Pitt point guard Levance Fields had heard how the Oakland Zoo treated opposing players during his first two seasons with the Panthers. Pitt's relentless student cheering section researches information about players' personal lives and rides them mercilessly throughout a game.
So when Pitt ventured out of the friendly confines of Petersen Events Center for the first time earlier this month with back-to-back road games at Duquesne and Washington, Fields was subjected to opposing teams' fans for the first time since his arrest in September, when he was subdued with a taser gun by a security guard outside a Strip District nightclub.
Chants of "taser" and "stun gun" were constants throughout the games against the Dukes and Huskies. Athletes often say they can't hear what the crowd is saying, but Fields heard them loud and clear.
"It's funny, but I try to hold it in," said Fields, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior. "I don't want to let them know I'm laughing about it. You never want to be in that situation. You'd rather just be booed. But it is what it is. I can't change anything. I can't do anything about it. I know crowds are going to do that, so I'm prepared for it. It doesn't bother me. I just try to get the win. If we do that, at the end of the day, they can chant whatever they want."
Pitt has done nothing but win this season and Fields is a big reason why the No. 11 Panthers remain undefeated. Fields made the winning shot Thursday night against Duke, a fade-away 3-pointer with four seconds remaining that gave his team a 65-64 overtime victory against the No. 6 Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden in New York.
- Who: Pitt (11-0) vs. Dayton (10-1).
- When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio.
- TV: ESPN2.
That capped a three-game stretch in which Fields averaged 19.3 points per game and made 21 of his 32 shots from the field. More than ever, Fields' worth to the team is crystal clear. He is indispensable.
Fields is mostly somber when discussing the incident in September that came dangerously close to putting his season in jeopardy. He does not want to portray his personal situation as funny, only the manner in which the opposing fans ride him about it. He knows he put himself and his team in peril Sept. 15, when he exited Pure Nightclub and had a confrontation with an off-duty police officer.
Fields is well aware that he put himself in a dangerous situation. Since his arrest, a few reports surfaced about the dangers of taser guns. A few people have died as a result of being shocked by them.
"I know it is serious," Fields said. "I just remember falling down. I had never felt anything like that before. It was just sudden impact."
Fields was suspended from team activities for two weeks until his case was resolved in the courts. He was placed in an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for alcohol offenders and must complete 50 hours of community service. If he completes his nine-month probationary period without any brushes with the law, the simple assault charge will be expunged from his record.
Fields was not allowed to work out with the team in late September and early October, but he was allowed to use Pitt's facilities to keep in shape. Fields would show up at Petersen Events Center at 10 or 10:30 each night of his suspension and work out on his own.
"I didn't want to get depressed, sit around and start eating," Fields said. "I worked hard during the summer to drop a lot of pounds. I didn't want to lose focus in the two weeks I was out. I kept coming up here at night and working out. I kept eating well. I knew my teammates would be better. They held it together. And when I got back it was like I never left."
Many expected Pitt to take a step back this season after losing three starters, including All-America center Aaron Gray to the NBA. But Fields is one of the major players in what is shaping up as another superb season for the Panthers.
Fields has picked up where he left off last season, when he was arguably Pitt's best player. Through 11 games, he is averaging 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, with 62 assists and 21 turnovers.
But there is more to basketball this season for Fields. In his free time, he is volunteering and fulfilling his community service. He could have waited until after the season and crammed in the hours all at once.
But when he is not playing games in front of packed arenas and in front of national television audiences, Fields can be found at the Downtown YMCA working with children. In a few weeks, he hopes to begin doing some volunteer work at a local church.
Pitt senior Ronald Ramon, who has played alongside Fields the past three seasons, said he has noticed change in his backcourt mate.
"Once that happened to him he kind of stepped back and was like, 'Things could happen,' " Ramon said. "He learned from the mistake and moved on."
It has been more than three months since the incident, one that Fields describes as "the night I wish never happened."
As he gets ready for the second half of the season and another run to the NCAA tournament, a more mature Fields has a different perspective on life and college athletics.
"I've always been very thankful about being a student-athlete," he said. "I never took anything for granted. But it's definitely a little more this year just because of the situation. It was tough to go through. It was hard.
"But I have a good background. I have a good group of teammates. The school, the administration, my parents, my family ... they got me through it. They stuck behind me. Now I'm just trying to pay them back by doing the right thing."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.