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Pitt basketball gets to work with 11 new players

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 8:45 p.m.
Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings during a scrimmage Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings during a scrimmage Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Ryan Luther dunks past Virginia's Jarred Reuter in the first half Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, at the Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Ryan Luther dunks past Virginia's Jarred Reuter in the first half Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, at the Petersen Events Center.

Kevin Stallings will protest if you suggest last year's Pitt basketball team belonged to someone else.

Yes, he didn't pick the players, but he was around for each of the 33 games that produced the first losing record at Pitt (16-17) in 17 years.

And he'll stand up tall and declare:

“That was my team. I had something to do with the successes, and I certainly had something to do with the failures,” he said after the new Pitt team finished practice Thursday.

“I coached them, just like this group is my group.”

He's not comparing this year's team that has 11 new players to last year's that had four seniors. But he does like what he's seen so far.

“They're responsive, dependable, tough-minded and selfless,” he said. “If they remain that way, we'll get really close to reaching our potential that we have as a team.”

Piecing together the roster was difficult, he said, after losing the four seniors and everyone else with the exceptions of seniors Ryan Luther, Jonathan Milligan and Zach Smith.

“I will retire before I have another 11-player class, because if I don't, I'll die,” he said. “Even when we signed one, it seemed like we needed two more.”

Stallings called the process, “literally, over three years of recruiting in 15 months.”

“One of these days, I'll look back and really, really wonder how we did it.”

First impressions have been good.

“It's beyond my wildest imagination,” he said. “They've come together at this point more than I would have ever thought they could have.

“We're not anywhere close to being a finished product, but they really show signs and desires of wanting to be a team, wanting to be coached, wanting to do what we've asked.”

Which is a nice character trait considering, he said, “You can stop just about every play, every pass because there's something you can tell somebody where they can learn.”

He acknowledges the reality of having seven freshmen among 13 scholarship players.

“I don't know where our talent level will rank in this unbelievably tough conference (ACC), but I got the feeling that our effort level and toughness level will be pretty good.”

Asked to identify some of the players who have caught his eye, he obliged, but added, “I'd be mistaken if I left anybody out.”

He called freshman guard Marcus Carr “a natural born leader.”

Freshman guard Parker Stewart can shoot, but he's “a little better defensively and a little tougher than your stereotypical catch-and-shoot guy.”

Luther, who returns with the most experience, said he never considered leaving during the postseason exodus. He also has embraced a leadership role.

“Every day, not only do I try to get better for myself and mentally prepare to be the older guy,” he said, “but really my job is to get everyone else ready, make sure they are in the right spot, make sure they are doing the right things and make sure they have the right attitude.”

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

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