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2019 frontcourt options dwindling for Pitt

Jeff Capel missed out on two coveted bigs on Sunday

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Several recruits were in attendance for Pitt’s conference opener against North Carolina on Saturday, and at least one of them decided he had seen enough shortly after the 85-60 drubbing. That recruit was Florida transfer Chase Johnson, a 6’9” forward who attended high school in Huntington, West Virginia, and seemed to be a good fit at Pitt. However, on Sunday, he committed to Dayton.

The news came hours before 6’10” center Kofi Cockburn, another Pitt target, announced his commitment to Illinois. Cockburn previously told Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog that Illinois assistant coach Orlando Antigua was “a really cool guy,” adding he would feel comfortable playing under him because of their relationship, which he said goes back years.

Cockburn discussed Pitt in the same interview, and although he praised the program, his comments didn’t resemble the glowing review he gave Illinois. He had also discussed setting up a visit to Pittsburgh but gave the Fighting Illini his commitment before setting a date.

Sunday’s flurry of bad news extended a streak of recent recruiting misses for Pitt that includes losing out on Akok Akok, Tyrese Samuel, Oscar Tshiebwe, Anthony Walker and Cole Anthony. However, Capel and his staff are still pursuing frontcourt targets Qudus Wahab, Karim Coulibaly and Jalyn McCreary as potential 2019 additions. They also have an offer out to Tre Mitchell, although he has focused on Notre Dame, UConn and Illinois.

Of the remaining recruits, Wahab, a 6’10” center with a four-star rating from Rivals, appears to be Pitt’s top priority. But he has yet to set a new decision date after pushing back his initial announcement from Dec. 13. Pitt is one of five finalists to land Wahab, with the other four being Georgetown, Syracuse, UConn and Virginia Tech. Pitt is believed to be a front-runner for his services alongside Georgetown, but Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas have less to overcome geographically, as their campus is 17 miles from Wahab’s high school.

McCreary, a 6’8” forward and consensus three-star recruit, has yet to receive an offer from Pitt, but he has been in contact with the Panthers coaching staff for months and has been visited by Pitt assistant Milan Brown and Capel. He said last Thursday that a decision would be coming soon, and with DePaul and Xavier as the only major programs to offer him thus far, Pitt could pull ahead late.

Pitt has also been said to be a serious contender for Coulibaly, who recently took an unofficial visit to campus. The 6’8” forward with a four-star rating from ESPN is said to be interested in Pitt, St. Joe’s and Tulane, in particular, and holds offers from at least 11 programs from college basketball’s Major Seven conferences. He hasn’t set a decision date, but at this point, he appears to represent Pitt’s best chance at landing a 2019 big.

With all that said, Capel is a seasoned recruiter who is capable of striking quickly, and he proved as much by bringing in Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney in a span of just over one month. He also proved that he has a good eye for talent by picking up Johnson, who has since become a breakout star. Given his exploits at Pitt alone, he has earned the benefit of the doubt, and much should still be expected of him and the recruits he brings in with his open scholarships.