Expanding men’s basketball coaching staff aims to instill winning culture


Images courtesy of Pitt Athletics.

Gilbert Brown (left), Kyle Cieplicky (center) and Jake Presutti (right) are Pitt men’s basketball’s newest coaching staff members.

By Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer

While head coach Jeff Capel is no stranger to managing roster changes throughout his tenure at Pitt, his coaching staff remained nearly identical throughout his first three seasons. In the world of college basketball, the turnover of personnel on the roster and coaching staff is perhaps the most persistent challenge programs face each year. 

This past offseason, Pitt men’s basketball faced a new hurdle. Besides losing six players, the team lost two members of its coaching staff –– former Director of Student-Athlete Development Jason Richards and former Assistant Director of Operations Ronald Ramon. While working hard to revitalize the roster, Capel also expanded his staff with three new coaches joining the program.

The first of these additions was a very familiar face –– former Pitt star Gilbert Brown. After graduating from Pitt in 2011, Brown had a long and successful career playing overseas and eventually took on a coaching role in 2020 at his former prep school, the South Kent School.

Brown worked alongside his former high school coach for a season and learned valuable lessons about what goes into coaching at a high level. But an opportunity for Brown to return to his alma mater as the director of player and alumni development presented itself in June, and it was one he said he couldn’t resist.

“The first few months have been great,” Brown said. “Working with this staff and getting to understand my position and my role, and the things I can bring to the table, has been kind of refreshing. Almost like, let’s say, a dream come true in a sense, just life coming full circle, working at my former prep school to working at my alma mater.”

While Pitt’s staff features several coaches who had decorated playing careers at the Division I level, Brown brings a distinct perspective. Brown was a cornerstone of Pitt basketball’s winning culture during his time as a player. Capel has made it clear that re-establishing the program’s culture is one of his top priorities, and this is central to Brown’s role.

“One of the main parts of my role is to help instill his idea of the culture while bringing that same Pittsburgh culture that we had back when we were winning,” Brown said. “For me, it’s to really relate to these kids, and make them understand the importance of buying into the vision of the team aspect, because the team’s success will become their success.”

Contributing to the culture is far from Brown’s only role within the program. In a fastly evolving world for college athletes, Brown serves as a mentor figure in helping the players navigate life as athletes, students and men.

“Just trying to help them develop mentally, and just the maturity aspect of being a student-athlete,” Brown said. “That development process to help them out through life and basketball is kind of what I take on as my role of being almost a mentor figure.”

Brown also views the different voices from coaches with extensive careers in basketball as an advantage of having a large staff.

“Multiple viewpoints, especially from a bunch of guys who have played at a high level and coached at a high level,” Brown said. “From the players’ perspective, it gets hard hearing it from the coach every time. But when you hear it from different guys on the staff that have done it at a high level and that the players respect, it’s like, alright, maybe the coach is right.”

Pitt added another perspective to the staff on Sept. 13, when the program announced Kyle Cieplicki would join as chief of staff. Cieplicki enjoyed a decorated career playing and coaching at the University of Vermont, and joined the Panthers after seven seasons as an associate head coach for the Catamounts.

Cieplicki’s job title is a new position to the expanding staff. When asked about his decision to add a chief of staff on Sept. 30, Capel said Cieplicki will play a pivotal role within the program.

“I’m not big into titles, so the title is what it is, but to just really add someone to help with recruiting,” Capel said. “You know, now you have to recruit your guys all year and your players — like our guys are here 11 months … I felt like, as a program, this was a position we needed to help us, as a coaching staff, to stay organized, to help us with recruiting.”

While Cieplicki’s job will be centered on recruiting, he also brings more than a decade of assistant and associate coaching experience to the staff. Capel said Cieplicki’s knowledge of the game was also a central factor in his decision to add him to the staff.

“To be able to get a guy like Kyle who’s a really, really — I think — brilliant basketball mind who was an integral part of the success they had at Vermont, particularly offensively,” Capel said. “We feel very fortunate to be able to have them.”

Just a month before the season opener, Pitt made one last addition to its staff when it brought in Jake Presutti as the assistant athletic director of scouting on Oct. 6. After a playing career at Syracuse and a seven-year tenure on Marquette’s staff, Presutti noted his network as one of the main factors that led him to Pitt.

“My network of Coach Boeheim, USA Basketball and Steve Wojciechowski has a lot of the same touchpoints as Jeff’s,” Presutti said. “Just the opportunity to come work for him and be a part of his staff is something my family and I couldn’t turn down.”

Presutti’s role within the program is heavily focused on scouting opponents and Pitt itself, while also generally helping out in many different areas of the program. From his experience at Syracuse, Presutti is also able to provide the program with another perspective on what the culture of Pitt basketball truly represents.

“When I was playing in college, Pitt was physically imposing, physically tough,” Presutti said. “You knew it was going to be a battle … and then secondly, you knew playing at Pitt was going to be a tough game due to the environment at the Petersen Events Center.”

He views the overall continuity and level of familiarity within the staff and program as an advantage, and believes having a large number of committed coaches contributes to this advantage.

“I think to get the job done that Jeff wants to do, that he’s articulated to me and the staff, I think you need incredible people around you,” Presutti said. “People that are going to do their jobs at a high level. People that want to get to know the players, bring the best out of the players, and build deep relationships with the players. I think that’s a great advantage with our staff.”

The additions of Presutti, Cieplicki and Brown make up a staff with a deep commitment to the players and to elevating Pitt men’s basketball back to national prominence. In Presutti’s eyes, the task at hand each day is to contribute to that ultimate goal in any way possible.

“My main goal every day is to bring value to Jeff, the staff and the players,” Presutti said. “We want to continue building this program back to where it was. That is the ultimate goal.”