Although he would soon get revenge against Georgia Tech, Sheldon Jeter left the Petersen Events Center defeated by the Yellow Jackets Monday night in January.
Jeter, a forward on the men’s basketball team, hadn’t played a secret game against Pitt’s ACC foes. Instead, his loss came from the sidelines, as Jeter serves as the head coach of Pitt basketball’s manager team.
“[The manager’s team] had a couple embarrassing games,” Jeter said. “We had a tough loss here against Georgia Tech, and everybody had to look in the mirror and really see what was going on.”
The night before Pitt basketball games, Jeter and the team managers switch positions. The managers take the court, while Jeter coaches from the bench.
In recent years, it’s become increasingly common for opposing teams’ managers to face off in glorified pickup basketball games before the official teams’ matchup. But having a coach for such games is unusual. Caleb Gilbride, a manager and sophomore at Pitt, said he’s yet to come across another squad that has an official coach.
Jeter only began serving as head coach of the squad this season, but merited consideration for the gig after proving his dedication to the team last season. When his teammates went out on weekends last season, Jeter often worked out at Petersen and watched the manager games after.
Before this season, Gilbride and John Wallace, another manager and a junior at Pitt, batted around the idea of asking a player to coach the team.
“I was like, ‘It’s a manager’s game — why not add a little more officialness to it?’” Gilbride said.
Given that Jeter was the only player who consistently attended the manager’s games, the choice was obvious.
“This year Caleb just came to me and said, ‘You should be the coach of the team.’ I was like, ‘I guess you’ve got a point there,’” Jeter said.
In all arenas, Jeter said he takes coaching more seriously than his teammates, going all in during Pitt’s youth basketball events in the summer.
“Some of us will just stand around. That’s not me, I’m actually like jumping up, yelling, running up and down the court with them,” Jeter said.
The team doesn’t hold practices, and the games are less tactical than a college contest. While they are still competitive, the games are much more improvisational and less reliant on play calls and schemes.
So Jeter acts as self-described energizer. He compares himself to Jackie Moon, a fictional and eccentric character and player-coach played by Will Ferrell in the movie “Semi-Pro.”
“Some coaches are very strategic. I’m more of a motivator. I’m more like the cheerleader,” Jeter said.
Wallace recounts a variety of speeches Jeter has given the team before or during games. Against presumably lesser competition, Jeter reassures the managers that they’re on the superior team.
“There’s been games where we saw the competition, and it didn’t seem like it was going to be a tough win for us. So Sheldon was more motivation, like, ‘Listen guys, I know you got this win, just go out there and take care of business,’” Wallace said.
But when Jeter sees his team loafing due to long periods of play, he’ll call a timeout and try to center the team’s attention.
“He’ll say, ‘Hey listen, we need to focus in, we need to take care of business, we need to get our heads in the game and we need to go out and play good, solid Pitt basketball,’” Wallace said.
Because of the laid-back nature of the manager games, Jeter doesn’t impart a lot of strategy, but he still gives added perspective. Wallace said Jeter calls out mismatches and shares general ideas, such as driving gaps or playing high-low offense.
“[Jeter provides] not specific plays, but good overall basketball advice directing the court in specific situations,” Wallace said. “He’s kind of that guiding force from the side just to maintain our poise and to play within the rhythm of the game.”
Jeter also manages the rotation, subbing from a team of usually seven or eight managers, Gilbride said.
Similar to Jeter’s head coach, Jamie Dixon, he’ll often preach defense. Against Virginia Tech, the managers surrendered numerous 3-pointers before halftime, much to the dismay of Jeter, which he made clear at the break.
“He was getting all up in our face because of our lack of closing out. Our perimeter defense was terrible,” Gilbride said.
For the time being, Jeter said Cameron Johnson, a guard on the Pitt basketball team, is the lone assistant coach on his staff, occasionally gracing the sideline. Before Johnson, guard and forward Chris Jones held the position, but the team “fired” him for not attending the first game after the managers named him to the staff.
The managers’ team is 4-2 thus far, ranking 37th among 122 teams, according to KPI Sports, a site which compiles a ranking based on each team’s resumé.
Though he’s focused on playing basketball currently, Jeter said he could see himself coaching the sport when his playing career is over.
“I want to do something with basketball, and coaching would be a good step,” Jeter said. “I’ve had a couple people tell me I would make a good coach.”
Jeter intends to coach the managers again next season, hoping to end his college career with a coaching championship.
Though there’s no official prize for the victor, Gilbride has plans for the potential occasion.
“I always joke around that if we win a title we’ll get a ring pop instead of an actual ring,’” Gilbride said.