While dribbling around the court during a workout this offseason, Pitt forward Jamel Artis decided to pitch an idea to his new head coach, Kevin Stallings.
“Hey, Coach,” Artis said. “I need to play point guard.”
To Artis’ surprise, an intrigued Stallings replied with the one word the Panthers’ veteran wing wanted to hear: “Okay.”
After playing around with the concept during the summer and fall, it appears Artis’ work convinced the new head of the Pitt basketball program to entrust the 6-foot-7 senior with ball-handling responsibilities –– an unconventional role for such a tall player.
“I’m the point guard,” Artis said on Tuesday. “[Stallings] doesn’t want it to get out, but I’m starting at point guard.”
Stallings, meanwhile, said it’s too early to name a starting point guard before the team has had an official practice. He noted Artis has to compete with sophomore Damon Wilson and true freshman Justice Kithcart.
Still, Stallings acknowledged playing Artis at the point could give the Panthers a higher ceiling.
“I see a lot of upside for our team with Jamel at point guard,” Stallings said. “Initially, there may be a greater risk, but eventually, I think there will be a greater reward if that’s something that pans out the way my mind’s eye sees it.”
Artis stuffed the stat sheet in 2015-16, averaging an impressive 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and three assists per game. But he thinks he can reach even greater heights while playing the point.
“This is a team that is going to have more freedom than past years that I’ve been here, and I like that a lot, because I don’t really think I could show my talents [in years past],” Artis said. “Teams let point guards push the ball down the court, and for me to push the ball down the court is a good thing because I can make the plays and make scouts see me as versatile.”
Artis said his teammates are all aware of his switch to the point and that Stallings emphasizes during workouts that Artis –– who last played point guard in prep school –– is running the offense.
Redshirt senior Chris Jones, who played alongside former Pitt point guard James Robinson for the past three seasons, said Artis gives Pitt a different look running down the court.
“Jamel is a scoring point guard,” Jones said. “He can really score the ball. He’s also probably our best passer. I like the change, and it’s been fun so far.”
With Artis at point guard, Pitt will likely field an unorthodox lineup featuring some combination of Artis, Chris Jones, Cameron Johnson, Ryan Luther, Sheldon Jeter and Michael Young. All five players have heights ranging from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-9.
Jones isn’t concerned that Artis’ ability to score will impede on his duties as a facilitator.
“He’s a scorer, but he can really, really pass the ball.” Jones said. “So I know that when teams collapse on him or when he gets to the paint or when he’s doing his one-on-one thing, he’ll be able to get it to the open guy. I really have trust in him.”
Running out this “five forwards” lineup could potentially help Pitt overcome a lack of height at the center position by creating height mismatches at the guard positions. Artis says the lineup of five similarly built players will allow for easier switching on defense.
“Our defense is going to be different [than last year],” Artis said. “We’re going to be taller, and we’re going to be quicker so we can switch.”
Stallings, though, thinks the height mismatches in the lineup are overstated.
“Mismatches are the most overrated thing ever in basketball,” Stallings said. “Mismatches don’t beat you — open shots beat you.”
Both Jones and Artis agree the lineup will be the tallest overall lineup either of them have ever played in.
“No. Never [played in a lineup like this]. Never,” Jones said. “But it’s something different. I’ve been playing with these guys for a long time, so it’s fun.”
Playing Artis at point guard and experimenting with the lineup is a different look than anything seen during former Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon’s 13-year tenure. For the senior, he thinks it’s indicative of the burgeoning freedom that Stallings has allotted his players in just a short time at Pitt.
“With Jamie Dixon, I think guys were a little scared to make a play,” Artis said. “Coach Stallings put the trust in these guys that you can go out there and make a play, and we can have more freedom.”