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Jeff Capel: ‘Long term, I don’t see any effects’ from recent departures of star players

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NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel spoke publicly for the first time following the departures of Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney on the “Jeff Capel Show” on 93.7 The Fan on Thursday. There were no revelations about what prompted the two stars to leave, but the coach did express optimism about the future of the program.

“Long term, I don’t see any effects, to be honest with you,” he said. “We have to recruit. We have to get guys. We have to continue to develop the young men who are in our program. That’s what we plan to do. I look at it as it gives us two more scholarships to go out and get guys who really want to be here.”

While Capel did allude to the need to recruit and bring along players already in the fold, he did not delve into specifics regarding the dire situation Pitt faces in constructing a 2021 class. Currently, Pitt is the only team in the ACC with zero 2021 recruits. In addition, 91 of the top 100 recruits in the 2021 class listed on Rivals have committed to other programs.

Capel also did not mention his last remaining star, Justin Champagnie, or the fact that he may soon depart for the NBA after earning a spot on the Wooden Award watch list, midseason All-America honors and a number of other accolades. With Johnson and Toney gone, he is Pitt’s only remaining contributor with any true consistency, as he averages 18.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

However, Capel did point out the young talent remaining on the Pitt roster, shifting the spotlight onto their promise and off the problems on the horizon. He devoted time to Noah Collier, Femi Odukale and Nike Sibande and spoke highly of William Jeffress.

“We believe in Will,” Capel said of the former four-star recruit out of Erie, Pennsylvania. “We really, really believe that he’s going to be an outstanding player here and a guy that’s going to help us change this program.”

The coach also had some kind words for Johnson and Toney and attempted to steer fans away from passing judgment on the departing players. Capel also pointed out that there was more to their decisions to leave the program than many people might realize.

“We wish those two well,” Capel said. “They’re both good kids. This has been an incredibly difficult year with everything that’s going on with the pandemic, with mental health, the pressures, the things that they feel. I hope people don’t judge these kids, both on and off the court, for decisions they make. There are a lot of factors that go into these decisions.”

As for the immediate future at Pitt, the team will have to navigate the last three games on its regular-season schedule without two of the stars the team was built around. The first test for the team as it is now constructed will come on Sunday, when the Panthers head down to Raleigh, North Carolina, to take on an NC State team that edged them 74-73 on Feb. 17.