Pitt lost its starting point guard for the remainder of the season and beyond on Wednesday, as Xavier Johnson will enter the NCAA transfer portal and leave the Pitt program, according to an announcement from Pitt head coach Jeff Capel. As a result, Johnson will not participate in any of the games remaining on Pitt’s schedule.
“The Pitt men’s basketball program and Xavier Johnson have mutually agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to part ways,” Capel said in a statement. “He will enter then transfer portal and is no longer a member of our program. We wish him the best of luck as he looks to continue his career elsewhere.”
The move comes with Pitt sitting at 9-9 on the season, and it deals a serious blow to the team’s depth as it fights to post its first winning record since 2016. Now, with Johnson no longer on the roster, Femi Odukale is expected to claim the majority of his minutes. However, the move may also see Nike Sibande take the court more often with Pitt in need of added backcourt depth in Johnson’s absence.
Johnson was the second recruit brought in by Jeff Capel after he was hired to coach Pitt in 2018. The first, Trey McGowens, also left the program, transferring to Nebraska in 2020. For McGowens, the decision to transfer came down to a desire to play point guard as opposed to shooting guard, which was unlikely to happen on a Pitt team constructed around Johnson. However, the motives behind Johnson’s decision to leave is unclear.
At Pitt, much was asked of Johnson, as the former three-star recruit led the team in scoring and assists as a freshman during the 2018-19 season, with 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. He was the first freshman to lead Pitt in scoring since Charles Smith averaged 15.0 points per game in the 1984-85 season.
This season, Johnson was averaging 14.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. That placed him third on the team in scoring and first in assists. He also ranked second in the ACC in assists this season, with a total of 103 in 18 games. However, he had long been a liability as well, as he led the conference in turnovers as a freshman, with 132, and as a sophomore, with 111. And as a junior this season, Johnson ranked third, with 59 in a short campaign.
Johnson also struggled with fouls in his Pitt career, and this season, that commonly included needless technical fouls that resulted from comments made to officials or members of opposing teams after big plays. Capel commented on the issue last week, noting that he had been telling Johnson for years to “stop talking to the refs” and “stop being demonstrative,” but nothing had worked.
Johnson finishes his Pitt career ranked 30th in program history in scoring, with 1,152 points. It is unclear where the point guard plans to continue his college career and when a decision on the matter might be made.