My View of Jeff Capel’s Journey at Pitt by Tossing Thabeets

Early Sunday morning, I came across a comment made by Tossing with a WP issue. As usual, I went into edit mode and found the comment. Also as usual, I started to read and read looking for the problem. I came to the conclusion that the comment was to long but was eminently worthy of its own article.

Capel came on board at a very strange time in collegiate sports history that coincided with a low point for Pitt basketball. Pitt was rock bottom. Winless in conference. The worst of worst P5 programs. Cannot go lower than what Stallings left Capel with. That is not debatable.

Capel, then, had to build a program from the ground up at the exact moment in time when the NCAA empire was crumbling to student/player empowerment. This was still pre-NIL, but transfers could leave without consequence. For example, transfers no longer were required to sit a year. It later evolved into the NIL … then add a dash of COVID.

Capel had zero established veteran leadership to help the incoming freshmen transition to college life/athletics/pressure. That first class required some reclassification and I think maturity of the players involved played a big role in their demise at Pitt. No guidance from players who had been through it already. The first class felt that they had to do it all (they did) and while the potential flashed, the pressure quickly lead to a flame out.

Capel was in recovery (scramble) mode ever since. The transfer portal (and NBA draft) killed any chance of developing vets and a core to carry the incoming freshmen. They burned out due to the pressure before they could ever establish themselves at Pitt.

… And these were not All-American top 25 freshmen. These were kids just outside the top 100 who should be role players, not starters for a P5 program. Especially, the ACC. They were not given the chance to develop into the players that they could be.

Capel also came on board when recruiting was still the main game in town. You had to recruit well in the ACC to build a team. He was brought to Pitt partly (mostly?) because of his recruiting acumen at Duke.

When you’re playing the recruiting game, I was 100% on board with Capel’s approach. Swing big and settle later. I don’t think the best way to build a program in the ACC is the same way you built one in the Big East. You have to have high impact players immediately and don’t have time to let kids develop the Jamie Dixon way. Talent-talent-talent trumps potential in this league. People point to UVA as the counter to that statement, but UVA almost always has one or two 5-star players on the team. Yearly, they are not a top recruiting class but that’s because they don’t turn over the roster. If you look at their recruiting over a 4-to-5-year period, they recruit incredibly well.

The problem was Pitt did not have a core group of vets to carry the less touted freshmen. That was the hard part with taking over a program at rock bottom. You either hit a home run or strike out. Capel was striking out at an alarming rate. Which I was fine with. Go big or go home. Settling does not get you to the top of the ACC. It just does not. Like it or not.

I would, personally, rather be terrible than average. Average is the worst thing you can be in sports, IMO. It can create complacency in leadership and fan bases. It also means you’re peaking every “x” number of years instead of staying consistently at the top.

At some point you have to hit a home run, though, or you lose the fan base. Once you lose the fan base, it is incredibly hard to bounce back. Even I was at the point after last season where I thought a change in coaches may be the best path forward. I did not like the idea of demanding changes to the staff, however. Just fire the head coach if you get to that point. I am glad Heather did not go that direction. And, I said as much after last season when it became apparent Capel would be retained.

Everything I just said about recruiting … forget what I said now. Blow it up. With the transfer portal (and now NIL), you don’t have to just recruit HS kids any longer. You can recruit out of the portal. You can get the vets that you were lacking and sprinkle them in with the kids you are home cooking.

While it is hard to build a program of vets from the ground up in the ACC, there is now an easy button. You can skip the 5 years of development and get a team of players who other programs developed for 5 years.

Right now, Capel is too heavy on transfers and vets, but you can see how this approach would work with a few high impact freshmen coming in. That is how Pitt takes the next step.

Was this group of misfit’s luck? Is it the work of a mad genius who has adapted to the current climate? Combination of both?

I’d probably go with “both”, personally.

Regardless, Capel may have accidentally set the blueprint for how Pitt moves forward.

What’s funny, is I wanted Buzz Williams when Stallings was fired and we got Capel. I did not complain. But Capel is turning into Buzz Williams.

Strange times, indeed. But I’ve been an advocate of player empowerment forever and I truly believe the transfer portal and NIL is great for Pitt.

Pitt is not a recruiting school. We’re not a big state university nor does Pitt have great weather year around. What is not attractive to recruits, however, is attractive to players who can get past the shine and get to the substance. Pittsburgh is a great city. Pitt is a great school. As you get older you can appreciate it. Those are the kids that will make Pitt great. The ones who appreciate the school, and the city.


72 thoughts on “My View of Jeff Capel’s Journey at Pitt by Tossing Thabeets

    1. Yes, and Pitt has great facilities for basketball and a great fan base. So good that even our FB coaches have used it to recruit football players. Remember Shady’s reaction to his visit there?

