Dorm life not easy for larger Pitt student-athletes

By Brian Batko

When Malcolm Gilbert’s roommate abruptly left the Pitt men’s basketball team midway through…When Malcolm Gilbert’s roommate abruptly left the Pitt men’s basketball team midway through the season last year, the Panthers lost an integral piece of their roster.

But while Khem Birch’s sudden departure left his teammates hanging, it did the exact opposite for Gilbert — at least in a literal sense.

That’s because when Pitt student-athletes move into the dormitories on campus — Litchfield Towers in the summer and Sutherland Hall during the fall and spring — they’re given the same furniture and amenities as normal students, which can be a minor issue for a 7-foot sophomore like Gilbert.

“I think they did come in and lengthen [the bed] a few inches to give me a ‘7-foot bed,’ but my toes still came off just a little bit,” Gilbert said. “Before, my Achilles would hang off and sit on the edge of the bed, and the wood was not very soft at all.”

So when Birch transferred, Gilbert took both beds and pushed them together, forming a makeshift queen-sized bed that he could sleep on diagonally.

While the dual mattresses were nice, the soft-spoken Gilbert missed out on the roommate experience during his second semester — a big reason why he’s already decided he’ll be living not just on campus again this year, but with his new freshman teammates for a second season in Sutherland.

Like the young basketball players, football players also live in Sutherland their freshman year. The upperclassmen also spend a significant amount of time in the residence hall because all Pitt football players move into Sutherland together when summer training camp begins in early August.

The Pitt football team has been using Sutherland to house players during training camp since 2000, when the program moved camp from Pitt-Johnstown to its current home on the South Side.

Ryan Schlieper, a 6-foot-5, 310 pound redshirt junior offensive lineman for Pitt, said he and his fellow linemen can sympathize with what Gilbert had to deal with.

“It’s rough for the offensive line. Our whole body takes up the entire bed, so when you roll over you almost roll off the bed,” Schlieper said. “But it’s part of the whole experience of training camp. Everyone is dealing with the same thing, so you just suck it up.”

The diminutive Andrew Taglianetti, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound redshirt senior safety, has no problem fitting into his bed at Sutherland, but he also explained that living in the dorms doesn’t make the training camp experience any easier.

“Training camp is never, never fun. It always stinks,” Taglianetti said. “Luckily, I’m little, so I don’t have it too bad. But the beds are still uncomfortable to lay on. You’re still tossing and turning a lot, and after a practice you’re so sore, you just want something comfortable.”

While it’s not uncommon for football players to live in Bouquet Gardens as sophomores, most basketball players choose to move to South Oakland, Shadyside and other off-campus neighborhoods after their first year.

“It’s a personal preference thing,” Gilbert said. “Some people like their space and some people like to be around people and be social.”

Knowing that his father doesn’t want him to live in off-campus housing until his senior year didn’t hurt Gilbert’s decision either. And since the University pays for the athletes’ room and board as part of their scholarships, Gilbert just sees living in the dorms as one less aspect of college life to worry about.

But as one of the more outgoing members of the football team, it’s no surprise that Taglianetti has taken advantage of his upperclassman status by moving off campus.

“You don’t get any relief at Sutherland or Towers, so hopefully the freshmen that have to live there [all year] bring an extra pad or something, because those beds aren’t very comfortable,” he said. “That’s why I live in Shadyside.”