Jeff Capel hopes Pitt can turn page quickly with ACC road game looming
Jeff Capel is no killjoy. He enjoyed Pitt’s victory against Louisville as much as his players, even remarking it was a fun game in which to coach.
But not long after he walked off the court and left the locker room celebration Wednesday night, he spoke with reporters about the importance of an even deeper investment coaches and players must make in the Pitt program.
“As that season goes on, you’re a marked man,” he said. “So you have to be sharper even more.”
The ACC season, relentless and unforgiving, is coming at the Panthers fast. Pitt (11-4, 1-1) will be back on the court less than three days after the overtime victory against Louisville, meeting No. 15 N.C. State (13-2, 1-1) at noon Saturday at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Two days after that, No. 13 Florida State (13-2, 1-1) will be at Petersen Events Center.
Capel grew up in the ACC as a player and coach, and he knows better than anyone how to survive. It requires checking a lot of boxes.
“Investing more time, studying, understanding (opponents’) tendencies, (getting enough) sleep, rest, hydration, eating (properly), extra work, taking care of your body, showing up to get treatment. All those things you have to do in this league,” Capel said.
He listed them like he has had a personal relationship with each one. Which, of course, he has.
“You can’t just show up and play. We have to teach them that,” he said. “It’s great that we have some willing listeners.”
Capel said great players become great mostly on their own, partially because NCAA rules limit how long coaches can be with their team.
“As coaches, we are only allowed to work with these guys four hours a day, eight hours a week before the season,” he said. “That’s not enough. If you want to be really good, you have to invest the time.
“I don’t believe coaches make players better. Coaches help players become better. The guys that become really good and become the best versions of who they can be are the guys who put in the work. That’s what we have to learn to do.”
Next up for the young Pitt players is their first taste of an ACC road game.
Of the nine players in Capel’s rotation, only Jared Wilson-Frame, Khameron Davis and Terrell Brown have played in a hostile ACC arena.
After practice Friday, one of the younger players sat down with Capel with a serious question. “Coach, how are road games in the ACC?” the player wanted to know.
Capel was honest with him.
“This will be a new experience,” he said he told the player. “We have to be tough. We have to be sharp. We have to be together, and we have to be connected.”
They also could, actually, be in a better position from a manpower perspective. Backup point guard Sidy N’Dir could return after missing four games with a leg injury. If N’Dir plays, he can help spell Xavier Johnson, who has averaged 32 minutes in his absence.
Like Pitt, N.C. State lost at home to North Carolina and will be eager to make amends. The Louisville game needs to be a distant memory for the Panthers.
“Just like North Carolina, we have to flush it, and we have to move on,” Capel said. “Just like we didn’t allow North Carolina, the sting of that loss, we didn’t carry that over to Louisville, we can’t carry over the joy that we felt to this game.
“It’s a new game.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.