Lack of buy-in has been 'frustrating' for Pitt coach Kevin Stallings
January 23, 2017 2:33 PM
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings gives instructions to his team during the ACC opener Dec. 31 against Norte Dame.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Kevin Stallings was hired as Pitt’s coach in March, he inherited a talented team, one that currently boasts the top two scorers in what’s widely regarded as the best conference in college basketball.
With that, he was also handed a precarious task — how do you get a team spearheaded by four seniors so accustomed to playing a certain way with a certain mindset to change its identity in mere months, especially with the end of their college careers well in sight?
It’s a balance Stallings has tried to manage for much of the season and, apparently, still is.
As the Panthers head into Tuesday night’s matchup against Louisville riding a four-game losing streak that has put a once-promising season in jeopardy, Stallings calmly chided his team Monday. Through 19 games, he has been frustrated with what he perceives to be an incomplete buy-in from his team and has been disappointed in an overall lack of leadership from his older players.
“Right now, my assessment is the only thing it feels like they’ve bought into 100 percent is freedom on offense,” Stallings said. “Well, anybody could buy into that. That’s not a hard thing to buy into. That’s just human nature. Of course I would like to have freedom on offense. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we have to play defensively. I haven’t gotten them to buy into the way we need to communicate, the way we need to support each other, the way we have to fight when adversity hits. I haven’t been able to get them to do a number of other things yet the way they have to be done with what we have, with the makeup of our team in this league. That part has been a little frustrating.”
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, unprompted, on his team: “It feels like the only thing they’ve bought into 100 percent is freedom on offense.” pic.twitter.com/2YKo03FQzj
Pitt’s four seniors — Jamel Artis, Michael Young, Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones — represent four of the team’s five leading scorers and they are accounting for 57.6 of the team’s 79 points per game, with Artis (22 points per game) and Young (21.1) averaging a combined 43.1 points per game. In fact, that quartet account for the top two team representatives in every major per-game statistical category — points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
With all that production, though, Stallings has noticed a lack of vocal assertiveness and overall leadership when it comes to bettering both younger players and the team as a whole.
“I think what I probably overestimated would be the value of that experience and how it would pertain to leadership and how it would pertain to bringing other guys along,” Stallings said. “The successful programs I’ve been in and the teams I’ve had and the programs I’ve had, the older guys helped coach the younger guys because they had been through it. That doesn’t happen too much [here] right now.
“The idea in any program is the older guys — especially if they’re the better ones, which they are in our program right now — reach out to their teammates and help bring those guys along and help make those guys better. That part has been a little bit of a disappointment because there’s not a ton of that that goes on. You talk to guys about being more outward and making guys better. That’s just not in their nature. It’s not how they’ve been used to doing things, apparently.”
Much of that problem, as Stallings sees it, isn’t related to an unwillingness to lead; rather, it ties back to the players’ more mellow, laid-back personalities, ones that weren’t relied upon for guidance in the past as Pitt had established, veteran voices like former point guard James Robinson.
For the more experienced players, it’s an ongoing transition.
“It’s a big adjustment, even if it’s leading by example or doing your role,” Young said. “It’s really hard to individually come with the same energy every day, the same fight, the same will, the same desire every day. It’s hard to do that.”
Stallings’ edict came at an interesting time and not simply because his original comments were unprompted, coming in response to a question about his team too often settling for outside jumpers instead of driving to the basket. His words were, quite likely, intended to send an indirect message to his players just as much as they were to vent frustration with how this season has transpired.
They come at the end of a six-day break between games that served as a period of self-reflection for a team in desperate need of a turnaround after losing five of its past six. In that time, there was no formal team meeting where everyone sat down and talked out their issues, but following a series of subpar practices after the N.C. State loss, according to Jeter, Sunday’s practice featured a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
The frustration of loss after loss has admittedly worn on the Panthers, a burden that stings with just one win in the past 26 days. That, however, doesn’t mean players wholly agree with their coach’s biting assessment.
“If he feels that way, then I guess we as players need to reevaluate,” Jeter said. “He’s probably justified in feeling that way. I guess I understand it. I don’t see it.”
NOTES — Stallings said Monday that he’s guessing Young will have to wear a clear, protective mask for the remainder of the season after fracturing the orbital bone near his right eye in a Jan. 11 loss at Louisville. In his first game with the custom-fitted mask last Tuesday, Young scored a team-high 25 points against N.C. State. Additionally, Stallings said forward Ryan Luther is “weeks away” from returning from a right foot injury that has kept him out the past two games. Luther, a Hampton graduate, is sixth on the team in scoring at 6.6 points per game.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
Pitt: Coming off 79-74 loss last Tuesday at N.C. State. The loss was its fourth in a row and fifth in the past six games. … F Michael Young scored a team-high 25 points on nine of 19 shooting after missing 28 of his 39 shots and averaging 12 points per game in the previous three games. … Lost nine consecutive games against Louisville, including an 85-80 loss on Jan. 11. In that game, G Jamel Artis scored a career-high 43 points.
Louisville: Coming off 73-68 loss last Saturday at Florida State, snapping a four-game win streak. … Its four losses this season have come to teams that are a combined 68-9. … G Quinten Snider (12.1 points, four assists per game) is out with a hip injury. In his place, G Tony Hicks has averaged 12.5 points in two games, including a 16-point showing against Florida State. … Second in Division I in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving up 86.1 points per 100 possessions.
Hidden stat: Artis (22 points per game), Young (21.1) and G Cameron Johnson (11.8) are the second-leading scoring trio in the NCAA with a combined 54.9 points per game.
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