Pitt's Sheldon Jeter dunks the ball in Pittsburgh Basketball Club Summer Pro/Am League action June 30.
By Hayes Gardner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Four months ago, Sheldon Jeter stood in a junior-college gym in Florida, filming the Polk State College basketball team's Suncoast Conference games. Four months from now he'll be in front of the camera, on the court as a player for Pitt.
Right now, he's playing at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am, dominating and demonstrating why he was a coveted transfer for coach Jamie Dixon's squad.
Jeter's path started at Beaver Falls High School, where he was named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's player of the year and to the all-state first team as a senior in 2012. He caught Dixon's eye, but Pitt wasn't able to offer him a spot.
"At the time we just didn't have a scholarship, [but] knew he was going to be a good player," Dixon said last week.
It might not have mattered even if the Panthers had one.
"I hated Pitt," Jeter said. "I just never liked them. I was a Connecticut fan."
But for the following year, he was a Vanderbilt fan. Jeter, a 6-foot-8 forward, decided to become a Commodore -- but not for long.
At Vanderbilt, Jeter quickly realized he and his teammates had different goals. "Key players," he said, didn't share his aspirations.
"Our ideologies as far as where the team should've been headed and where we should've been striving for were polar opposites. ... I just wanted to win a national championship," he said.
Jeter wanted to transfer closer to home -- hopefully to Pitt, where he didn't want to go out of high school. But it wasn't that easy. According to Jeter's father, Carliss, there was a post on the Internet that Jeter was headed to Pitt before Jeter made up his mind. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings wasn't happy Jeter's decision had been made public before Stallings was told about it. Stallings refused to release Jeter from his scholarship.
"I was truly upset," Carliss Jeter, a Beaver Falls assistant coach, said, calling the situation a "misunderstanding."
The Jeters were unsure what to do. That's when Carliss spoke with a longtime friend of his, Matt Furjanic, A former Robert Morris coach and current coach at Polk State in Lakeland, Fla. Sheldon's cousin, Lance Jeter, played for Furjanic at Polk from 2007-09 and Furjanic and Carliss Jeter became good friends.
"When Carliss and I talked about Sheldon's options, I'm the one that brought it up [and said] why doesn't Sheldon come down here?" Furjanic said by telephone Wednesday.
Two of Sheldon's cousins, Brock VanLier, a sophomore guard, and Ramone Shepard, an assistant coach, were involved with the Polk program. It seemed like the place for Jeter.
"That was the reason we sent Sheldon down there, because we knew Coach Furjanic was good," Carliss Jeter said. "He'd been good to my family from the beginning."
But Sheldon Jeter would not play for Polk, lest he use a year of eligibility. He became a practice player extraordinaire. Not only did he help make the practice squad better than the starters, he performed other duties.
"During games he would keep score," Furjanic said. "He'd film a couple of games. We had him doing a little bit of everything. He might have even [run] the shot clock some game."
Jeter was a gym rat, hitting the weight room hard in Florida, but he missed playing.
"The competitiveness, after a while, it wears off when [Polk is] playing games and I'm just sitting up there filming," he said.
That year, he went through the recruiting process again. He hoped his future school would be near home so his family easily could travel to watch him play, but he needed a team that could contend for a national title.
"That's all I worried about," Jeter said. "I didn't care about the type of exposure we got, I didn't care about the type of publicity we got. All I cared about was winning a championship."
He considered Cincinnati and Georgetown before deciding on Pitt. Panthers forward and Duquesne native Michael Young, who bonded with Jeter when they were AAU teammates, urged him to choose Pitt.
Jeter said: "When he heard I was transferring, [Young] was calling me [and saying], 'When you coming up to Pitt? When you coming up to Pitt?' "
When Pitt started team workouts recently, it was the first time Jeter, who turns 20 this month, had worked out with a Division I team in 15 months. The period gave him some time to develop.
"I mean he's grown, as we thought he would. He's gotten stronger, as we hoped he would," Dixon said. "He's 225 [pounds] now and he was about 205 in high school. And he's put on 2 inches."
It's hard to tell what Jeter is happier with -- being home, or returning to the court.
"It feels great," he said. "Finally getting to work out with Division I coaches again, getting to work out with a team again, it's great. It's fantastic to finally be back here. ... Overall, I'm just happy to be back, happy to be playing again."
His happiness shows on the court at the Pro-Am, with league games at Montour High School. Jeter stood out in each of his first four games -- all wins -- improving in each one. He's averaging 23 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
After one Pro-Am game, when Jeter scored 26 points, including three 3-pointers and four dunks, he held a young relative in his arms.
"Was I playing basketball?" Jeter playfully asked the boy.
For the first time in a long time, the answer was yes.
Hayes Gardner: email@example.com and Twitter @HayesGardner.
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