Pitt coach Stallings looks for leadership, commitment to system
Senior Sheldon Jeter admitted he “checked out a little bit” in frustration during two practices after Pitt's loss to N.C. State last week.
Senior Michael Young, a four-year starter, talked about the difficulty of setting an example for younger teammates.
Coach Kevin Stallings said his players haven't completely embraced every concept he and his staff are trying to teach, admitting some players are “saving themselves for offense as opposed to what we need to be doing on defense.”
All of this adversity hangs over the team at a time when Pitt (12-7, 1-5 ACC) has lost four games in a row and is preparing to meet No. 13 Louisville (16-4, 4-3) on Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center. Louisville already owns an 85-80 victory against the Panthers, a game played two weeks ago in which Jeter admitted Pitt “came out sluggish.”
For Stallings, coaching this team in his first season after replacing Jamie Dixon may be just as challenging as the team trying to remain in contention for an invitation to a postseason tournament.
With the exception of Jeter, who played for Stallings at Vanderbilt, coach and players didn't know each other until 10 months ago. Getting the players to buy in to his style of basketball and the seniors to show leadership have turned into two tough hurdles to overcome.
“I haven't got them to buy into the way we have to play defensively,” Stallings said. “I haven't got them to buy into the way we need to communicate, the way we need to support each other, the way we have to fight when adversity hits.”
Stallings conceded Pitt is restricted by its lack of depth, especially with top sub Ryan Luther (foot) still “weeks away” from returning. But the team does have the perceived advantage of four senior starters. Young, Jeter, Jamel Artis and Chris Jones came into this season with a combined total of 400 career games played.
“These seniors have some things they are comfortable with, but if there is any deviation, the comfort leaves,” Stallings said. “Even though it might not be the best way to attack a particular defense, I have to be mindful of putting these guys in situations that they are more comfortable in, rather than being more strategic.”
Stallings, who has been a head coach for 24 seasons at Illinois State, Vanderbilt and Pitt, said many of his previous teams that experienced success came with the element of older players helping younger ones.
“That doesn't happen too much right now,” he said. “What I probably overestimated would be the value of that experience and how it would pertain to leadership.”
Young set an example of toughness while playing the past two games with a broken orbital bone suffered Jan. 11 against Louisville. He likely will play the rest of the season wearing a mask.
He said there are many daily challenges facing Pitt's players.
“It's really hard, individually, to come with the same energy, every day, the same fight, the same will, the same desire every day,” he said. “(Leadership) is moreso being coachable. For me, it's moreso just about being a guy the coaches want me to be.”
Jeter said leadership isn't totally lacking.
“If he feels that way, as players we need to re-evaluate,” Jeter said. “He's probably justified in feeling that way. I guess I understand it. I don't see it.”
Said Stallings: “Right now, my assessment is that the only thing it feels like they have bought into 100 percent is freedom on offense. Well, anybody can buy into that. That's just human nature.”