Plenty of points of emphasis for Capel in first season at Pitt
While Pitt was preparing for Tuesday’s season opener against Youngstown State, new coach Jeff Capel was aware of the variety of issues he needs to confront and conquer. They will emerge throughout the season, many of them in bunches.
First, though, he wants to pause, take a deep breath and think about how fortunate he is to be leading his own program again for the first time since he was fired at Oklahoma in 2011 after winning 96 games in five seasons.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said of the Pitt job. “I’m excited for all the things that I have been through in the past, good, bad.
“I’m grateful for everything that’s happened in my coaching career because it’s all prepared me for this moment. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead my own program again and to see what we can do here and to do something special.”
Nothing will come easy for Pitt, even the busy nonconference schedule that starts with six games in the next 16 days.
“They come up fast,” Capel said. “As a player, you like that. As a coach, you probably want a little bit more practice time. But I know we’re anxious to play.”
The first test emerges against Youngstown State, which was 6-12 last year in the Horizon League but ended up with the same overall record as Pitt (8-24).
First on Capel’s list is demanding his undersized team -- 11 of the 15 players on the roster are guards -- play hard at all times. He noticed an occasional lapse in concentration last week in the exhibition game against Pitt-Johnstown.
“In that game, we did some good things,” he said. “But we let down a little bit, and I don’t want to do that. We have to learn how to fight for 40 minutes and to understand the value of each possession.”
Then, there’s the matter of free-throwing shooting. Some coaches consider it tantamount to free points because the shooter isn’t guarded.
Pitt works on it every day, but the Panthers still missed 10 of 19 against UPJ. That percentage quickly can turn a winnable game into a loss.
“Free-throwing shooting, that’s a big one,” Capel said. “Our discipline has to be better. We have to concentrate more.
“Some of it is getting the right guys to the free-throw line. Guys shoot a pretty good percentage (in practice), but if we do something in front of someone, sometimes guys get a little bit nervous, and we have to conquer that.”
He also is looking for significant improvement from sophomore center Terrell Brown, who is Pitt’s tallest player and, potentially, its best rebounder.
“He’s gotten better from July,” Capel said. “He still has a big way to go, (but) the thing that I’ve been impressed with, he hasn’t fought teaching. He hasn’t fought work.
“He has talent, but a big thing for him is motor. We have to have that motor turned on at a high level all the time. Being able to play through getting bumped, being able to finish through contact, being able to rebound in traffic, rebounding out of your area, talking. All of our post guys have to continue to get better at those things.”
Another point of emphasis with Capel is demanding players talk among themselves on and off the court, during stoppages of play, even while the clock is ticking. When players huddle before a free throw, they could solve a problem that otherwise would go unchecked.
“Our talk has to be a much higher level. Talk is the thing that unites a team,” Capel said. “When we did that, we were good (against UPJ). When we didn’t, we weren’t so good. That has to become a habit.”
Sophomore guard Khameron Davis said players were told to talk last season, but he added “huddling up and talking at every dead ball, that’s new to us. There are a lot of things that are new to us that will help us.
“When you talk more, rotations, everything becomes easier. We need to solve the problem all together. That’s tremendously different from last year. If we messed up, we didn’t solve it. This year we’re solving problems, and our defense is growing and we’re staying connected.”