Gilbert Brown ready to embrace tradition in new role

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Image courtesy of Matt Plizga, Pitt Athletics

Gilbert Brown, the headband-wearing Pitt basketball folk hero, is returning to the program in a new role. As director of player and alumni development, Brown will look to preserve and embrace the traditions Pitt was built upon.

By Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

From the moment he set foot in Pittsburgh, Pitt men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel expressed an adamant desire to embrace and preserve tradition.

“Look back at the great players here, and the great teams and the championships that were won in the Big East,” Capel said during his introductory press conference in 2018. “As we embark now in the ACC, I look forward to building that and being a part of a tradition.”

In his three seasons at the helm, Capel stayed true to his word, frequently citing his desire to instill within his players the characteristics that made Pitt’s former teams so remarkable — grit and determination. So it wasn’t surprising when Capel announced in June that former basketball standout Gilbert Brown would serve as the new director of player and alumni development. 

The last time Pitt fans saw Brown on the Panther sideline back in 2011, he was donning his iconic headband and throwing down high-flying dunks. The Panthers went 111-30 in Brown’s four seasons at Pitt, and he was a part of the team that made it to the Elite Eight in the 2009 March Madness Tournament. 

Basketball has always been a central part of Brown’s life and following an extensive professional career spanning several different countries, he joined the private South Kent School in Connecticut as an associate head coach last season. 

“As I was going to re-sign back to go play again, I got the chance to coach at my old prep school with my former high school coach, so I saw it as an opportunity to start my second career and get into coaching,” Brown said. “Everything aligned in that direction and pointed me towards the career I’m now seeking.”

Capel then offered the Harrisburg-native an opportunity to further his career and return to Pittsburgh. He referenced his relationship with Capel as a contributing factor to his eagerness to accept his new role.

“When I first met Capel, I was actually rehabbing my ACL in Pittsburgh,” he said. “He invited me to come back and work out, be around the kids, and kind of just ask questions about what made Pitt ‘Pitt’ back then.”

Coincidentally, this experience represents a large part of what Brown’s new position involves. Brown will oversee players’ transition from high school to the collegiate level, while ensuring Pitt Basketball alumni are actively involved with the players.

“I’m here as another person on the staff, to work with the kids and help them grow as individuals on and off the court,” Brown said, “as well as with the alumni, to try to bridge the gap and connect these guys so that they can use them as resources to become better players and better people.”

Ronald Ramon, another former Panther who previously held Brown’s position, accepted an assistant coaching position at Fordham University — opening the door for Brown. Brown explained that Capel’s willingness to communicate with former players as well as his character lends itself to a good working relationship with Pitt Basketball’s alumni.

“I think everybody’s actually embraced Capel for the simple fact that he’s the way he is,” Brown said. “Just his mannerisms, his demeanor and what he brings to the table — and of course his involvement with former alumni. I feel like from the alumni standpoint, because of his character as a man, the guys that I know I came up with during my era at Pitt, we support him 100%.”

Brown’s duties will be made easier by the trust and respect that Pitt’s prominent alumni already have for Capel. The next step for Capel and Brown will be to build that same trust with the squad’s current roster.

Toughness and togetherness have remained recurring themes throughout Capel’s tenure as head coach. Brown said these values were central to the success he had as a player, and are essential to any great team.

“If I had to say what I think Pitt is as a program, there’s a certain toughness about Pitt,” Brown said. “There was a certain grit about Pitt in the era that I played that we’re trying to bring back … A team that’s together, they never fall apart.”

While he’s only held his title for a couple of months, he immediately began familiarizing himself with the players in an attempt to kickstart his connections.

“Since I’ve been back, I’ve definitely tried to build relationships with the players and all the guys that are coming in from the moment I got here,” Brown said. “I’ve watched their videos and highlights just to try and see what kind of players they are on the court, and just trying to learn them as much as possible off the court.”

The 2021-22 season continues to creep closer each day and preseason curiosity and excitement continues to grow for the new-look Panthers. With the addition of Brown to the staff, the Panther faithful hope to see the program continue to grow..

“There are a lot of characteristics that I see from the beginning that I know I had when I was a player here,” Brown said. “It gives me a lot of hope and excitement for this current roster that we have, and the future of Pitt.”

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