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Jeff Capel discusses turmoil within Pitt program

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 14 Pitt at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second day in a row, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel discussed the departures of Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney and the issues facing Pitt, as he addressed members of the media on Friday afternoon. As expected, he was not eager to talk about the transfers, but he did acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead for the Pitt coaching staff.

One such challenge is replenishing a roster that now features just 11 scholarship athletes. That total could soon be down to nine, too, depending on what comes of John Hugley’s legal issues and if Justin Champagnie decides to enter the 2021 NBA draft after this season. But when asked about the holes in the team’s roster and how they might be filled on such short notice, Capel seemed undaunted.

“We’ll look everywhere [for recruits],” Capel said. “I anticipated having scholarships. I had planned on that the whole time.”

The coach also addressed the looming situation with Champagnie as well as when a development can be expected on that front.

“Obviously Justin will have a decision to make at the end of the year,” Capel said of his star. “That’s something we’ll discuss at the end of the season. I’ve had discussions with his parents, just kind of putting together a plan.”

But as for what prompted Johnson and Toney to abruptly transfer out of the program, Capel was unwilling to divulge new information.

“I’m not going to get into the details of the conversations that were had between Au’Diese and his family and me and Xavier and his family and me,” Capel said. “It was a mutual decision. I’m going to leave it at that, and I’m going to concentrate on the guys we have in our program right now.”

“I’m not going to get into what changed from when we played Florida State on Saturday to four days later when this decision was made,” he added. “It was a lot of talk and discussion. Those things will remain private, at least from our side. Everyone felt like it was in the best interest of everyone, our program and those guys individually, to move on.”

Regardless of how two of the team’s top scorers came to the decision to leave the program, Pitt is now left without Johnson’s 14.2 points and 5.7 assists per game as well as Toney’s 14.4 points and 5.9 boards per game for the remainder of the season and beyond. And their departures may not be the last, as Capel said “you never know” if additional player exits may be ahead.

Given the situation Pitt is facing — and the fact that once the Panthers’ personnel issues die down, there is still the matter of the team’s 1-7 skid to resolve — one might expect Capel to be pessimistic about the coming months. But he is optimistic that Pitt can bounce back.

“My job is to do the best I can for our players, for our program and to try to put us in the best position possible as a program to move forward and try to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” Capel said. “I feel very confident we’re on the right path to doing that. It may not look like it right now, but I feel very confident in what we’re doing. And I feel very confident in the guys we have in our program, and I feel very confident about the future of our program.”