Earlier this summer, Pitt forward Jamel Artis talked a little about the differences between former coach Jamie Dixon and new coach Kevin Stallings. In a nutshell, he seemed to allude to a little more freedom and trust under Stallings.
John Harris of the Trib (who I've said before has done some fantastic basketball work and continues to do so) caught up with a few more Panthers and, surprise, they have echoed his thoughts. First up, fellow star Michael Young.
“Coach Stallings is letting me play basketball, letting me play my game,” said the 6-foot-8 Young, a Duquesne native who led Pitt in scoring and rebounding last season and had 50 points, seven rebounds and eight assists with no turnovers Monday. “When the opportunity is there, I'll be able to take it with a free conscience and not worry if Coach is going to be upset if I take the shot.
“That's the difference. Everyone will have more leeway.”
Even Sheldon Jeter, who hasn't always seen eye to eye with Stallings and transferred out of Vanderbilt while he was there agreed:
“Last year we were shackled in the sense that we weren't allowed to bring the ball up. We couldn't get the rebound and push,” said the 6-7 Jeter, who starred at Beaver Falls and played one season under Stallings at Vanderbilt before transferring to Pitt. “We've got a lot more freedom,” Jeter said. “I know that the shots I'm taking in the gym, I can take in games. Me and Coach Stallings had conversations. It's a lot different going from, ‘If I miss I'm coming out,' and now you've got a coach who if you miss a shot tells you, ‘The next one's good.' ”
First, regardless of what you think of Dixon's style and management of games it's clear that his players thought they could have been given more leeway. We're only in the offseason and guys are speaking up left and right about having more freedom, not being worried about taking shots/making mistakes, etc. As I said before, we'll have to wait and see if that results in them playing any better but at the very least, the team believes that they weren't given enough freedom under Dixon.
To Jeter's point about taking more shots during games, we'll see. Taking shots in a meaningless summer league game is a lot different than hoisting them up in a tie game against Syracuse in a crucial ACC game. I don't doubt that players will have more leeway under Stallings just from the quotes that have come out this summer. But it remains to be seen how much they'll have - particularly in tight games. Will Stallings change his tune if the Panthers are coming down the stretch in a tight conference game?
To Pitt's shooting in general, the team had some really miserable performances last year. The finale against Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament was particularly awful since the Badgers shot so poorly themselves and the game was very winnable. Maybe Dixon was stricter with these guys and keeping them in check because, perhaps they, you know, can't shoot. But the flipside is that maybe they're better shooters than they showed so many times last year and if they are looser, they'll feel less pressure to knock down shots.
As I said before, we know Dixon's method at least led Pitt to regular NCAA tournaments despite too many postseason failures to count. The question is will Stallings' way lead to that and more postseason wins? We'll see.
How this all works out, I don't know. But I'm starting to get excited to see if they can play any better if they're a bit more free.