Pitt basketball team hungry to start fresh
Tuesday marked the official opening of basketball practice for new Pitt coach Jeff Capel, but the process of washing away the past started well before that for senior Jared Wilson-Frame.
All he had to do was walk inside the weight room one day.
“The first day we got back (to school), I saw Malik (Ellison) and Kene (Chukwuka) in the weight room drowning in sweat,” Wilson-Frame said. “I looked at myself and said, ‘I need to get working. This is my last year, new system, new coach.’
“All the things that reminded me of the past, I told myself I had to get rid of that stuff.”
So he sat down and had a long talk with the team’s director of sports performance, Garry Christopher.
No pressure, but it was determined Wilson-Frame should lose some weight. He ended last season at 245 pounds, and he said he started practice Tuesday at 220.
Wilson-Frame said losing weight was far more than just pulling away from the dinner table.
“Diet was definitely something you have to pay attention to. Staying away from certain foods and trying to proportion things right,” he said. “But the most important thing, honestly, I did was just working really, really hard. I can’t say there’s a secret formula for that, just working really, really hard.”
There is a lot Wilson-Frame and his teammates want to lose about last season, starting with some memories.
Pitt lost its last 19 games under former coach Kevin Stallings, who was fired two days after the end of the season. Pitt was winless in the ACC — 18 regular-season games, plus the tournament — and finished 8-24 overall.
Wilson-Frame is reminded of those uncomfortable truths every day when he looks toward the upper deck at Petersen Events Center where logos of every conference team stare back at him.
“When we’re conditioning and guys feel like they don’t want to go any harder or it seems they’re about to give up,” he said, “we all look up there and remind ourselves we can’t put a ‘W’ on not one of those pictures, not even our own.
“It’s almost like an angry feeling, like a chip on your shoulder. That’s something we all as returners push on the freshmen that we take really seriously. Turning this thing around, this whole program, bring it back to the greatness that was involved with this program.”
Capel brought back seven players from last season’s team, plus 6-foot-6 junior guard Malik Ellison, who practiced with the team but sat out games after transferring from St. John’s.
Ellison said he decided to return almost from the first day he met Capel.
“I could really feel his presence,” Elllison said. “He’s a hard-working guy and down to earth. He’s easy to get along with, easy to talk to. He gained my trust in him, and he trusts me as well. We built that chemistry together. We all can feed off his energy.”
Ellison said practices this season “are way more intense.” There’s also “way more attention to detail.”
“We are playing at a faster pace, all drills are fast-paced, moving, constantly, up and down the court,” he said.
Without an experienced frontcourt — 6-foot-10 Terrell Brown, 6-9 Peace Ilegomah and 6-9 Chukwuka were first-year players last season — Pitt’s guard play will be critical.
“We’re going to have to play small,” Ellison said. “A lot of our points are going to be in transition.”
Pitt is a long way from even thinking about the games. The first one is Nov. 6 at The Pete against Youngstown State.
Capel, who tries not to reference last season, said his players understand rebuilding the program can take time.
“They are a group of guys who are hungry to be good, and I think they understand that it’s a process to take the necessary steps to make that happen,” he said. “Going through that process is difficult; it’s challenging; it’s not easy.
“It’s every day having the right attitude, having the right mindset and showing up every day with the goal of trying to get better and not just trying to get through.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact at Jerry at [email protected]