s only because the program fell in the crapper. If you drop your wedding ring into the crapper you’re going to take it out and clean it thoroughly. Maybe sterilize it. Whatever it takes you’ll get it back to where you’re comfortable wearing it again.

Most programs, and certainly all Power 5 jobs, can become solid programs. Remember before Tony Bennett went to Virginia he was at basket case Washington State and took that team to the Sweet Sixteen.

You don’t think a young Coach K could succeed at Pitt? Of course he could. So could Roy Williams, who went to Kansas after Larry Brown left complaining that he couldn’t recruit there.

Ol’ Roy found a lot of players in California but also quite a few in the plains.

The fact is there’s a lot to like about Pittsburgh. First, it’s a great city and a great place to raise a young family. Second, the university itself is pretty good. And third, Pitt is an ACC school now.

It’s quite true that it’s at the bottom of the conference, but Capel confers instant credibility. This is reflected by the first significant development since Capel was announced: guard Shamiel Stevenson and forward Jared Wilson-Frame, who had asked for their release following the firing of Kevin Stallings, have opted to stay.

It’s not much but it’s a start. The more players Capel has back the better.

But his great strength is his ability with people. You can see it when he talks to the media, when he works with players and when he talks to recruits and their families.

From his VCU days onward, Capel has recruited well. He found Eric Maynor at VCU and Blake Griffith at Oklahoma, among others. And at Duke, he and Coach K have become the recruiting terminators of the modern game. The list is ridiculous:

  • Austin Rivers
  • Quinn Cook
  • Alex Murphy
  • Michael Gbinije
  • Marshall Plumlee
  • Rasheed Sulaimon
  • Amile Jefferson
  • Jabari Parker
  • Matt Jones
  • Semi Odeleye
  • Grayson Allen
  • Tyus Jones
  • Justise Winslow
  • Jahlil Okafor
  • Chase Jeter
  • Luke Kennard
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Antonio Vrankovic
  • Justin Robinson
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Harry Giles
  • Javin DeLaurier
  • Frank Jackson
  • Marques Bolden
  • Jack White
  • Trevon Duval
  • Gary Trent
  • Jordan Goldwire
  • Alex O’ Connell
  • Wendell Carter
  • Marvin Bagley

That’s a pretty good run for Duke. For anyone.

Of course it wasn’t all Capel. We found out today that when he was asked about it while getting ready for the McDonald’s game, RJ Barrett said that he didn’t really know Capel that well and that most of his recruitment was handled by Jon Scheyer.

Which leads us back to Durham.

Duke has a decision to make. A lot of people just assumed that Capel would stay at Duke and take over when Coach K decides to retire.

Who replaces Coach K is one of the Triangle’s favorite guessing games and Capel was the prime candidate in many people’s eyes and indeed may still be.

We don't really get into that speculation, preferring to look at the present.

So the real game now is: who will replace Capel? And the sub-game: who will be on Capel’s staff?

The immediate choice might be Nolan Smith. One of the great bon vivants in recent Duke history, Smith’s extroverted nature and pleasing personality could make him a formidable recruiter.

Or Duke could go a different direction. Greg Paulus is out of work now since David Padgett was let go at Louisville. He’s a natural born coach.

Or maybe Coach K calls Chris Carrawell home. C-well has been working for Wojo at Marquette but like Smith he’s irrepressible and charismatic. Both guys could walk into any home in America and win people over.

It’s possible that Capel could hire Paulus or Carrawell. It’s also possible that he could bring Smith with him if Duke moves in a different direction.

And it’s entirely possible that he could hire his brother Jason.

Jason has head coaching experience too, at Appalachian State, and learned a great deal while at UNC.

He could be a superb assistant for brother Jeff and who could he possibly trust more?

We’ll know more on both fronts soon. Capel will move quickly to hire assistants and while Duke won’t need to be in a hurry, the Blue Devils will hire soon as well.

What’s the bottom line here? Well it’s that Capel was a good coach before he got to Duke. He grew up in a basketball family and started learning principles and theory when he was still in short pants. He’s learned a great deal in his seven years on the bench at Duke. He’s also worked with USA Basketball extensively. He’s got an amazing amount of experience for a still-young coach.

Pitt looks broken now but Capel is energetic, highly intelligent, charismatic and motivated. There are never any guarantees, but we are convinced that he can make Pitt into a great program.

Before we forget, here’s Coach K’s statement about Capel's move to Pitt:

“Pittsburgh just made an amazing hire to lead its men’s basketball program. Having come from a proud basketball family, Jeff Capel is one of the most dynamic coaches in the country. He possesses championship-level experience as both a head and assistant coach, as well as distinct knowledge of the Atlantic Coast Conference that will benefit Pitt immediately. On a personal note, I want to thank Jeff for being directly by my side for the past seven years and completely committed to our mission at Duke and with USA Basketball. His insight, passion for the game, relationships with our players, and most importantly, his friendship have meant the world to me and my family. Jeff, Kanika and their wonderful children Cameron, Sydney and Elijah will represent the University of Pittsburgh at the highest level and with the utmost class and integrity.”

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