Jeff Capel Calls It A 'Positive' First Season At Pitt

'There's hope and belief again in what this program can become'

The Fan Morning Show
March 15, 2019 - 10:50 am
Jeff Capel talks to his team

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan)- Jeff Capel wrapped up his first regular season and ACC Tournament as the head coach of the Pitt Panthers with Wednesday's 73-59 loss to Syracuse after an 80-70 win over Boston College in the opening round of the conference tournament. 

Pitt finishes the year 14-19 overall with a 3-15 ACC record. 

Capel joined The Fan Morning Show Friday and detailed how there was much accomplished this season.

"I think it's positive for where we are as a program right now," said Capel. "I thought we made big strides as a program. I think one of the main things is that we gave hope. There's hope, there's belief again into what this program can become."

"I think that's a testament to how hard our guys played all season, how we fought most of the games [and] as we got to conference week, we were in them, we had a chance. But, we have to greatly improve our talent."    

"It's not something that's going to happen overnight. But I thought we took some big-time, positive steps in going in the right direction. [We're] teaching our guys how to play hard, understanding the investment that it takes to be really good. Winning is hard. I think sometimes when you've had success like this program had over an extended period of time you take it for granted and you think it's easy." 

Speaking of conference week, Capel said that the win over Boston College was huge for the team because it was a win in the postseason, despite it not being in the NCAA Tournament. Capel felt his team played three good quarters in the tournament, the entire game against BC and the first half against Syracuse in the next round. 

Capel will lose his only senior Jared Wilson-Frame after the season and appreciated how Wilson-Frame bought in from the moment Capel arrived. He told of his brutally honest words to him and how Wilson-Frame embraced them.

"One of the things my dad always taught me was that if you truly love someone and care about someone there are two things you'll always do: you believe in them and you always tell them the truth. That's the sign of any great relationship, but relationships take time to build and you constantly have to work on them," said Capel. "Right away, I was very honest with my assessment with him and his game and what I thought of it from afar. I shared what I thought and I shared the changes I thought he needed to make."

"Right away he could have been like, 'screw this guy he doesn't know me' because I was honest in my assessment and it could have come off as critical. That assessment was that, just from afar, I thought he was selfish. I thought he was a very ineffecient player. All he did was shoot. It looked like he was a great teammate, these were my observations. [I said] if you decide to stay, and I knew right away he was staying, you have to change. As I got to know him, I would point out different things in his game that I thought he could do."

"Right away he got in better shape, I mean he committed to that right away. He understood like any good player, and this is the sign of a good player, you have to change. No matter if you're really good, you're constantly seeking out ways to get better and I thought he had an outstanding senior season." 

Finally, Capel added to the legend of Dick Groat as he told of his days looking up at Groat's retired jersey in the rafters at Duke and his interactions with him personally. 

"When I was at Duke (in 2014) we came up to Pitt to play and that was the first time I met him. It was like meeting this mythological character because of all the stories I heard about what a great athlete he was. This two-sport athlete that was a Hall of Famer in both of them, in baseball and in basketball and he couldn't have been more friendly."

When Capel came up to The Pete with Duke last year, Groat told him something that they laughed about at first, but turned out to be prophetic. 

"He pulled me aside and he said to me, 'You're going to be the next head coach at Pitt.'  I just kind of laughed it off because I obviously wasn't even thinking about anything like that at the time. We shared a laugh when I actually got the job and I came up here for the press conference and I made mention of him when I looked out and I saw him, I didn't know he was going to be there. He pulled me aside a little bit later and he told me, 'I told you this was going to happen.'"

Related: Dick Groat's 40 Years Of Broadcasting Pitt Basketball Has Come To An End

"So, he's a giant. He's a giant here in the community, here in Pittsburgh. He's a giant at Duke. More than just a great athlete he's an unbelievable man that's giving, that's caring and just first class in every sense of the word."                         

You can listen to the entire interview with Jeff Capel on The Fan Morning Show below.     

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