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Jeff Capel seeks impact players for last two scholarships

Capel is looking for recruits who can “help us now”

Team USA Basketball Showcase Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel had some ground to make up on the recruiting trail upon his arrival in Pittsburgh in late March, but things have calmed down significantly since then.

After meeting with members of the team who had requested their release, he convinced a few to stay and watched several others leave. Capel also bolstered his backcourt by bringing in guards Trey McGowens, Xavier Johnson, Sidy N’Dir and Curtis Aiken Jr.

All told, there are currently 11 scholarship players on the Pitt roster, leaving Capel with two scholarships to use as he sees fit this year. However, he’s patiently waiting for recruits of a particular caliber and is content to hold onto the scholarships until he finds them.

“We’re not going to just give them,” Capel told Jerry DiPaola of the Tribune-Review on Thursday. “It would have to be someone we feel like is good enough to help us now. It would have to be somebody who can add value, help us now or help us down the road.”

The first-year Pitt coach also reiterated that he was not interested in signing players “just to have bodies.” In fact, he said he wouldn’t resort to that “even if all of them would have left.”

In total, Pitt lost three players from its 2017-18 roster to transfers, and each one saw the team part ways with a significant contributor. While the Panthers retained top scorer Jared Wilson-Frame, it lost Ryan Luther, Marcus Carr and Parker Stewart, who ranked second, third and fourth on the team in scoring last season, respectively.

“With those three guys, I don’t think we ever had a chance of keeping them,” Capel said, per DiPaola. “Luther and Carr, the reality of it is those guys had been talking to people, or people in their circle had been talking to other schools.

“Look, I know how this world works. When there’s chaos and uncertainty, other people really start inserting themselves. The recruiting process from other schools had already started happening.”

Regardless of how Luther, Carr and Stewart went about leaving the team, their decisions were understandable. For Stewart and Carr, the coach who recruited them to Pitt had been fired, which would prompt many players to reconsider their commitments. And in Stewart’s case, he also had the opportunity to play for his father back in his home state of Tennessee.

Luther, who was recruited to Pitt by Jamie Dixon in 2014, would have been on his third coach in five years had he decided to stay in Pittsburgh. He also had the benefit of immediate eligibility as a graduate transfer to Arizona, a powerhouse in a rare position of need.

The question now is how the contributions of that trio will be replicated, and Capel’s vision seems to be coming into focus. He’ll have his pick of several guards in replacing Carr, and McGowens seems like a potential front-runner, given the coach’s desire to see new players make an instant impact. Malik Ellison is also an option and can provide leadership in Luther’s absence.

However, Luther brought more to the table than leadership, and his combination of size and skill in the frontcourt has proven tough to replace. Only three returning players possess Luther’s size, but none of them appear to match him in terms of ability, as only Terrell Brown averaged more than 3.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season.

Luther, for comparison, averaged 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds in his final season at Pitt.

Capel hasn’t provided many clues as to what his next move will be on the recruiting trail, provided he even makes one. But a quick scan of the current roster reveals a glaring hole that he would do well to address before the Panthers get their 2018-19 campaign underway.