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Johnson latest to leave Pitt basketball

| Saturday, April 1, 2017, 7:36 p.m.
Pitt's Cameron Johnson dunks over North Carolina's Justin Jackson in the second half Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cameron Johnson dunks over North Carolina's Justin Jackson in the second half Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at Petersen Events Center.

For better or worse — and it might get worse before it gets better — coach Kevin Stallings finally can put his stamp on the Pitt basketball team.

After Pitt's leading returning scorer, sophomore Cam Johnson, said he is transferring — the aftermath of a three-hour Friday night meeting with Stallings — the program hit the wall with a thud.

Pitt's 2017-2018 team will be pieced together largely with senior-to-be Ryan Luther and at least seven newcomers.

Johnson's departure, first reported Saturday by the Tribune-Review, impacts the program negatively on many levels.

He started all 33 games this season and became one of the most gifted three-point shooters in the ACC (41.5 percent, fifth in the conference). Plus, Johnson combined academic success (3.9 GPA) with good decision-making on the court, recording more than twice as many assists (77) as turnovers (38).

Stallings, who was unavailable for comment Saturday, wanted to build his team around Johnson. Instead, Johnson is graduating this month with a degree in communications and can play immediately for his new school, with two years of eligibility remaining. Because he has fulfilled his obligation to Pitt, there are no restrictions on where the Moon native can transfer.

“A lot of teams are interested,” Johnson's father Gil said Saturday night. “I will know more when he gets his release from Pitt on Monday.”

The elder Johnson, a former Pitt player who attended the Friday meeting with Stallings, said their conversation with the coach was cordial.

“He had no issues with coach Stallings at all,” Gil Johnson said. “They had a plan for him. It was going to be centered around him. But there's too much uncertainty there. He wants to win, and you're going to have 8-10 new bodies.”

Johnson is one of nine players to leave the program since late in the season, led by senior starters Michael Young, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones. Three others join Johnson as transfers, including Damon Wilson and Corey Manigault, who were barely trusted in Stallings' rotation system. Guard Crisshawn Clark, who missed most of the season with a knee injury, also announced plans to transfer.

To round out the roster overhaul, Stallings dismissed freshman Justice Kithcart late in the season for violating team rules. Kithcart was expected to handle many of the point guard duties, but he ended up averaging only 13.3 minutes, 1.3 points and 1.2 assists per game.

Stallings also lost the athletic director who hired him last year when Scott Barnes left for Oregon State.

He has kept busy amidst the adversity, restocking the roster with seven players who will need to help immediately.

But even that's not enough. Stallings has indicated there may be future signings of transfers, graduate transfers and/or high school players.

The most experienced of the new faces are shooting guards Troy Simons and Jared Wilson-Frame. Simons was the second-leading scorer in NJCAA Division 1 (25.7 points per game) for Polk State (Fla.). Wilson-Frame (14.8) played at Northwest Florida State College.

They are proven scorers against junior college defenders. Stallings' task is to get them ready for the athleticism they will face in the ACC, which put nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.

The job will require every bit of recruiting and strategic skill Stallings has acquired in a career spanning 24 seasons.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib. Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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