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Very strong summary, but I would add that Capel’s success this year has been aided by the three coaching legends that have left the ACC making it a much more level playing field.

    No doubt Capel started in a hole that was nearly impossible to dig out of without several years of spectacular recruiting which did not happen causing him to go with an immature bunch and zero depth until this year.

    What a joy to watch a group of unselfish guys that can shoot lights out, make free throws, play strong defense and never give up. The coaching job that has been done with Federiko and Guillermo is nothing short of miraculous. Even the role players Santos and Jorge have made contributions with limited playing time.

    I have always said that is players that make coaches and not the reverse and still believe it, but Capel and Co. have done an outstanding job of getting these guys to come here and cobbling together a cohesive unit.

    Next year we will learn if Capel is a one hit wonder because he will be almost starting over.
    He won’t have the maturity but he does have some strong potential sitting on his bench and coming next year. Hopefully they have learned a lot about leadership watching the performances of the seniors and grad students this year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Next year’s team is exciting when thinking about the frontcourt with what is returning, even without Hugley. Federico and the twins will get bigger and stronger as long as they stay in Pittsburgh for most of the offseason and Hinson can get a little thinner and quicker.

      Jeffress will add depth and be stronger, too. I don’t think the portal needs to be hit in the frontcourt at all.

      The backcourt will be extremely young and if all are available, the growth will be interesting to see. With two open spots, I think this is where the staff will hit the portal looking for shooters. They may not have to matriculate far as Youngstown State has two excellent shooters who’ll each have one year of experience left. Grabbing one of those guys would go a long way in shaping the roster.


    2. I would argue that those legends left because they did not think they could adapt to the new landscape. Not that Boeheim is a great resource for factual discourse, but he pointed to Jay Wright (I know not ACC), K and Roy leaving because of the new era.

      Adapt or go home.

      The one and done schools are really struggling right now. I think it’s because they have a hard time competing against teams with higher basketball IQ … much of which is teams adding depth and experience via the portal.

      So, while you may be right, I kind of see it more as a circle of life type thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think Capel lucked out. Injuries also had an impact previous years. None this year besides Hugely at the beginning of the year. Capel set out to get good shooters and pulled it off. That has been huge for this team and has to be the model moving forward. He also recruited good character veteran guys.
    He’ll need some veteran portal guards for next year.


  3. I hate to ask this but will having Hugley back next year be a plus or minus? Is he practicing with the team? Also where does Jeffress fit in?


    1. could go either way depending mostly on john

      don’t know but IF he’s practicing now with the team, will likely be a plus on question 1

      not thinking Jeffress fits or contributes much if he’s there, he’s young so room and time to grow but he definitely needed to


  4. I do think the most amazing thing this year is the consistent solid play of Burton. Having watched him last year I certainly did not see this coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. GC. Comment of the year!

    “What a joy to watch a group of unselfish guys that can shoot lights out, make free throws, play strong defense and never give up”

    I say this with no Pitt bias. I’ve seen every top 30 team play at least one game this year and I have yet to see a team Pitt can’t beat!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha. With all the stakes at hand … I still could not find the sympathy in my heart to feel bad for Duke not getting a call. haha


  6. A very good analysis, so far the season has been very enjoyable and I hope that the Panthers can continue to build their momentum to close out the season successfully and move into the tournaments and continue to impress.


  7. Highly appreciated comments..Tossing! Whatta difference a year makes. The steady stream of negativity directed at Coach Capel (including mine) has substantially declined. Pitt hit the jackpot with the additions to this team and there is no reason to believe that we will not see high quality players desiring to play Panther ball in the ACC.

    Hugley faces a changed picture at his position with the rapid improvement of FF and the Canary Island twins…he is no longer the only BIG man. If he is healthy both mentally and physically, we are close to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    DJ ???? Only time will tell if his talents see playing time. He has tremendous skills and is
    a possible replacement for the Mintz loss…academics and maturity as a responsible person will possibly be his albatross…If he overcomes his problems, we have a real point guard.

    Jeffress, sad to say, should probably transfer to a strong academic school (reverse of Cummings) and try to play for Colgate, et al.


  8. Outstanding article, Tossing! You nailed it with Coach C. having to swing for the fences when he arrived…

    Coach White could sure use some of whatever Coach Capel is having. During this last off-season, Coach White said something like “We don’t need shooters, we need makers!”

