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Pitt coach Kevin Stallings preaches patience as young Panthers open season

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 8:15 p.m.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings celebrates with Jared Wilson-Frame against  Slippery Rock in the second half Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings celebrates with Jared Wilson-Frame against Slippery Rock in the second half Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings looks on against Slippery Rock in the second half Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings looks on against Slippery Rock in the second half Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at Petersen Events Center.

Sometimes, coach Kevin Stallings has patience with his young Pitt basketball team. Sometimes, his patience runs out.

Episodes of both surfaced recently while he was preparing the Panthers and their NCAA-high 11 scholarship newcomers for the opener Friday night against Navy at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Md.

Over the past few days of practice, freshman guard Parker Stewart and junior-college transfer Jared Wilson-Frame saw the kinder, gentler, more tolerant Stallings.

Stewart tried a shot Wednesday from 6 feet beyond the 3-point arc. Later, Stallings pulled Stewart aside, not to admonish but to encourage his 19-year-old player.

“I said, ‘Hey, Parker, did I say anything bad about you taking that shot?' ” Stallings said, relating the story.

“He said, ‘No.'

Stewart got the message. “So, you want me to shoot that,” he told Stallings.

Message received.

“At times, I have to ask the guys to be more aggressive,” the coach said. “They are so intent on trying to please the coaches and doing what the coaches want.

“Don't worry about screwing up. Worry about not being aggressive.”

Earlier this week, Wilson-Frame, who scored 24 points Saturday in an exhibition against Slippery Rock, had what Stallings called maybe his two worst practices since arriving on campus.

“I sat him down and said, ‘Really? You're going to have 24 on Saturday and you come back Monday and Tuesday (with less productivity).' That's all I had to say. I didn't have to get mad. He came out and practiced his butt off (Wednesday).”

Then, there's the case of Stallings and the startled referee.

In the Slippery Rock game, Stallings called out the same play three times in a row, and it just wasn't working.

“We managed to do something wrong all three times,” he said.

Perturbed, he jumped off the bench and called timeout.

“I felt sorry for the official,” Stallings said. “He said I scared him.”

The referee gave Stallings the timeout, even though the call is supposed to come from the players on the court.

Pitt has the fewest returning career starts in the NCAA (three, two by Ryan Luther, one by Jonathan Milligan). The next fewest is 11 (Chattanooga and North Carolina Central).

It's a situation that calls for patience. Yet, so far, the result has been an easy team to coach, Stallings said. Even senior forward Luther, who acts like an older brother to his younger teammates, has noticed.

“They're good at listening,” he said. “We tell them once.”

Stallings said it's important to react as often as possible to what the players do, good or bad.

“Most of them, it's the first time at the Division I level,” he said. “It's important how I react to their mistakes. It's important that they feel my energy and my confidence in them.

“My job is to push them and prepare them for the adversity we are going to face. We're going to get some. We're going to get hit. When we do, we have to know how to react.”

Notes: Pitt is opening the season on a hostile court for the first time since 1994, when it lost at North Carolina, 90-67. … Freshman guards Marcus Carr (ankle) and Khameron Davis (foot) have been hobbled in recent days. Stallings gave Carr, the team's starting point guard, a reasonable chance to play Friday. … Stallings said he hasn't settled on a starting lineup after adjusting it four times since Pitt scrimmaged Villanova two weeks ago. Stewart, Wilson-Frame, Luther, Carr and sophomore forward Kene Chukwuka started against Slippery Rock.

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

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