New-look basketball roster looks to make noise in ACC in 2022-23 season


Image via Pitt Athletics

Pitt first year forward Guillermo Diaz Graham (25) practices shooting.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Coming into the offseason following a disappointing 2021-22 season for Pitt basketball (11-21 overall, 6-14 ACC), head coach Jeff Capel and the rest of the Panthers’ staff needed to assemble a competitive roster. With eight scholarship spots up for grabs, Capel changed the team’s makeup and brought in a group of players that has reignited optimism and interest around the program. 

Pitt made an early splash when it lured graduate student guard Nelly Cummings, a western Pennsylvania native, to the program as a transfer. Cummings opened his collegiate career at Bowling Green before transferring to Colgate, where he spent the last three years as a star point guard and helped lead the Raiders to two consecutive tournament berths. 

He will assume more of a scoring role than a playmaking one in the Panther offense, as he averaged 14.7 points and 12.5 field goal attempts per game as opposed to 3.4 assists last season. Despite not being a traditional point guard, Cummings will bring added experience to the backcourt, joining veteran graduate student Jamarius Burton and redshirt senior Nike Sibande. 

Graduate student guard Greg Elliott, a transfer from Marquette, also joined the Panthers this offseason. Elliott spent four seasons as a Golden Eagle, where he shot 41% from three and 44.8% from the field over 114 games. He profiles as a consistent rotation option for Pitt, where he will operate primarily as a dangerous catch-and-shoot option on the wing. Elliott’s ability to hit shots from outside will also be a welcome development for a team that finished bottom three in the conference in three-point percentage at 31.4%. 

Incoming first-year guard Dior Johnson committed to the Panthers in mid-June and instantly became one of the highest-rated recruits in program history. People have raised questions about Johnson’s past, but there is no doubting his pure talent. 

Once rated the No. 4 prospect in his recruiting class, Johnson possesses a lethal offensive skill set that includes his ability to shoot, finish at the rim and overall feel within the game. He also has all of the tools to make him a nightmare on the defensive end and as a playmaker. 

He will join a group of guards that is among the best in the ACC, and Johnson is the type of ceiling raiser that Pitt desperately needs as it looks to ascend into contention. 

Junior forward Blake Hinson will bring several years of SEC experience and versatility to the Panthers’ lineup come November. He spent the first two seasons of his career at Ole Miss in 2018-19 and 2019-20, where he averaged 9.1 points per game on 40% shooting from the field over 60 games. He then went on to transfer to Iowa State but never played a game, missing the 2020-21 campaign before leaving the program prior to the 2021-22 season.

The fact that Hinson hasn’t played in over two years makes his potential impact more ambiguous, but the talent and overall profile is there. He built up a reputation as a reliable scorer and shooter while at Ole Miss, and his 6-foot-7-inch frame gives him flexibility in his game on both ends of the floor. Hinson will have to come in and prove himself, but that prior success and size off the wing makes him a frontrunner for serious minutes right away. 

The first of two junior college transfers the Panthers received this offseason was sophomore big man Fede Federiko. Coming over from Northern Oklahoma College, Federiko brings a blend of size and athleticism that makes him an intriguing developmental prospect in the frontcourt. 

Measuring in at 6 foot 11, Federiko has the potential to be a force as a rim protector and rebounder as his offensive game progresses. Playing time may be hard to come by in his first year, but three years of eligibility gives Federiko time to hone his skills and work closely with the staff to reach his ceiling.

The second junior college transfer is redshirt sophomore guard Cashius McNeilly, who was a teammate of Federiko’s at Northern Oklahoma. McNeilly averaged 10 points per game on the season while shooting 45.1% from the field and 43.6% from three before committing to Maryland. After a coaching change, he decommitted and eventually wound up at Pitt.

He brings shooting prowess and length to a stacked backcourt, but may also struggle to earn consistent playing time as a result. Much like Federiko, though, McNeilly has three years of eligibility and can afford to take his time to develop and not rush things along in 2022-23.

Perhaps the most intriguing additions to Pitt’s roster are first-year twins Jorge and Guillermo Diaz Graham. Rated as three-star prospects, the two big men hail from the Spanish Canary Islands. With both measuring in at 6 foot 11, the brothers could see immediate roles in the rotation due to the need for size in the frontcourt and on the wing. 

Jorge projects as a stretch forward that will operate as a shooter that can develop into a consistent playmaker. Guillermo is a versatile threat for the Panthers, with good range from deep as well as flashing potential as a passer. Both need to fill in their frame in order to truly hold their own at the ACC level, but for the time being their size and raw talent should suffice. 

With the returning talent in tow and the incoming class providing a mixture of experience and upside, the Panthers have afforded themselves a chance to be competitive in ACC play next season.