The Biggest Problem for Pitt Basketball Is Not Talent, Recruiting, or Coaching

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

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I grew up in the 90’s.  My first Pitt basketball memories are Ontario Lett towering over opposing players and Donatas Zavackas taking his shoes off in the middle of a game.  I was 10 years old by the time Jamie Dixon took over as head coach and many great memories followed his hiring. 

I was in attendance when DeJuan Blair wrestled Hasheem Thabeet to the floor to gain possession of a loose ball.  I vividly remember Levance Fields’ step back 3-pointer at MSG to beat Duke and Ronald Ramon’s buzzer-beater against West Virginia.  My brother and I still get a kick out of John DeGroat getting to start as a senior, but getting taken out after the very first media timeout every single game.  I also became a Fort Minor fan after the Big East tournament featured several of his songs during each commercial break on one of Pitt’s championship runs. 

One of the oldest photos in my phone is of me sitting in a seat, about ten or so rows from the court.  I was in the University of Dayton’s arena before Pitt took on Oklahoma State in the 2nd round of the 2009 NCAA tournament.  That same tournament where Pitt would later give up a last second layup to Scottie Reynolds in the Elite Eight.

I was also there when Pitt beat UConn to complete the home court season sweep.  They had successfully won every game at the Petersen Events Center for the entire span of the 2008-09 season.  At that point, the number of losses at “the Pete” was barely above double digits.

I loved Pitt basketball growing up.  This love for Pitt basketball led to a love of college basketball.  I would vigilantly follow the Top 25 rankings and watch games involving those teams ahead of Pitt in the rankings, even if they weren’t playing the Panthers.  I dreamed of one day being a member of the Oakland Zoo, the best student section in the nation for a decade.  I had a passion for Pitt basketball.

However, I now sadly must admit something.  Not only have I failed to watch a full Pitt basketball game yet this season, but I only watched one or two last season.  Last night, I had no idea Pitt played Monmouth, or played at all.  When Twitter started mentioning the impending loss for the Panthers, I can’t say I particularly cared.  I wasn’t going to change the channel for this Pitt basketball team. 

Therein lies the biggest problem with the current Pitt basketball program.  It is not the losses that are piling up or the recruits that keep leaving through the transfer portal.  The biggest problem is total apathy from the fans.  The Pitt basketball program has lost so many fans over the last several seasons to apathy.  Games are no longer watched nor attended, and the team is barely even talked about. 

I used to be able to name the entire Pitt roster, including the team GPA boosters who only got minutes when Pitt was blowing out a team like Monmouth.  Now, I’m sad to admit I cannot even name all the starters.  I know John Hugley, but I pronounced it Hug-ley instead of Hugh-gley for quite some time because that is how little I have paid attention.

Kevin Stallings and Jeff Capel have failed to deliver a good team in years, and the result of that isn’t anger or disappointment as much as a lack of awareness of the program.  When Julius Page randomly walked up to the basketball courts in Scott Township Park five or six years ago, my friends and I were giddy to have the opportunity to play ball with one of our childhood heroes.  I called both my brother and father about it on my drive home, and told anyone else who would listen.  Now, a member of the Pitt basketball roster could show up at my doorstep and I’m not sure I would recognize any of them without a jersey on with their name on the back. 

It’s a shame and I miss great college basketball in Pittsburgh.  I miss the Top 25 rankings and the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.  I miss the Oakland Zoo.  I miss my Dad and I feeling like a Pitt basketball game was worth our time to attend.  I miss caring about Pitt Basketball.  

Instead, I am apathetic toward the program and that is the worst feeling a fan can have.  It is also a problem that will take several good seasons for the program to overcome.  If Pitt does not become relevant soon, they will continue on this downward path and continue to lose fans, like me, that were so passionate for so many years.