Ones that got away: Pitt transfers thriving in post-Panther days


AP Photo/Matt York

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson dunks as San Antonio Spurs forward Doug McDermott (17) looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game Jan. 30 in Phoenix.

By Zack Gibney, Senior Staff Writer

At some point during Saturday night’s contest against Virginia Tech, it would’ve been easy for the average Pitt men’s basketball fan to reminisce about what could have been. The Panthers surrendered 14 consecutive field goals in a first half that made the Hokies look like Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 1990s.

Despite their lack of success in the past decade or so, there hasn’t been a lack of talent on the floor of the Pete. Several top-shelf college players and future NBA players have actually been relatively easy to come by. But alas, most of these players’ successes have come after their departure from Pitt.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember a few of “the ones that got away” and what they’re up to in their post-Pitt lives.

Cameron Johnson

It’s impossible to talk about players who left Pitt without mentioning Moon Township native and former Kevin Stallings-era guard Cameron Johnson. Standing at 6-foot-9 with a knack for shooting beyond the arc, Johnson was the kind of high-ceiling player that could have been a star at Pitt.

Johnson played sparingly in his first two seasons in Oakland, but started all 33 games in his third. Johnson played well, averaging just under 12 points per game, but there was a sense that he was capable of more.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they had to watch from a distance as Johnson evolved into the NBA-level player that he has become while on another team.

Johnson stayed in-conference, transferring to North Carolina — the defending national champion — prior to the 2017-18 season. Under head coach Roy Williams, Johnson continued to improve and eventually blossomed into one of the best players in the nation. After starting 20 games for the Tar Heels during his first season in powder blue, Johnson became an integral part of one of the country’s premier teams.

Johnson averaged 16.9 points per game in his final season with North Carolina prior to being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns.

The ex-Panther played a key role in getting the Suns to the NBA Finals last year and is now one of the more promising young players in the NBA.

Marcus Carr

Carr transferred from Pitt after just one season with the program in 2017-18. The move came after Pitt cut ties with Kevin Stallings who led the Panthers to an infamous 0-18 mark in ACC play. The program lacked direction and leadership, so Carr chose to abandon ship and make the move to Minnesota.

After taking a redshirt season upon transferring, Carr quickly became a fixture at the point for Minnesota in the 2019-20 season and continued to elevate his game. The shifty guard averaged nearly 20 points per game in 2020-21, turning into a full-fledged star in his second season with the Golden Gophers.

Carr has taken a step back since transferring to Texas prior to the 2021-22 season, but still serves a vital role in the top-25 Longhorns’ lineup and will likely play professionally after his final season.

Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson

This is a two-for-one because it’s extremely difficult to tell the story of one without mentioning 

the other.

Toney and Johnson along with now-Toronto Raptor Justin Champagnie led last season’s Pitt squad to an extremely promising start, and inspired belief that Capel’s “brick-by-brick” approach was finally beginning to yield on-court results. Pitt’s “big three” of Toney, Johnson and Champagnie averaged a combined 46.6 points per game, and things were looking up for a Pitt program that had been stuck in neutral.

The pinnacle was ultimately short-lived.

Both Johnson and Toney suddenly entered the transfer portal after the team had gone cold. Regardless of what may or may not have transpired between the players and program, both were gone. After Champagnie’s departure for the NBA Draft, Pitt was left scrambling for answers with its three top scorers departing.

Toney moved on to Arkansas while Johnson headed to Indiana, and both continue to contribute heavily to their respective teams. Johnson has started in every game for the Hoosiers while Toney is shooting nearly 60% from the field on a strong Razorbacks squad.