PITTSBURGH – The University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball team, led by head coach Kevin Stallings, took the court at the Petersen Events Center Friday afternoon for the first full practice of the 2016-17 campaign. The Panthers return six of their top seven scorers from last year’s team that finished 21-12 overall and reached the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time in the past 15 years.
“This is when you start putting everything together,” said Stallings. “Putting this guy here and that guy there and trying to figure out where they all fit the best when you’re putting your team together. It’s critically important that we hit the ground running as fast as we can, and not waste time doing things that aren’t beneficial to the group. The players have all bought in, they’ve been great. Now we just have to do our best to get everything put in place. Get the schemes put in, as quickly as we can, so that we can refine them and practice them leading into our first games.”
Pitt is the only program in the ACC with two all-conference performers on the roster in Jamel Artis (3rd team – 2015) and Michael Young(3rd team – 2016). The tandem combined to average 30.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game a year ago and are once again expected to form one of the top duos in the ACC. Young, one of three returning all-league players from a year ago, ranked among the ACC leaders last season in scoring (14th – 15.7 ppg.), rebounds (12th – 6.9 rpg.) and field goal percentage (5th – .537). Artis delivered 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with a team-high 49 three-point field goals. The Baltimore, Md., native was one of three players in the ACC to average 14 points, four rebounds and three assists per game in 2015-16.
Seniors Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones also return to give the Panthers one of the most experienced cores in the league. Jeter averaged 8.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game to establish himself as one of the top sixth-men in the ACC last season. He shot 53.3 percent from the field and also led the team with 24 blocked shots. Jones scored 6.1 points per game a year ago and is poised to build on that number under an offensive system that will take better advantage of his athleticism and cutting ability. He has played in 97 career games with 30 starting assignments.
“Excited doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling going into the season,” said Jeter. “It’s my last go around and probably the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been in college. I’m ecstatic, I’m anxious, I’m just ready to go.”
Pitt’s senior quartet is supplemented by rising local talents Ryan Luther and Cameron Johnson. Luther, a junior from Gibsonia, Pa., shot a team-high 58.3 percent from the field and averaged 5.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season. He scored in double-figures five times, including four times in ACC play. Johnson knocked down 30 three-point field goals and contributed 4.8 points in under 12 minutes per game. He posted a pair of 20-point games, including a career-high 24 points in an ACC Tournament win over Syracuse.
The remainder of Pitt’s roster is comprised of former JUCO standouts (Crisshawn Clark, Rozelle Nix and Jonathan Milligan), talented freshmen (Justice Kithcart and Corey Manigault) and steady walk-ons (Ryan Seelye and Zach Smith). Early season practices will be vital to the team’s development as this group looks to carve out roles within the team and the entire roster continues to familiarize itself with Stallings’ system.