Hands-On Capel Making Impression on Players

New Pitt coach active as official practices begin

Josh Rowntree
September 25, 2018 - 5:40 pm
Pitt basketball coach Jeff Capel at practice in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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As Pitt basketball went through its first official practice of the 2018-2019 season, it became clear that the overall mood is different than a year ago. And Jeff Capel is the reason.

Capel, hired in March to replace Kevin Stallings after an 8-24 season that included an 0-18 mark in the ACC, has brought a hands-on approach to practices.

“I am pretty involved, I think,” Capel said. “I don’t know how involved, I’m just involved. We have a lot of teaching to do and our guys are very eager and willing listeners and learners. But we have a lot of teaching to do and that’s exciting to me.”

Capel was an active participant in most practice drills. It was something that has caught the eye of his players. 

“I like that,” said redshirt-junior Malik Ellison. “He’s a younger guy, a younger coach. So he’s able to get out there and move with us as well and demonstrate different things. So I just think having an active coach, we all can just feed off his energy, look in more and see what he’s talking about.”

“It’s really fun, to be honest, just because he brings so much energy,” senior Jared Wilson-Frame added. “I think that’s the most enjoyable part about it, he’s always enthusiastic, always going hard.

“That’s what you see all the time now, guys are screaming and flexing all the time. [The coaching staff] have that same energy themselves. So it pushes us to go a little harder every day, when you see your leader being like that every day.”

Capel admitted that he does not spend much time talking about last year’s dismal season, but did admit that there’s a lot to improve on based on what he saw from that squad.

“We want to play a little bit faster than they did last year,” he said. “Defensively, we want to be better than the statistics were last year.”

Keeping a player like Ellison will be key to that. He missed all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules. In the 2016-2017 season, he scored 7.4 points per game at St. John’s. For a player who never saw the court with Pitt, it could be understandable that he may have chosen to leave during a coaching change. 

“Coach Capel was the main thing,” he said about deciding to remain with Pitt. “When he first got here, I could really feel his presence. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s also very genuine and down-to-earth. It’s easy to get along with him, easy to talk to him.”

Along with Ellison, Wilson-Frame is back and has trimmed down after leading Pitt with 13 points per game. He estimates that he lost nearly 25 pounds in the offseason. It’s one of several examples of players going the extra mile for Capel.

“They’re a group of guys that are hungry to be good,” Capel said. “I think they understand that it’s a process in order to take the necessary steps to make that happen. 

“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 it. This group has done that and I’m not surprised by that as I’ve gotten to know them.”

The 0-18 record in the conference is clearly a sour mark for the team. They feel that they are better than that. But the results are the results. Now, a young team, with nine underclassmen, will have to quickly grow up if Pitt hopes to get back to the prestige the program once had. 

“It’s almost like an angry thing, a chip on your shoulder,” Wilson-Frame said. “It’s something that we all, as returners, need to push on the freshmen that we take really seriously. Turning this thing around, this whole program, and bringing back the greatness that was involved with this program.”

Wilson-Frame then looked up at the numerous Big East and NCAA Tournament banners hanging above the Petersen Events Center.

“It’s one thing Capel always talks about. We’ve got to bring that back.”

Hear more from Jeff Capel below.