Brandin Knight expected to get first interview for Pitt men's basketball coaching vacancy
March 24, 2016 6:08 PM
Then-Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, left, and assistant coach Brandin Knight watch as the Panthers face Duquesne in December at Consol Energy Center.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The search for the next Pitt men’s basketball coach has heated up, and formal interviews for the position are expected to begin soon.
The first coach to get interviewed is expected to be Jamie Dixon’s lead assistant, Brandin Knight, who was endorsed for the job by Dixon and is the favorite of players and former players.
Although a long shot, Knight is, according to a source, not just getting a courtesy interview. The source said Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes seriously will consider Knight for the position.
Knight played at Pitt from 1999-2003 and is one of the best players in school history, helping lead the Panthers to two Sweet 16 appearances. His No. 20 jersey hangs from the rafters at the Petersen Events Center. He started as Pitt’s video coordinator for the 2006-07 season, was director of basketball operations the next season and promoted to full-time assistant in 2008.
One other coach that Pitt has some interest in, according to sources, is North Carolina-Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts. On the surface, he would seem to be an excellent candidate given his background and resume. He is considered an excellent recruiter and has been named the Colonial Athletic Association’s coach of the year each of the past two years. He is a native of Lynchburg, Va., and has strong ties to the state, which is in the footprint of the ACC and a region where Pitt needs to recruit more heavily.
But like other schools that might be interested in Keatts, there is some risk involved for Pitt because he was the top assistant at Louisville from 2011-14. Louisville self-imposed a postseason ban for this season due to a scandal involving alleged parties for prospects that included prostitutes and strippers being paid for by a graduate assistant.
Keatts hasn’t been implicated in those alleged incidents, and he also wasn’t mentioned in the book that sparked the NCAA investigation. But until the NCAA concludes its investigation, releases its findings and officially clears him of any wrong doing, it might be hard for any school to hire him. That’s why Keatts is a long shot and might not get an interview.
In other news, Barnes showed his hand about what — aside from hiring a basketball coach — is on his mind, and that is improving fundraising.
To that end, Thursday he announced the hiring of Julio Freire, who spent the past two years as the athletic director at Tennessee-Martin. Before that he served as senior associate athletic director from 2010-13 at UNLV, with an emphasis on fundraising and tickets and internal operations.
His official job title includes fundraising, ticket sales, marketing, branding, multimedia rights, licensing and merchandising, but his area of strength is fundraising.
Barnes, whose reputation as an aggressive fundraiser at Utah State was in part why Pitt hired him, made it clear from day one that this was an area in which he believed the university was a sleeping giant.
“Julio brings a fresh perspective as well as a tremendous work ethic to Pitt [a]thletics,” Barnes said in a statement. “He will provide key leadership as we continue our departmental reorganization. In addition to overseeing our external functions, Julio will have a particular focus on our athletic development operations. His overall experience and passion for collegiate athletics will be a great asset for our entire department.”
According to the news release, major fundraising gifts to UT Martin athletics increased by 300 percent during Freire’s tenure, while corporate sponsorships jumped 200 percent.
He also spearheaded an ambitious renovation plan for UT Martin’s football home, Hardy Graham Stadium, with a four-story, 20,000-square foot building that includes locker rooms, a club level, media facilities and classrooms.
“I’m incredibly honored to join Scott Barnes’ team at the University of Pittsburgh,” Freire said in a statement. “So many exciting things are happening at Pitt, not only athletically but throughout the entire university. It is a great time to be a Panther, and I’m thrilled and appreciative my family has been given this opportunity.”
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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