With the news that rising junior Kene Chukwuka would return to the Pitt basketball program in 2018-19, the dust has settled on the nine Panther players who considered transferring out. And new head coach Jeff Capel has a much clearer picture as to what he’ll be working with in his first season with the Panthers.
Forward Ryan Luther, Pitt’s top player last season prior to an injury, is making his way to Arizona. Point guard Marcus Carr announced plans to transfer to Minnesota. Guard Parker Stewart, the first of Pitt’s players to announce he’d transfer following Kevin Stallings’ March dismissal, will play for his father, Anthony Stewart, at Tennessee-Martin.
Between them, the losses of Luther, Carr, and Stewart deprives Pitt of three of its top four scorers from last season. The team loses a combined 31.8 points and 16.2 rebounds per outing from the trio, though Luther’s stats (12.7 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game) were produced in just 10 contests.
However, Capel and his staff convinced six of the nine players who thought about leaving Pitt to return. The list includes Rutgers transfer guard Malik Ellison, who transferred to Pitt to play for Stallings, but elected to stay and play for Capel after sitting out 2017-18. Capel also convinced leading scorer Jared Wilson-Frame, along with Chukwuka, Khameron Davis, Terrell Brown, and Shamiel Stevenson, to return to the Panthers.
Wilson-Frame is clearly the biggest return, as his 13 points per game provides the Panthers at least one proven ACC scorer. With minimal depth ahead of him, Stevenson has a chance for a breakout sophomore season after averaging 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds as a rookie last winter.
Brown, Davis, and Chukwuka combined for 53 starts last season, giving Pitt some vital additional returning experience. But after averaging just 10.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game between them, averaging a combined 58.3 minutes per game, the Panthers must get more from this trio to be competitive in 2018-19. Chukwuka shot just 35.5 percent from the field, while Brown shot a miserable 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
Along with the players Capel convinced to return, there’s Samson George and Peace Illegomah, who elected to stay at Pitt without asking for a release. Capel also talked guard Sidy N’Dir to transfer from New Mexico State to Pitt, giving the Panthers another seasoned ball handler. N’Dir scored in double figures 12 times last season for the Aggies, helping them reach the NCAA Tournament.
Additions to the Panthers
The Panthers have also picked up two late 2018 additions, as point guard Xavier Johnson and combo guard Tray McGowans both pledged to Pitt. Johnson chose the Panthers after initially committing to Nebraska, while McGowans reclassified to 2018 from the 2019 class to make his way to the Steel City. McGowans is the first consensus top 100 national prospect to sign with Pitt since Michael Young in the 2013 class.
As it stands, Pitt has a total of 11 scholarship players heading into 2018-19. They could potentially add up to two more scholarship players between now and August, when classes begin. Or they could try to expand to what will already be a large 2019 class, with up to four scholarships available. While the Panthers may not be ready to compete with the big dogs of the ACC again, Capel has rapidly improved the program from what he inherited two months ago.