Newcomers to shuffle Pitt basketball rotations


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

First-year forward and Brooklyn native Justin Champagnie (11) was the leading scorer during Pitt’s 2019-20 season with 12.7 points per game.

By Elliott Borawski, Staff Writer

With Pitt basketball officially ending its season with a record of 16-17 and 6-14 in conference play, it is time to look forward to next season. As the Panthers welcome new faces into the fold, there will be a fight for playing time and a different rotation will surely be in order for next season.

Junior guard Ryan Murphy decided to enter the transfer portal, leaving Pitt without its top three-point shooter. However, the Panthers issued a sigh of relief when sophomore guard Xavier Johnson put the rumors to rest that he was transferring as well. This leads me to believe that Johnson, alongside sophomore guard Trey McGowens, will return as the starting backcourt. 

But that lineup is not definite, given the duo’s shooting struggles this season. Transfer guard Ithiel Horton averaged 13.2 points in 2018-19 as a first-year player at Delaware and will compete for a starting role next year. Even in a reserve role, he should be expected to contribute heavily for the Panthers.

First-year forward Justin Champagnie was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Panthers with 12.7 points and seven rebounds per game. Barring injury or attrition, he will almost certainly maintain his heavy minutes as the starting small forward. Sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney also showed flashes of explosiveness and an improved offensive game that, when paired with his tremendous defense, will keep him in the starting lineup as well.

For the center position, Pitt is losing senior graduate transfer Eric Hamilton, but will still have options to cycle through. Junior Terrell Brown started the majority of games for the Panthers this season and has provided adequate defense, but lacked offensive production through inconsistent minutes. I expect major changes down low.

ESPN Top-100 power forward John Hugley will take over the starting center role when he arrives for his first season with the Panthers this fall. In his senior year of high school, Hugley averaged 24 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. Pitt is in need of a solid big man on both ends of the court, and Hugley can provide the Panthers with that kind of end-to-end play. And after first-year center Karim Coulibaly showed flashes of his potential late in this past season, I expect Brown to see a much more drastic decrease in minutes.

As for the other players Pitt can turn to for impact performances, first-year guard Gerald Drumgoole and incoming recruits Noah Collier and guard Femi Odukale are next up.

Drumgoole did not play much his first year as a Panther and was unable to find rhythm with the opportunities he was given. However, with Murphy gone, the Panthers will look to Drumgoole for three-point shooting. He was a fantastic shooter in high school and was supposedly solid enough in preseason practices to earn a starting spot on opening night last November. Extended minutes should allow him to bounce back from his lackluster opening year and grow into the role he was predicted to fill.

On the other hand, Collier is a tall, athletic power forward who can primarily offer toughness to the Panthers. Collier will provide Pitt with size, bounce and shot blocking, and growing offensive skill makes him a great developmental prospect for the Panthers to have. He will be cycled in and out of rotations as he ramps up to college speed. 

As for Odukale — the most recent signing for the Panthers — he provides sorely needed depth at the guard position. Standing at 6-foot-5, he boasts a 6-foot-11 wingspan and should provide valuable minutes handling the ball and initiating offense off the bench before likely taking on a starting role within the next couple of seasons.

2019-20 failed to live up to the Panthers’ expectations, but Pitt will have the potential to do great things next year if the pieces they already have can fall into place with the incoming recruits.