Coming off the program’s worst season since 2000, this offseason has signaled next year could be worse.
The past few months have been some of the most tumultuous in the team’s history, with four seniors graduating and five others transferring elsewhere. As of now, the team only has two returning scholarship players outside of former walk-on Zach Smith — seniors Ryan Luther and Jonathan Milligan.
A large chunk of this process was considered part of head coach Kevin Stallings’ long-term plan to overhaul the roster and rebuild the team from scratch. In February, the staff already had seven recruits either signed or committed, meaning three players would have to leave in addition to the four seniors in order to keep the team under the scholarship limit.
That’s exactly what happened, and now the program is attempting to put all of it behind and look toward the future with a new mindset. Currently, the program has eight players committed with three spots still open. It remains unclear when those spots will be filled, but it will most likely consist of transfers or junior college players.
The group currently consists almost entirely of unproven athletes — none of whom have played Power-Five basketball in their careers. It will be a definite challenge to adjust to the ACC and to each other, as none of the incoming athletes have even played with one another.
In an interview earlier this month, Stallings was confident in the group, saying it addressed a lot of problems on last year’s team, such as the lack of a true point guard.
“What I like about [the class], is that first of all, we’ve added a true point guard and some size — both of which we really needed,” Stallings said. “We’ve added some shooting and some athleticism, [and these are] all components that make up most of the good ACC teams.”
So, as the class comes to a close, let’s take a look at each of the new faces and see exactly what they bring to the 2017-18 Pitt basketball team.
A 6-foot-2 point guard from Montverde Academy in Florida, Carr is definitely the star of the class. 247Sports rates him as a 3-star prospect and the No. 146 player in the country.
He competed with Team Canada in the 2015 U16 Americas Championship, averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 rebounds on the way to a silver medal.
Along with returning forward Ryan Luther, Carr should be the centerpiece of the team’s offense in Stallings’ second year. The team sorely needed a point guard after the graduation of Jamel Artis and dismissal of freshman Justice Kithcart, and Carr could be the answer.
Stallings addressed another area of need with the signing of Ilegomah — height.
The 6-foot-10 center isn’t particularly tall for his position, but outside of current Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, the Panthers haven’t had any height at all in recent years. This caused several problems on last year’s team, forcing it to rely on lower-percentage jump shots instead of inside play.
Also from Montverde Academy, but on a different team from Carr, the Nigeria native averaged a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds in his only year with the team. It will be interesting to see if the production carries over to major college basketball, but the Panthers will need it to if they hope to have a reliable post presence.
Wilson-Frame is another player who competed well at a lower level but needs to prove his worth in the ACC.
The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.4 points and 4.4 rebounds two seasons ago, leading Northwest Florida State College to a 27-6 record. 247Sports ranks him as a 3-star recruit and the 10th best junior college player in the class of 2017.
Ideally, Wilson-Frame would help to fill in Pitt’s backcourt alongside Carr. If Milligan stays for next year, he could compete for playing time as well. But Milligan was mostly underwhelming last season and Stallings probably doesn’t want to rely on him too heavily, which may insert Wilson-Frame into the starting lineup.
A 6-foot-10 power forward from the Tilton School in New Hampshire, Brown was one of four players to sign with the Panthers in the early signing period — along with Carr, Wilson-Frame and since-released guard Aaron Thompson.
“[Brown] is a guy that can come in and really add some athleticism and skill to our frontcourt, which again we identified as one of our primary needs going into this recruiting season,” Stallings said in a press release.
In his junior season of high school, he shot 53 percent from the field, averaging 12 points and six rebounds for the Boston Amateur Basketball Club.
Brown will likely sit behind Luther when the season starts, but he should provide some depth and gain experience throughout the season. The Panthers didn’t have many solid bench contributors last year, with just six total players averaging more than three minutes per game. That will need to change if the team is going to succeed this year, and Brown will be counted on to produce off the bench.
Stevenson, a small forward from Hillcrest Prep in Arizona, is another player who could compete with Wilson-Frame and Milligan for a starting role in the fall
Last season, the 6-foot-6 Ontario native averaged 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 85 percent from the foul line. With his scoring ability, Stevenson could play a number of roles on next year’s team, something Stallings alluded to when he signed his letter of intent.
“[Stevenson] is an outstanding athlete with the potential to be an efficient scorer and high-level defender in the top conference in the country,” Stallings said in a press release. “Shamiel’s versatility and toughness will allow him to play multiple positions in our system.”
As of now though, it’s unclear where Stevenson fits into this roster. With Brown, Ilegomah and Luther being taller — and in the case of Luther, more experienced — they would be better suited to play inside, forcing Stevenson to move to shooting guard. But, with the current group the team will need some more depth on the inside, so he could end up playing there as well.
Transferring from Lafayette, Boykins is one of two players in the class with Division I experience. He missed almost the entire 2016-17 season after suffering an injury against Villanova in the team’s opening game.
He will be immediately eligible to play next year, but will most likely come off the bench as his stats with the Leopards were mostly underwhelming. Despite averaging 10.7 points in the 2015-16 season, he shot only 38.4 percent from the field and 61.9 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers will need to improve for him to make an impact on this year’s team.
A 2-star prospect in the class of 2016, Davis decided to enroll in prep school this past season, playing for Forest Trail Academy in North Carolina. He committed to the Panthers this spring, choosing the program over Texas Tech, among others.
“[Davis] has the mindset and wingspan to be a disruptive defender on the perimeter and is a hard worker with a tremendous upside,” Stallings said in a press release. “We expect him to be another strong piece for us as we continue to build this program.”
His rating isn’t very inspiring, so he’ll have a lot to prove when he shows up on campus, but he should compete for playing time in the fall and contribute in either a starting capacity or off the bench.
The second player with Division I college basketball experience, Ellison comes to Pitt after playing two seasons at St. John’s. He won’t be eligible to play this season though, due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.
In the Red Storm’s 2016-17 season, Ellison shot 41.9 percent from the field, averaging 7.4 points per game. He’s a decent shooter but has struggled at the foul line, making less than 60 percent of his free throws this past year.
Overall, Ellison will bring some experience to a roster in dire need of it, but he will need to improve to become an adequate Power-Five player.
The 2017 recruiting class will be the most important of the Stallings era. It will set the foundation for the next few years and has the potential to affect the long-term future of the program.
As for this year, each of these players will be counted on to produce with no prior Power-Five experience. This entire season will be an experiment to figure out which players can compete and where they are best suited to play.
This will take time, so yes, this season could very well be worse than last year. Only time will tell, but right now the program is in complete disarray and in need of a major change. Stallings has provided the change, and now it’s time to see if it pays off.