Former Pitt shooting guard Cam Johnson, who is now with North Carolina, is set to face off against his old team for the first time when the Panthers head to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels on Saturday.
Johnson went through a contentious split with the program after the 2016-17 season, when he graduated early and opted to transfer out amid extensive turnover at Pitt. The university initially wanted him to sit out a season after transferring, but that drew the ire of the national media. So Pitt eventually granted him the right to play immediately at ACC rival North Carolina.
The transfer saga reflected poorly on Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings, as he had previously attempted to block Sheldon Jeter from transferring from Vanderbilt to Pitt. But for his part, he said he had no say in Johnson’s transfer and the university’s transfer policy was pre-existing.
“I took a beating for it, which, honestly, I resent,” Stallings said in October, per Craig Meyer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I didn’t deserve to be criticized for anything that happened. … I never prohibited one aspect of that transfer. I was told by our administration, ‘This is how we do it.’”
Johnson would have been Pitt’s top returning scorer had he remained in Oakland, and he’s built on last year’s success down in Chapel Hill, averaging more points (12.7) in fewer minutes (27.3) per game than he played in his junior season. He’ll enter the Pitt game coming off a career performance against Clemson, during which he posted a personal-best 32 points.
The matchup is a bit of an oddity for Johnson, as this Pitt team bears little resemblance to the one he played on last season. The only holdovers from last year’s roster were Ryan Luther, Jonathan Milligan and Zach Smith, and with Luther injured and Smith playing in just four of Pitt’s 23 games, Milligan and Stallings may be the only familiar faces Johnson sees Saturday.
Aside from the Johnson storyline, the game holds a bit of intrigue in its own right due to its implications. Pitt is fighting to avoid an 11th straight loss, which would saddle them with the longest losing streak in program history. But they’ll have a tough go of it against No. 19 North Carolina, which comes into the game a 21.5-point favorite.
The Panthers and Tar Heels are scheduled to tip off from Chapel Hill at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.