The Pitt basketball teams are leaving the Pete behind Friday night, but for this spectacle they’re not travelling far. Migrating from upper campus to Bigelow Boulevard, the Panthers will be putting all of their skills on display under the lights outside the Cathedral of Learning.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the stars of Courtside at the Cathedral Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. The free event will highlight both teams’ full rosters along with their head coaches — Kevin Stallings and Suzie McConnell-Serio. Pitt men’s basketball will also feature alumni Julius Page, Gilbert Brown and Chris Jones as special guests.
“It’s just an exciting time for us to share the spotlight with the men being introduced to the fans,” McConnell-Serio said. “We hope there’s a great crowd that comes out, and I know we’re getting excited for the season.”
Page, Brown and Jones are marquee Panthers players from as early as the 2000’s to as recent as last season. Their presence could incentivize more fans to attend the event.
Courtside at the Cathedral offers the teams a chance to perform in front of their fellow classmates and get fans excited for the upcoming season. The Pitt men’s basketball team will essentially be featuring an entirely new team — only three members returned from the previous season.
Redshirt senior guard Jonathan Milligan, one of the returning players, is enthusiastic about getting outdoors and interacting with fans.
“I know they had it there in 2012, so it’s pretty cool to have it back and to be outside and to have that streetball feel — just have all the student body out there to get to see us and interact,” Milligan said. “It’ll be up close and personal instead of in the arena or something like that.”
As for the women’s team, there are six new players, with eight players returning from the 2016-17 season. The roster is noticeably devoid of Brenna Wise, a star player for the previous two seasons.
“We’re going to show how men’s and women’s basketball teams both have changed a lot with the men having a brand new team and talent, and the women have a new team as we have six new players,” redshirt junior forward Yacine Diop said.
Even though this is the first time the teams will be publicly showing off their new rosters, this isn’t the first time Pitt Athletics has hosted this type of event.
The teams hosted the Throwback Throwdown at Stage AE on the North Shore just last year. The Throwdown kicked off at 10:30 a.m., nearly two hours prior to the homecoming football game just one block over at Heinz Field.
Between the two teams, the students and the public who participated in the pregame homecoming festivities last year, this year’s event has a standard to live up to. McConnell-Serio still hears murmurs of last year’s dance competition.
“Last year the players really enjoyed the dance off that we had,” McConnell-Serio said. “I mean our players are still talking about it with the upperclassmen versus the underclassmen, and when they hear those songs they still think about the dances that they performed.”
Changing venue location may seem inconvenient, but Oakland Zoo leader Shankar Dandapat explains there is a science behind doing so.
“We love to keep these events fresh and exciting for not only the fans but also the teams,” Dandapat said.
While this year’s event starts at 8 p.m., seating will likely fill up long before then. There will be bleachers located behind one of the baskets on the Fifth Avenue side of Bigelow, as well as a set on the sideline closest to the Cathedral — but that’s it.
Regular standing room is available surrounding the court for all fans — both students and other event attendees. There will also be an LED screen used to display live shots of everything happening on the court for those who miss out on finding a seat.
While Stallings enjoyed last year’s homecoming festivities, he expects Courtside at the Cathedral to outdo last year’s showing at Stage AE.
“This could be a little more festive,” Stallings said. “It’s on campus, and there’ll be a bunch of people down there for the fireworks anyways, so it should be good timing in terms of having a good crowd.”
Once the rosters are introduced to the crowd, the players get the opportunity to put their talent on display in a knockout shooting competition and a slam dunk contest judged by Page, Brown and Jones.
Though not all players will be soaring through the air in the dunk contest, they still have the chance to actively participate.
“I’m probably going to be one of the passers in the dunk contest, do some flashy passes,” Milligan said. “I’m also in the shooting contest so we’ll see how things turn out.”
First-year guard Kyla Nelson is ready to take down anyone who stands in her way during the knockout competition.
“I think there’s some shooting stuff that we can do, so we’re gonna show how we can shoot better than the guys,” Nelson said.
Spectators have a chance to take part in the fun including the chance to win $1,000 in University Store credit — which will be awarded to a student wearing an Oakland Zoo T-shirt seated in the student section of the bleachers.
Once all the prizes have been handed out and the contests have concluded, fans can end their evenings with the Homecoming Firework and Laser Show presented by the Pitt Program Council.
While the basketball teams hope their opening to the night’s festivities excites fans for the upcoming season, Stallings has one issue on his mind.
“I hope they go out and have fun and nobody gets hurt,” Stallings said.
Contributed reporting by Dominic Campbell.