GREENSBORO, NC (93.7 The Fan) – You might be able to imagine it now. But think about how far-fetched it would have been when Nelly Cummings was telling people, including the Panthers coaching staff, he wanted to bring the soul back to Pitt basketball.
And damn if he didn’t help do it.
“I tell him after every game, those last two games,” Pitt head coach Jeff Capel told 93.7 The Fan. “I’m really proud of him, our whole team but really our older guys, really our whole team. They believe and their belief leads to everyone else believing at a higher level. From the time I sat in Nelly’s living room with his family. They talked about it. I listened. At the end he told me he wanted to come and to help bring this back.”
“It’s an unbelievable journey being a part of and seeing it happen.”
This 6’ guard from Colgate. How could he be such an impact?
It started in the off-season, Cummings immediate assumed a leadership role. He joined with Jamarius Burton to provide the road to get Pitt where they are.
“Nelly came in and really set the precedent saying ‘we are getting back to the NCAA Tournament,” said Pitt forward Aiden Fisch. “We are going to make some noise. We are bringing this program back and it wasn’t all talk. He instilled some leadership very early.”
It started slow for Cummings, he would even admit he was putting too much pressure on himself. In the first seven games, he shot 32% from the floor, 5-28 from three with 19 turnovers. No coincidence as his game turned around, so did the team. They broke out of it together at Northwestern, 17 points (6-8 FG), six assists and four rebounds. In 10 of the last 12 games Cummings scored in double figures including 21 at North Carolina, a double-double against Syracuse and the leading scorer Friday against Iowa State.
As the Cyclones cut the lead to five and seemed to have the momentum early in the second half. Here comes Cummings, a floater in the lane and a foul for a three-point play. Then late in the shot clock, he hits a three to give Pitt an 11-point lead and the Panthers were back in control. Once again, Cummings stepped up.
“Those were big shots,” Burton said. “It got us going again. We feed of his momentum. He was steering the ship. We are grateful to have him. I know he dreamed of coming back here and doing something like this. We are just happy to be in the moment and continue to advance.”
“That’s not his first key play for us, that was huge,” said forward Blake Hinson. “He is going to continue to make plays for us.”
Cummings said he’s not sure what to call the emotion of playing right now. He’s been here twice before, but it’s the first time his won and it’s the first time he did it for his hometown team. He’s soaked in the fan support and the City getting behind this team. He said he’s glad to bring that feeling back to Pittsburgh.
“We've had something to prove since the preseason ranked us 14th our conference,” Cummings said. “We've had a chip on our shoulder the first time we seen that. Dayton was just another example of us having to put a chip on our shoulder again. We're definitely looking forward to proving more.”
“I’m excited, but we have to prepare for Sunday. We want to keep going with this.”