Ron Cook: Worst of days for Pitt sports


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What's next for Pitt?

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announcing that he's leaving for the same job at Penn State?

After the surreal events over a 24-hour period beginning Monday night, would it shock you?

Pitt men's basketball became the school's latest program to take a major hit when it announced Tuesday night that 7-foot center Steven Adams is declaring for the NBA draft and will leave college after just one season. The news came as a big surprise, unlike the announcement earlier in the day that junior guard Trey Zeigler is transferring after one season. Adams had said all season that he loved Pitt and would be back for his sophomore year. That's what all the kids say, right? But coach Jamie Dixon also had been adamant that Adams was coming back. He spoke just as definitely about that in the days after Pitt's loss to Wichita State in its first NCAA tournament game as he did about his own decision to stay at Pitt. So much for the best plans.

The news about Adams came almost 24 hours after Pitt announced it had fired women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato after 10 seasons. This would be a much bigger deal if anyone cared about Pitt women's basketball. It certainly wasn't a surprise. Pitt failed to win a Big East Conference game in each of the past two seasons.

Pitt football took the biggest blow when star running back Rushel Shell made the decision Monday night that he is transferring after just one season. Pitt sold Shell's recruitment out of Hopewell High School as a major victory for its program, which has been mostly irrelevant for more than 30 years. To say that his departure isn't crippling to Pitt is disingenuous and inaccurate.

Good thing Nordenberg almost certainly isn't going anywhere. He's a terrific academic administrator. He's also a true, loyal friend to his athletic department. The Pitt programs are going to need his guidance through this difficult time.

Men's basketball will be fine. It's not as if Dixon didn't know there was a chance he could lose Adams. The kid is unusually mobile and athletic for his size. He's got good feet. He's a good defender and shot-blocker. There's also that 7-foot business. NBA teams covet that kind of size. They can't coach it. They seldom turn it down when it comes their way. One team will draft Adams, perhaps late in the first round. If that happens, he will be guaranteed a lot of money, perhaps more than $1 million. It's hard to advise a young guy he shouldn't take it, especially if he doesn't come from much and has family obligations. So it is with Adams and his family in New Zealand.

All of that doesn't mean Adams is ready for the NBA. He is not. His offensive game was weak all season. It wasn't until the loss to Wichita State that he played his best game with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Another year at Pitt would have helped his game and probably improved his credentials for the 2014 NBA draft.

What's unfortunate for Pitt is that it didn't get the boost out of Adams that it expected. It went 12-6 in the Big East in the regular season and finished in fourth place but lost its first game to Syracuse in the conference tournament. Then, it was one-and-done again in the NCAA tournament with the loss to Wichita State. Losing Adams wouldn't hurt nearly so much if he had led Pitt to the Final Four this weekend. Instead, Syracuse and Wichita State will be in Atlanta with Louisville and Michigan.

The complaints about Dixon and the Pitt program after the Wichita State loss were understandable. Dixon hasn't taken a team to the Final Four and just one to the Round of Eight despite getting Pitt to the NCAA tournament in nine of his 10 seasons as coach. But most schools would be delighted to have Pitt's problems with their basketball program. Dixon is a strong coach. Pitt men's basketball will continue to thrive even without Adams.

If you need to worry about a Pitt program, worry about the football program.

Pitt hasn't lost fewer than three games in any season since 1981. There hasn't been much buzz about the program for years. That changed a bit in February when the Atlantic Coast Conference -- Pitt's new league, beginning next fall -- announced Pitt's first conference game will be Labor Day night against Florida State at Heinz Field. But, sadly for Pitt, the good vibes from that were trumped by Shell's departure. He was going to be the Panthers' best offensive player next season, their featured running back in their pro-style offense. Now he's gone to the West Coast, if the speculation is true. He is leaving the area despite having two young twin daughters.

Reasons for Shell's transfer are unclear, so all we can do is speculate. Chances are his immaturity contributed to it. He was suspended for his first game -- and new coach Paul Chryst's first game -- last season for a violation of team rules. Pitt was beaten by Youngstown State, 31-17, one of its worst losses in school history. Shell came back to rush for 641 yards and four touchdowns over the next 12 games, providing much hope for next season.

But maybe Shell has continued to be a problem for Chryst. If Chryst encouraged him to leave for the long-term well-being of Pitt's program, good for Chryst. No player can be bigger than the team. If Shell couldn't handle Chryst's discipline, shame on him. Good luck to him with his next coach.

But the Pitt program in the short term? There's no way to put a positive spin on Shell's transfer. Pitt's first season in the ACC almost feels as if it will be a waste before it even starts.

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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