Pitt basketball team builds camaraderie during trip to Italy
The Pitt men’s basketball team kicked off its 2019-2020 season in a special way.
During a 10-day trip, the Panthers toured Italy with stops in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Vicenza and Venice. Coach Jeff Capel said he and his team built a bond that will be crucial this season.
“The trip was incredible,” Capel said Friday. “From the practices, but just as important, the camaraderie, the time away, the time out of the country, the bonding, the sharing experiences and moments. That was a pretty incredible place to do that. I’m glad we did it, and I’m glad we were able to accomplish a lot of positive things.”
Not only did the Panthers become closer off the court, but they also had a chance to build strong relationships on the court. During three games against teams from the Netherlands, Florence and Vicenza, Pitt went undefeated, outscoring opponents 267-149 and scoring in triple digits twice.
Although Capel didn’t coach in any of the games — allowing assistants Tim O’Toole, Jason Capel and Milan Brown to run the team — Capel got a good idea of what his team might bring to the table this season.
“Certainly I think we have more talent than we did last year,” Capel said. “We are a little bit bigger. Our length is a little bit better. Our athleticism is a little bit better. So I think we’ve improved in those areas. But we still have a long way to go.”
Several players stood out.
During the first game against the Netherlands ‘B’ team, which Capel said probably was Pitt’s toughest opponent, sophomore guard Xavier Johnson scored a team-high 20 points in a five-point victory.
Junior college transfer Ryan Murphy also made an impression. In the final game, he went 5-for-8 from behind the 3-point line and recorded a team-high 21 points against the Vicenza All-Stars. Murphy, a 6-foot-2 guard who started his collegiate career at Charlotte, scored in double digits in all three games.
Freshman Karim Coulibaly finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds against the Vicenza All-Stars, and he had seven points and seven rebounds against Florence in the second game.
“I think every guy over there had moments where I thought they did some really good stuff,” Capel said. “For some guys, it happened a little bit later, but I think each guy over there had moments.”
Playing games in August, almost two months before the beginning of the season, was crucial for Capel as he heads into his second year with the program. But Capel thought one of the most important parts of the trip was coming together.
“I thought the whole trip was about us trying to become a team,” Capel said. “I don’t think that just happens. I think you have to constantly work at it. With five new guys that are eligible to play this year, it’s something that we’re going to have to work at a lot. For me, I thought that was the biggest thing. We became closer to becoming a team.”
A year after going 14-19 overall and 3-15 in ACC play, the Panthers will look to take a step forward. Capel has a better idea where his players stand compared to this point last season.
“It gives us a jump from that standpoint,” Capel said. “As far as a head start, we still have a long way to go and I understood that going in. But it’s something that was very beneficial to us.”
The Panthers open their season Oct. 30 with a home exhibition game against Slippery Rock. They host ACC opponent Florida State on Nov. 6.
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .