Jared Wilson-Frame leads new-look Pitt past Slippery Rock
By the time Kevin Stallings — the basketball player — left Belleville (Ill.) Junior College nearly four decades ago, he had taken too many van rides to remote outposts and probably had eaten enough McDonald's Big Macs to last a lifetime.
Little did he know, however, that the experience would pay off when he started recruiting Jared Wilson-Frame, a star wing player the past two seasons at Northwest Florida State, a junior college in Niceville, Fla.
“I got Jared Wilson-Frame (to come to Pitt), I would say, in about one phone call,” Stallings said Saturday after Wilson-Frame scored 24 points in an exhibition victory against Slippery Rock at Petersen Events Center.
Coach and player were bonded by all those things that happen to JC players: the fast-food meals, the cramped traveling quarters, the anonymity. But in their cases, the winning mattered, too.
Stallings was part of a Belleville team that reached the NJCAA Tournament Final Four in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1979. Wilson-Frame helped Northwest Florida (29-5) do the same last season.
After they exchanged JUCO stories, the recruitment of Wilson-Frame was “as close to being over as it can be after one telephone call,” Stallings said.
Wilson-Frame felt the same way.
“The conversation we had was just unlike one I had with other coaches through that recruiting process,” said Wilson-Frame, who also had offers from West Virginia and Wichita State.
“It was more like a genuine, I-could-care-less-about-you-getting-on-the-court. (It was) ‘I'm trying to help you.' From that first conversation, I put Pitt at the top of my list.”
Yet, Stallings had more to say to Wilson-Frame, some of it in the way of a warning.
“He and I still laugh about it,” Stallings said of a face-to-face talk that occurred later.
“We had a very, very pointed conversation. I told him he has some JUCO habits that needed to be broken. I'm not sure he was going to want to listen to me (to) help him break them. But he said, ‘No, coach. That's what I need. I need to be coached hard.'
“I kept saying, ‘Jared, you realize what you're signing up for? Because if I see this (bad habit), you're not going to like me very much.' ”
Stallings said Wilson-Frame responded with, “I may not like you at the time. I'll like you later because that's what I need.”
Stallings described some of Wilson-Frame's junior college bad habits as “some things from a focus and concentration and discipline standpoint that needed to be tightened up.”
Wilson-Frame heard it and bought it.
“Giving my total effort throughout the game was the biggest thing he would tell me about, and it's something I'm working my hardest to improve,” he said.
When he met with reporters after the Slippery Rock game, Stallings said he wasn't even sure of how many points Wilson-Frame scored. For the record, he shot 8 of 14 from the field, 5 of 6 on free throws and 3 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
What meant just as much to him was what Wilson-Frame did after Stallings took him out of the game for a failure to box out on a rebound.
“He came over and sat down, and he encouraged his teammates and knew why he had been taken out and didn't complain,” the coach said. “Jared is a team guy.”
That type of behavior matched what Wilson-Frame, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, did recently in practice when he was the first to help a teammate off the floor after he had taken a charge. No big deal, perhaps, but Wilson-Frame wasn't involved in that particular drill and was standing on the sideline at the time.
On the matter of giving wire-to-wire effort, Wilson-Frame stepped up Saturday, hitting an important field goal and getting fouled with 3:20 left in the game after Slippery Rock had cut the Pitt lead to 63-59.
Then, after committing his only turnover and just his second foul in 31 minutes, Wilson-Frame's layup with 1:04 left set the final margin at 71-59.
It made for a nice opening act for the 21-year-old Wilson-Frame, albeit against a Division II team that was picked to finish fourth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Everyone has a lot of work to do.
“We're not at the finish line yet,” Stalling said. “That's for sure.”