The Pitt men's basketball team has seen its fair share of transfers with three guys bolting in the last couple of weeks. That wasn't unexpected with new coach Kevin Stallings seemingly wanting to bring his own guys in and clean house. The wrestling squad lost a top ten grappler in Teshan Campbell, who will head to Ohio State. That wasn't expected but given Pitt's turmoil without a coach right now and some team disappointments this year, isn't completely incomprehensible.
On Friday, though, the women's basketball program lost Brenna Wise, who announced she will transfer, in a move that looked to come entirely out of nowhere for the casual Pitt fan.
As the Pitt News notes, Wise's departure is different from the basketball ones in that she is the star of the team and the men's players that transferred were all bench players who played sparingly or, in the case of Crisshawn Clark, not at all. Wise has been the focus of the team's marketing efforts this season and after averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this year, she's now led the team in those two categories for two consecutive seasons. She had a career-high 31 points this year in a home win against Virginia Tech and I was actually at that game.
When I heard of Wise's transfer, three things stuck out to me pretty quickly.
First, I remembered back to a game this year when Wise was really struggling. It was one of several games I watched on ESPN3 but for the life of me, I can't remember which one it was. I think it was Purdue and after looking at the box score of that game, it makes the most sense. But Wise was 1-11 and just had a miserable game. The interesting thing I remember specifically about that is that coach Suzie McConnell-Serio didn't hesitate to take her out of the game and leave her out. Usually you see that in blowouts but the game was close throughout (Pitt lost by six) and Suzie still only played her 19 minutes. Brenna wasn't in foul trouble, either. It was basically one of those 'If you're not making shots we'll try someone else' type of deals.
The second thing also tied into that a little. Suzie's comment in the press release was pretty straightforward, but one thing stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Here was the quote and I'll let you try to take a look and see if it sticks out to you as well:
“Brenna was a strong representative of the University of Pittsburgh and we wish her the best of luck as she pursues opportunities elsewhere. As a program, we will continue to recruit and develop well-rounded, team-oriented student-athletes. It is a privilege to be part of the foundation of a winning culture."
Maybe I'm making more of this than is there but that last bit about 'team-oriented' sort of jumped off the page to me when I read it, as did the part that followed about it being a privilege to be a part of the foundation of the team. That's not something you typically throw into one of these official statements when a player transfers out. 'We wish Player X the best of luck in their future endeavors and thank him/her for their contributions to the program.' That's about the size of it. When I read it, I thought back to that Purdue game where Wise had struggled and was subsequently benched for much of the game. It's easy to wonder if there was a little friction there.
Finally, this is noteworthy because it's the second season in a row where Pitt lost a star player. Stasha Carey transferred last season (ending up at Rutgers) and was the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the team. Her loss, coupled with Yacine Diop's season-long injury, was a big reason the program struggled this year. Diop and Carey would have likely been starting for the team this year and two of the team's top three players. When you lost that much in one year, it's very hard to make up.
A lot of people will now look at the transfer of both Wise and Carey, look at the struggles of the women's program, and wonder about McConnell-Serio. But I remain fully convinced she knows what she's doing and is still an outstanding coach. She won 20 games a year at Duquesne in her last five season there (winning 24 twice) and was a National Coach of the Year semifinalist in 2015 when she won 20 games at Pitt and took them to the NCAA Tournament. McConnell-Serio, I fully believe, is not the issue. The team has won only 13 games the past two years but I would be surprised if she did not turn it around.
I don't say that to downplay the issue. Wise was a very good player and unquestionably the best one Pitt has had over the past two seasons. Her loss to a program that is already struggling hurts them right now. But as I said, I still have little doubt that McConnell-Serio will get this team turned around. She's already done it once when she took a team that was winless in conference play before she arrived and leading them to the NCAA Tournament only two years later.