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Pitt great Clancy: Size doesn’t matter when it comes to rebounding | TribLIVE.com
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Pitt great Clancy: Size doesn’t matter when it comes to rebounding

Jerry DiPaola
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
NC State’s Torin Dorn pulls a rebound from Pitt’s Au’Diese Toney in the second half Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 at Petersen Events Center.

Sam Clancy played in 116 games at Pitt, which leaves him 20 short of standing among the school’s top 10 players in that category.

He stands 6-foot-7, but nearly four decades later, he remembers vividly how often there were taller players on the floor.

“Every game,” he said.

But no one in Pitt history has claimed more rebounds than Clancy’s 1,342 in the four seasons between 1977-81. Even the great Charles Smith, who played in six more games and was 3 inches taller, grabbed only 987.

Which brings us to Pitt coach Jeff Capel’s desperate search for players who have what he calls “a nose for the ball.”

Pitt is next-to-last in the 15-team ACC in rebounds allowed (902). In the past two games that Pitt lost by a total of five points, Wake Forest and N.C. State seized 38 offensive rebounds and scored 25 second-chance points. Maybe one more player with the “nose” Capel seeks would have made a difference.

“We have one guy, (6-6 freshman) Au’Diese Toney, is a guy who has that,” Capel said. “That’s not something that we have.

“We have to recruit guys like that. That’s not a knock. That’s just the reality. We don’t have guys that naturally, instinctively have that.”

Capel said rebounding is not merely a matter of being tall.

“If you look at some of the best rebounders in history, they were guys who necessarily weren’t the biggest guys,” he said. “But they pursued the ball. They had a nose for the ball. They were active. They had energy. It was just really, really difficult to block them out.

“Those are the guys who have been elite rebounders throughout basketball, whether it’s high school, college or the pros.”

A look at the top rebounders in college basketball since 1986 verifies what Capel said.

Of the top 10 rebounders in that period, five were smaller than 6-9, including Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried, who had 1,673 from 2008-11.

Clancy, who had a powerful body that allowed him to play defensive line in the NFL and USFL for 12 seasons, said successful rebounding was a matter of reading the path of the ball and — perhaps most important — having the right mindset.

“I know myself, personally, every time I saw a ball go up, I never thought there was ball I couldn’t get,” said Clancy, who is coordinator of Pitt’s Varsity Letter Club. “I had a decent vertical that I thought I could outjump any 7-footer or any 6-11 guy.

“I used my athleticism, used my knack to where I thought the ball was going to come off the rim and then try to be the first one to go and get it.

“Sometimes, in today’s game, you see a guy standing around. We boxed out. Everytime the ball went up when I played, there was a body on somebody. We didn’t stand and watch the ball fall at our feet. Nobody did, or (coach Tim) Grgurich would have kicked our butts. I’m sure our (current Pitt players) are taught that.”

Clancy said he learned the game playing against older players on the cement playgrounds of the Hill District.

“I tried to jump over backs. I tried to jump through guys,” he said.

“I never backed down from a big guy who was bigger than me. I always thought I was a better athlete than him. I didn’t win every battle, but I like to say I won most of them.

“As I look at today’s generation, some teams, it seems like a lost art. I’m still hollering, ‘Box out, box out.’ ”

Clancy said he hopes to see his record broken some day, but of the top 10 rebounders in Pitt history only No. 7 Michael Young and No. 10 Talib Zanna played their careers in this century. He said Jerome Lane (No. 3 with 970) and DeJuan Blair, who played only two seasons, would have broken the record if they stayed four years.

“If you get a guy here, if he’s a pretty decent scorer and he’s grabbing the ball to rebound,” Clancy said, “more than likely, he might be leaving a little early (for the NBA), too.

“I’m perfectly fine with that. If we can get a guy who is one-and-done, or two-and-done, then he’s elevated our program, and it’s helped coach Capel to get the next guy.”

Note: Capel said he doesn’t know if Malik Ellison, who missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, can play Tuesday at Boston College. “He wasn’t able to do much in practice (Sunday),” the coach said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.