Pitt men to host rebuilding Howard in Legends Classic

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 10:48 p.m.

Some might consider Howard basketball coach Kevin Nickelberry's task of rebuilding this year's team featuring 10 newcomers (including nine freshmen) “daunting.”

Nickelberry, however, prefers to think positive when Howard (2-2), on the third leg of a four-game road trip, visits Pitt (2-0) Sunday at 5 p.m. at Petersen Events Center as part of the Legends Classic.

“Patience is needed,” Nickelberry said. “Looking at the big picture, if you have the right pieces, eventually they will fit.”

Among the most important pieces is guard James Daniel, one of three freshman starters who has led Howard in scoring in three games.

Nickelberry learned about making pieces fit when he coached the Libya National Team to an 11th-place finish out of 16 teams at the 2009 FIBA African Championships.

Making its first appearance since 1978, Libya defeated South Africa and Egypt for the country's first wins in the African Championships in the modern era.

“The language barrier was huge. The first couple weeks were tough,” said Nickelberry, a Washington, D.C., native who became Libya's national team coach following a recommendation from a former player at Monmouth College. “I had to cut some guys who had been on the national team for years that were getting older and couldn't play the way I wanted to play.”

Nickelberry applied a similar strategy to this year's team.

“It's easier long term to rebuild with freshmen than junior college transfers,” said Nickelberry, who was 23-69 in his first three seasons at Howard. “I knew the first few years it would be a little rocky, but we have to upgrade the talent.

“Even though they are talented, there's going to be some days and nights and practices when it's just not working.”

Howard is 0-2 on this road trip after blowout losses at Old Dominion (77-55) and Harvard (76-44). Sunday's game against Pitt will be followed by another road game Thursday at Houston, followed by an even longer trip to Brookings, S.D., for two more games in the Legends Classic. Howard also visits USC in December.

“I picked the teams myself, who we wanted to play against, the type of teams we wanted to play,” Nickelberry said.

“From a financial standpoint, the schedule is a factor, but my administration has been good with allowing me to schedule teams that will challenge us. Playing at Old Dominion is tough, playing at Harvard is even tougher, and, obviously, playing at Pittsburgh is going to be extraordinarily tough.

“This is an early wake-up call for our guys to what Division I basketball is about. If you're the little brother and you get pushed around enough, eventually you stand up and defend yourself.

“This team is made up of guys who will stand up and fight back.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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