Jeff Capel has yet to coach his first game at Pitt, but he’s already taken the team to heights it hasn’t seen since the Jamie Dixon era through his efforts on the recruiting trail. After the addition of forward Au’Diese Toney was factored in over the weekend, Pitt ascended up the 247Sports team rankings, which placed the 2018 class assembled by Capel at 35th in the nation.
After Au'Diese Toney's commitment and reclassification, Pitt now has the No. 35 recruiting class nationally and No. 6 class in the ACC for 2018. The Panthers were, if I'm remembering correctly, No. 56 prior to Toney's commitment.— Craig Meyer (@CraigMeyerPG) June 4, 2018
That ranking is the highest Pitt has seen since 2013, when a four-man class consisting of Michael Young, Jamel Artis, Josh Newkirk and Joseph Uchebo was ranked 31st in the country by the same website. That also happened to be the year Pitt joined the ACC, and it marked a sharp downturn in recruiting that went uncorrected until Capel’s arrival.
All told, the former Duke assistant has followed up on his promise to focus on the Mid-Atlantic, as he brought in Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson from Virginia. He further bolstered the class with the addition of Toney, who played his high school ball at Trinity Christian School in Capel’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was an AAU teammate of McGowens’.
Prior to 2013, Pitt’s recruiting classes hadn’t fallen below 33rd in the country since 2008, and even then, the program was just one year removed from assembling the 12th-ranked group of recruits in the nation in 2007. But between 2014 and 2017, Pitt never made it into the top 50.
Much of that was due to Pitt’s transition from the Big East, which had New York at its core, to the ACC, a conference firmly rooted in North Carolina, which seemed to throw a wrench into Dixon’s recruiting pitch. As a result, his final two recruiting classes ranked 87th and 80th in the country.
Matters only got worse after his departure, as Pitt’s 2016 ranking of 112th under Kevin Stallings marked a low for the program since 247Sports began ranking recruiting classes back in 2003.
Still, despite Pitt’s free fall to such depths, Capel has managed to not only drum up interest in the program, but to establish an atmosphere of excitement around it in roughly two months on the job. Now, with one scholarship left to use this year, the coach has attracted a number of intriguing recruits into Pitt’s orbit, including Greg Gantt Jr., Aundre Hyatt and Oscar Tshiebwe.
Gantt played alongside Toney at Trinity Christian School last season, and the four-star forward listed Pitt among his final nine schools in a tweet on Monday. On the same day, Tshiebwe, a four-star center from Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, visited the university, and according to Harry G. Psaros of Pittsburgh Sports Now, the visit went well.
Hyatt, a four-star forward, may be the best fit for Pitt, though, as he’s previously mulled reclassification into the 2018 class and could help the team out immediately — a quality Capel has publicly prized over the last few weeks. Like Gantt and Tshiebwe, Hyatt is currently a member of the 2019 class, but it seems that distinction is more fluid than once thought.
With all that said, Capel may ultimately stick with his current class if he’s unable to find a player with the kind of talent and immediate availability he’s seeking. Of course, he’s had a great deal of success thus far and could still benefit from some additional help in the frontcourt, so it’s entirely possible that there will be more developments in the coming weeks.
Whatever the case, Capel’s inaugural offseason at Pitt can already be counted as a win for the program. Now the only question is whether or not he’ll take a victory lap with another signing.