New Pitt basketball head coach Kevin Stallings only knows how to get to three places in Oakland.
He knows how to get to the Wyndham Hotel. He knows how to get to his office.
And, recently, he learned how to get to the Panera Bread on Forbes Avenue.
Stallings, along with longtime assistant coach Tom Richardson, ventured down to campus — although Stallings was under the impression that he was Downtown — to eat at the bistro chain. After parking, the out-of-town duo spotted a young woman and struck up a conversation, asking for the best way to get to the restaurant from their spot.
As the woman directed the coaches to the restaurant on the chilly night, Stallings noticed that their guide had a Pitt sweatshirt on.
“I didn’t even notice that in the beginning,” Stallings said.
Stallings went on to ask if she was a student at Pitt, if she liked it here and if she was a sports fan. She answered yes on all three accounts. He then got more specific, asking if she attended any Pitt basketball games.
“Yes, I go all the time,” the girl said. “I love going to the basketball games.”
Stallings extended his hand and introduced himself, which is when the stranger realized who she was talking to.
“It was great, because she had a pride about going to school here,” Stallings said. “You could tell she was a serious fan, she comes [to games.] That was probably just my most enjoyable experience, running into somebody that loves Pitt basketball and probably other sports here.”
He’s using that experience as a learning experience for future interactions.
“I’m going to say hello to every student I can find,” Stallings said. “And every time I do, every one of them, I ask, ‘Do you come to the games?’ Hopefully we’ll get that Zoo filled up.”
Stallings has more than half a year until he’ll debut in front of the Oakland Zoo at the Petersen Events Center. But, until then, he has recruiting and workouts to keep him busy. Pitt’s newest head basketball coach sat down with The Pitt News to talk about his plans for the new gig.
TPN: What is the moving process like for a head coach?
KS: I’m in a hotel right now. At some point I suppose I’ll venture out and try to find neighborhoods. But my wife will have to be here before I do that. That’s her area of expertise. I just do this and try to be a good father. I imagine she’ll be up here before too awfully long. But we have recruiting to do and workouts to do and a semester to finish up academically and things like that. So those are all taking priority right now over the move and trying to figure out where I might live.
TPN: Can you confirm that you’ve hired Tom Richardson and Jeremy Ballard as assistant coaches on your staff?
KS: Tom and Jeremy are hired, they sure are. Jeremy should be here today, and Tom’s already here. I have one more assistant to hire, and getting close on that, and I’m hoping to have that done within the — well I’ll say within the next few days, to give myself some leeway on that.
TPN: How important was it to retain all three recruits in terms of winning over the fan base, since that was effectively your first public move as head coach?
KS: Well, I think the first reason that it was important was because it was important for our team and our program next year and beyond, hopefully. But yeah, I think that the combination of keeping the present players and keeping those signees was significant for symbolic reasons maybe, as you mentioned, because people can feel comfortable and get excited. And I hope people are excited. Because I think those kids can hopefully be good players and be good additions to what we already have, which is a good team.
TPN: We’ve seen some brief footage of your first few team workouts. Have you been able to work out your team’s strengths, and have any players stuck out to you?
KS: No, I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. I’ve been able to work out losing most of my voice. Certainly I think that the seniors have been real solid. Mike [Young] and Jamel [Artis] and Sheldon [Jeter] and Chris [Jones]. I’ve been impressed with all of them at times, I really have. Ro[zelle Nix] has had a hurt wrist, so he hasn’t been able to work out with us. But of the eight scholarship guys that have been working out, I can see all eight of them being in the rotations. They’re all good enough to be in the rotation. Now whether they’ll be one of the best eight or nine, I don’t know about that. I’m real comfortable with that group right now.
TPN: Do you think there’s going to be an adjustment period, especially with the seniors, going from playing for Jamie Dixon to playing for you?
KS: I think there will be a lot of adjustments, and I think that’s the case any time a new coach takes over. I think that certainly my way will be different than Jamie’s way of doing things. That certainly doesn’t make my way better. I am the way I am and coach the way I coach, and I know every coach is that way. Yes, there will be some adjustments in tempo, hopefully, and all of that. But as coaches, I think it’s also the same. You’re trying to do the same thing. On offense, you’re trying to get good shots and get the ball in the right places. On defense, you’re trying to decrease the quality of shots of your opponents. And honestly, that’s what the game comes down to. It’s the quality of my shot versus the quality of your shot. And hopefully over the course of time, our players understand that and probably do understand that, honestly. But there may be some adjustments.
TPN: Tom Richardson has been your right-hand man for a long time. Do you feel you guys complement each other well?
KS: We’ve been together for 19 years, interrupted by a four-year span when he became the head coach at Illinois State when I left. Tom is real steady. He’s right here every day. I’m a little bit more emotional and maybe excitable, but we do complement each other — or he complements me. I don’t know if I complement him, and maybe that’s all that matters. But he complements me because he is extraordinarily patient, extraordinarily even-keeled. The players always are completely comfortable with him. The best thing probably about Tom is when I’m gone, whether I’m out on the road recruiting or I’m gone for whatever reason, I know that everything is going to be OK here because he knows the drill. He knows what’s supposed to happen. He knows what’s good in my eyes and what’s unacceptable in my eyes, and he executes it very professionally and very efficiently.
TPN: There were rumors that some coaches shied away from the Pitt job and the challenges of the ACC. Is that what attracted you to the job?
KS: I doubt if anybody that’s competitive shied away from the job. I would hope nobody shied away from the job because of the competition. But that’s what attracted me to it. These [opposing ACC coaches] are icons in our business, some of the best that have ever coached in our sport. And so it won’t be easy, but why wouldn’t you want to compete against those guys? So that’s just something that — maybe it runs in the family — it’s why my son [professional baseball player Jacob Stallings] wanted to play at one of the two best programs in college baseball. Maybe that apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, because that’s what excites me. I guess it’s why I can’t sleep at night, but it’s also why I’m excited to wake up in the morning. It’s a little intimidating, I’m not going to lie, but it’s exciting.