    Coach Capel has found himself a team of “makers,” and in the process, makers of a true team…

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A great year for Pitt and Capel but it could end up being a one hit wonder year if Pitt can’t replace the 3 point fire power(and maturity) leaving at the end of this season.—As for Heather’s correct decision in retaining Capel she IMO had little choice with Capel’s extended contract still in place.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pitt ranked 28th. Five teams ahead of Pitt w 7-8 losses. Pitt would crush every one of them if they played today. Control the things you can control Pitt!!

    Rest, including rankings will take care of themselves. Maybe the fact that we play so many portal guys influences voters decisions??

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great write-up, Tossing. Unexpected success is the sweetest feeling in sports, especially at the collegiate level. This year has been a pleasant surprise and the 2022-23 Panthers are climbing the rankings of my favorite Pitt basketball squads. I like Pitt’s chances to make the Sweet 16 if they get the right draw. A little concerned with predictions showing them in the 8/9 game. If the hope is to make the sweet 16, I almost think the 11-14 seeds are more advantageous than the 8 or 9 seed and a potential second round game against an Arizona or Alabama. Still, these are champagne problems compared to where we were a year ago and I look forward to seeing Pitt rise to the challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pitt not being ranked could turn out to be a good thing – go win the ACC regular season with a chip on your shoulder – beat the teams you should and take your frustrations out on VT and Miami. End the season on an 11 game win streak entering the ACC tournament as the #1 seed.

    Have some fun with it, by turning the negative into a positive.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Whoa! Let’s not get a head of ourselves just yet as this game can turn on a dime. We have had quite a few close wins that could have ended up being quite a few close losses. An injury to one or two of our starters and we could be on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament and instead hosting a NIT game.


  14. My opinion of the biased 🤡🤡🤡🤡🤡 who vote in the AP & Coaches polls…

    Creighton & Iowa St. are both 17-8 & 16-8 and in the Top 20 and Providence is 17-8. I guess they think the new Big East us as good as the old Big East. Somehow their loses are good loses I guess…

    The AP has us 29th, 2 spots below a team we blew out on the road. I guess that loss means nothing either for Northwestern…but somehow our early losses before the team jelled are unforgivable.


    1. 42 morons….

      “Capel interacts with that “something” every day. He knows it better than anyone. But it remains largely lost nationally after Pitt (18-7, 11-3) – now sharing first place in the ACC with Virginia after nearly 75% of the regular season has been played — was ignored by 42 of the 62 voters in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.”


  15. Off topic, but please educate me. How is it determined which team in-bounds the ball to start the second half?


    1. College basketball uses alternating possessions. So whoever wins the tip, the other team gets the ball the next time possession needs to be determined – which includes a jump ball situation or the start of the 2nd half. So tomorrow if Pitt wins the opening tip, BC gets the next possession, and they will get the ball at the 2nd half if no jump ball situations occur.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Pitt could use some help from another ACC team to beat UVA so that Pitt doesn’t need to run the table to win the ACC.

    By the way, just thinking but could Pitt put both FF and Hugely on the floor at the same time next year, or would we be lacking in ball handlers and shooters?


    1. We would be lacking with Hugely on the defensive side of the ball. He wouldn’t replace FF at center and IMO would be a big defensive liability at the forward position.


        1. Problem is as I see it he wouldn’t be able to get out and defend the 3 point corner shots very well. The opposition would swing the ball around at have one of their best 3 point corner shooters out there where Hugely would be the likely defender.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. I predict the Ville will beat them……….and that the Big 12 gets no one into the Big Dance. 9I’ve never been nicknamed


  17. If Hugley is practicing with the team his skill level and all facets of his game should improve. Last year he had no one to practice against. If he plays next year I think he will be much improved. DJ is also getting to practice vs some strong players which should help him be ready. I think one or two portal guards who can make threes and play solid D and Pitt could have a very strong line up and super big man depth.


  18. Tossing ….. great article well thought out!

    Also, great article by Ron Cook today on Paul Martha. Sad to hear he struggled w drinking and dementia from age 65 on. He did so much in the first two thirds of his life. Sad that he succumbed to such
    travail late. He was my first idol along with Freddie Mazurek. Their only loss 7-6 to Navy in 63!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Nice summary of the current state of the Pitt men’s basketball program, TT. I might disagree on preferring terrible (2 Stallings years?) to average (last 2 Dixon years?) but I get your point.

    On a somewhat related note, I see in the current ACC stat leaders tables that Jamarius Burton is 7th in assists per game at 4.6, Judah Mintz is 8th at 4.5, and Nelly Cummings is 9th at 4.4. In assist to turnover ratio it’s Cummings tied for 5th at 2.1, Mintz is 12th at 1.8, and Burton is 14th at 1.6.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Great article Tossing! Lots of thought and deliberation were put into it! I would be interested in your assessment of Coach Capel’s coaching ability. Does he have the ability to develop incoming talent if he has a good core of veterans going forward?

