A year ago on senior day at Petersen Events Center, Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee were honored before the regular-season finale against Villanova. Afterward, the sellout crowd was treated to a Big East Conference trophy presentation at center court after the Panthers topped the Wildcats to earn the school's sixth conference championship.
It doesn't get much better for a senior class than hoisting a trophy after the final home game of your career.
When seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson are honored before a game Sunday against South Florida, it will be a much different atmosphere. The Panthers, losers of 11 of the past 15, are close to completing a deeply disappointing season.
"It's going to be a lot different," Gibbs said. "But at the same time, we'll be celebrating four years. There are still a lot of memories we have even though this season has been rough. The past three years were great for me. It's something I can definitely cherish being here at Pitt."
Gibbs was thoughtful Friday when recounting his career accomplishments. He said he was moved as a freshman when Sam Young spoke to the team before senior day ceremonies. He said he has carried Young's words with him since as motivation.
"I was a big Sam Young fan," he said. "No one really knows how much of a Sam Young fan I was. I never said it. He said, 'People who work hard will succeed, and the ones who don't will fall short.' That always stuck in my head. I'm a big fan of quotes. When I heard that, it's always something that stuck with me. It was my motivation for the final three years here."
Despite a subpar senior season by his standards, Gibbs will finish his career with his name etched in the school record books.
A three-year starter, Gibbs surpassed Carl Krauser to become the school's No. 10 all-time leading scorer Thursday night against West Virginia. Gibbs has 1,648 points and could climb as high as No. 7 on the list by the end of the season.
Gibbs will go down as one of the top shooters to wear a Pitt uniform. He set school records for most 3-pointers made and attempted. His 49 percent shooting from 3-point range is the second-best mark in school history for a single season.
"It means a lot," Gibbs said of his individual accolades. "Being at Pitt with a big-time tradition here and a lot of great players, it shows a lot about my work ethic. I think I earned it. Coming in my freshman year, I wasn't thinking about starting or being an all-Big East player. It's definitely something I worked for. Through time, I kept getting better and better, and it showed on the court."
The team accomplishments are just as impressive. Gibbs and Robinson need one more victory to become the eighth senior class in school history to win 100 games.
Their other accomplishments:
• They helped the Panthers reach three NCAA tournaments.
• They were on two teams that earned No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
• They won 25 games or more in three consecutive seasons.
• They are 10-1 against teams ranked in the top 10, including an 8-0 record in such games at home.
Gibbs has a special affinity for the 2008-09 team that advanced to the Elite Eight. Gibbs was a freshman role player but spoke glowingly of that team's character. Young, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs were seniors, and Big East player of the year DeJuan Blair was a sophomore playing his final season before turning professional.
"Freshman year overall was a great experience," he said. "It's something I'll always remember. Just the different types of personalities we had. Levance was just a different type of character. Sam had his own personality. Biggs was a funny guy. Everyone had their own personality, but we all liked each other, and we all came together as one."
There were high hopes for this team before the season. Ranked No. 11 in The Associated Press poll before the season started, the Panthers were one of the preseason favorites to win another conference title.
They have fallen well short of those expectations. They are in 14th place in the conference standings today and likely need to win five games in five days at the Big East tournament in three weeks to extend the NCAA tournament streak to 11 consecutive seasons.
Gibbs has a favorite quote he references a lot. "No struggle, no reward."
In this season that has brought one disappointment after another, he tries to draw strength and perspective from those words.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason," he said. "There's definitely a purpose for a season like this. It's something we have to live with, and we have to keep moving forward. "We have to use it as motivation."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.