They’re the Pitt students you see chasing rebounds in dress clothes on the Petersen Events… They’re the Pitt students you see chasing rebounds in dress clothes on the Petersen Events Center floor prior to Pitt men’s basketball games.
Decked out in suits and ties, they toss the ball to Ashton Gibbs, Travon Woodall and the rest of the men’s basketball team, helping the Panthers warm up before the buzzer sounds. Come game time, they retreat to the bench, settle in and watch the action, occasionally filling a water bottle or tossing a towel to one of the players.
But the student managers are a bigger part of the team and have a lot more responsibility in the daily workings of the program than one might think. The seven managers — Matt Falcon, Brendan Kozlowski, Rob Briggs, Ben Blount, Seth Friedman, Jonathan Brodack and Michael Lindenbaum — are overseen by Director of Men’s Basketball Operations Brian Regan and attend every practice and home game.
Though they don’t get paid for their efforts or receive any type of college credit, managers do receive some scholarship money. A select few also travel with the team to away contests, a privilege usually reserved for the elders in the group.
Road trips and up-close-and-personal seats at the Petersen Events Center are undoubtedly two big perks of the position, but the managers perform their fair share of humble tasks as well.
“They’re the ones that are coming in an hour before practice. They’re here an hour after practice taking care of the equipment, doing a whole hodgepodge of things,” said team equipment manager Brian Brigger, a former manager himself at Xavier University.
“When the players come early, they’re rebounding for the players. If the coaches need something, they’re taking care of them. They set up the court every day, put the balls out there, stuff like that.”
Though the job can certainly be thankless at times, it’s not all grunt work. Falcon, a senior and head manager this season, often sees the practice plan drawn up by head coach Jamie Dixon each day and is in charge of typing it up and handing it out to the other coaches. He also helps the assistant coaches start some pre-practice drills and skill work for the players.
“I like to think we do all the little things so that, for the coaches and the players, the only thing they have to worry about is basketball,” Falcon said. “That’s the biggest part of our job, just being accessible and being ready to work hard so we can help [the players] get better.”
Coming to practice each day with his proverbial lunch pail is an obligation that Falcon knows not to take lightly. Like most managers, Falcon started out as an assistant to the video coordinator -— a position even more unsung than his current one — after he went through an interview process with Regan as a freshman.
And for as much as the managers contribute to the Pitt basketball program, they get a lot out of the experience as well.
“I personally would like to coach one day,” Friedman, a sophomore, said. “I don’t know about all of the other managers, but a lot of us are thinking about [coaching], so this is a good first step.”
For Friedman and his fellow coaching hopefuls, studying Dixon during games and in practice every day is an invaluable asset.
“It’s really interesting getting to watch all of his mannerisms, how he handles different situations, how he handles himself in timeouts throughout the game and in practice,” Friedman said. “To be able to see him every day and work with him and the rest of the coaches and the players is an incredible experience and definitely a learning experience.”
Like Friedman, fellow sophomore Lindenbaum also hopes to forge a career in coaching. But that wasn’t the only reason why he decided to become a manager.
“I missed high school basketball,” Lindenbaum said. “I got to college, and there was just something missing. Even though I’m not playing, it just feels like I’m part of a team. So that’s really why I decided to get into it.”
Briggs, a junior, took a different route to end up in the same position as Friedman, Lindenbaum and the other managers. Just last year, he was playing basketball at Westminster College, a Division III school about an hour north of Pittsburgh in New Wilmington, Pa.
After spending three years at Westminster as an engineering student, Briggs transferred to Pitt over the summer and will spend the remainder of this year finishing his five-year degree program. He said that the decision to experience Division I hoops in the meantime was a no-brainer.
“When I got here I knew I didn’t really want to stop being involved in college basketball, so I got a hold of my coach [at Westminster], and he talked to Coach Regan down here and just kind of passed my name around,” Briggs said. “I love it. I enjoy it because I’m still in basketball, and I knew I didn’t want to give it up. So this is kind of my chance to keep playing college basketball, I guess you could say.”
Despite Briggs’ prowess on the court, the managers’ skill didn’t translate to a victory when the managers faced off against their counterparts from West Virginia earlier this month. Before the Panthers and Mountaineers went head-to-head both in Morgantown and in Pittsburgh, the managers from the schools played each other for nothing more than bragging rights. Call it the Backyard Brawl Lite.
“The results weren’t so great, but it was definitely a cool experience playing them,” Friedman said. But he was also quick to point out that the Mountaineer managers might have benefitted from suiting up a well-traveled ringer.
“They had their video coordinator playing, who’s 31 and walked-on to Kansas State, so they had quite an advantage,” he said.
With the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12 conference, the Pitt managers might not get a chance to settle the score with their West Virginia rivals next season, but Regan said their contributions to the real Panthers team cannot be overlooked.
“They know all of our drills, all of our skill work and situations that we run, and they make sure things in practice go off without a hitch,” Regan said. “They’re very important, and the things that they do and the things that they bring to the table are a very integral part of our success.”