    The polls are what they are. Pitt, nor us mere mortal Pitt POV readers, have no say in the matter. Do not worry about what we cannot control. Unlike college football, there is an end of season tournament to determine who is the best team/teams in the country. Pitt just needs to continue taking care of business and the ranking will take care of itself in the end.

    With Pitt now in the ACC there will be more of a continuation of how the refs call the game in the tournament versus the conference. When Pitt was in the Big East, there was a big difference in how games were called between the two. This was the main reason Dixon’s teams had so much trouble in the tournament.


    1. Dixon and Howland’s teams couldn’t score the basketball other than trade 2s for other teams 3s. Thus the losses to Pacific, many to ND etc. Pitt would work their butts off for a two underneath only to give up an easy three. Todays Pitt team can score with the best of em, especially threes, plays tough D and has Fede and the twins to clean up inside. This may be the best Pitt NCAA tourney team ever. We will see. Great ride upcoming!!! H2P

      Liked by 2 people

  21. OT – I happened to see this posted on the Lair – is Pitt on a roll or what?

    “For FY 2022, Pitt finished 3rd in total NIH funding awards, Pitt’s highest finish ever. (Pitt was 5th in total number of awards, probably at least matching its high water mark).

    NIH funding is, by far, the largest source of government sponsor academic research funding. Note all of these awards are competitive and peer reviewed.

    Johns Hopkins $839.9 mil.
    UCSF $823.8 million
    PITT $675.4 million (does not include $15m to Magee-Womens Research Institute)
    Duke $672.5 million
    Penn $668.4 million
    Stanford $651.7
    Michigan $644.3
    Leidos Biomed Research, Inc. $625.1
    Washington Univ (St. Louis) $620.6
    Columbia $616.8”

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 6 people

  22. Great job TT and thanks for the article and thank you Richard for recognizing the comment as an article. Very good read.

    So I guess the NBA got what they wanted and created a “minor league” for themselves. Allowing the student athletes to move around to get on the court instead of applying for the NBA way ahead of their schedule. Works out well for PITT and Capel.


  23. Hi TT…

    Thanks to you and Richard for the article. A really nice wayside stop from the regular game threads. An enjoyable read… well-reasoned and fair.

    Your last few paragraphs – Pitt taking the next step – raise the thoughts that are on my mind. You know what?… there is a real buzz around this program right now. And not just with regular Pitt fans. Pitt has the attention of not only Pittsburgh area sports media, but regional and national ones as well. Pitt is the story this year and a welcome one. Good times!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. When you come from playing like we did for the past 6 years to where we are today its hard not being the talk of the town in BB circles. But I ask again can we just be a “one year wonder” only to fall back to where we came from after losing our 3 point fire power and the maturity level of 23 after this season ends?
    If Johnson comes back in 24 is he likely to try and hog the spotlight needing to do so if he wants to be a one year and done player at Pitt? If that ends up being the case then the personality of the 24 team is in for a drastic remake IMO. And how that turns out in the won loss column is anyone’s guess.


  25. Good question jrn. I’m wondering what we all think Dior is really like? Do you think any of us may have a jaded feeling about this young man and his personality? There may be the possibility of some pre-judice here? Not much doubt about his basketball IQ though, although we don’t know much about that either. Strange days indeed.


    1. I know of no way Ike of any player moving on to the NBA after one season of college ball without him not being the star attraction on the college team he is moving on from. The end result being IMO very much less of “team BB” and very much more of the focus on one particular player. And its not hard to ask then just how that will turn out for Pitt in 24.


  26. Seems to me that Coach Capel was really emphasizing “team” and “being a good teammate” even back in the summer. I don’t remember him emphasizing this so heavily in previous years, but the behavior of several Pitt players over Coach’s time here certainly made the “team” emphasis highly appropriate.

    Will be interesting to see whether Coach C. can sustain this attitude going forward. As for Dior, he’s certainly had a front seat for what “being a good teammate” looks like…

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Cummings is hurt tonight but might play a bit. I’d blow Dior’s
    red shirt in a NY minute and use him tonight.


  28. Not going to happen I don’t think but not a bad idea if Dior doesn’t plan to stay on to play college BB for 4 seasons. Who cares about the red shirt if your not going to be here anyway. And what a story line for the BB analyst’s going forward if Capel made the move on Dior for the remainder of the 23 season. Oh Boy!!!


  29. Watching Cuse vs NC St. Cuse up 50 to 46. Mintz is sensational going to the basket… great ball and body control.


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