GREENSBORO, NC (93.7 The Fan) – He’s been such a big part of the team and then to have to watch in the NCAA Tournament. An MCL sprain limiting him to the sidelines while Guillermo Diaz Graham played 37 minutes in the win over Mississippi State Tuesday.
The Panthers survived thanks to a huge Guillermo block at the end. Federiko would get another chance. Jeff Capel first saying he’s hopeful and then as the Panthers came out for warmups Friday, Federiko was in uniform.
He wouldn’t start, but around seven minutes into the game, Federiko entered to a huge ovation.
“It was amazing,” Federiko told 93.7 The Fan after the game. “Pitt fans are amazing. I felt super-great when I heard my name. While I was biking (loosening up on a stationary bike), people started to yell my name. I felt super-great. I’m speechless.”
“Shout out to Fede,” said senior Nike Sibande. “He came out today and fought. He’s fighting through an injury. That shows his character. He’s a dog. He gave himself to his team and that’s who he is. He’s a selfless guy.”
“He played phenomenal,” said Pitt forward Blake Hinson. “The blocked shots, the talking, his ball screen coverages. He gave us all he had and his energy was contagious.”
The sophomore center who led the team in blocks this season and got votes for the ACC All-Defensive team played 10:44, finished with a rebound, block and a point. But it was more than that according to his head coach.
“The minutes that Federiko gave us were huge, and to be able to get him back and, number one, for him to experience this, to experience March Madness and then to come in and play well, to score in the first half, to block a shot late in the game and just the minutes that he gave us in and the energy he played with was awesome,” Capel said.
“That was great,” Hinson said. “He’s the reason we are here. He deserves that.”
Federiko said his knee felt good after the game, he will get some treatment and expect it to be better for Sunday against Xavier.
Twins big again
With their starting center still limited, the Diaz Graham twins were big again Friday. Guillermo Diaz Graham scored the first five points of the game and finished with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks
“I think confidence, time and opportunity,” Capel said of how Guillermo has stepped up. “He was prepared for it. He was prepared for the opportunity. That’s a big thing for young people to learn. He’s worked his butt off all year, I mean every day. Usually when you do that and you have talent like he does good things happen.”
“I’m super-happy how they stepped up,” Federiko told 93.7 The Fan. “They do this every day in practice, but seeing them do it in a game is just amazing.”
“He’s stepping into those big shoes and filling them up,” Hinson said. “He’s tough, more physical. He had that, the more you practice every day and play in the ACC, you get tougher. He got tougher.”
“G has been amazing,” Sibande said. “He’s got a perfect attitude. He keeps fighting every day, giving us his all. He’s been amazing. He’s a great player. He’s going to continue to grow and be better.”
It’s not just Guillermo, but Jorge Diaz Graham gave Pitt 10 minutes with two points, five rebounds and an assist-more on that next paragraph.
“They love to compete,” Capel said of the twins. “They love the work. They're not afraid of it. They're incredible teammates, and their spirit, their energy, since I've known them, they've always been in a good mood and it's infectious. It's really infected our team.”
That mood, energy and talent was seen late in the game as Guillermo cut back-door and Jorge hit him with a perfect bounce pass and a slam dunk.
“I said it before I'm going to start to play point guard,” Jorge Diaz Graham said. “No (smiling), and that dunk was -- I don't know. It was awesome. Just seeing my brother doing that. And the funny thing is, like, I think it was yesterday in practice he dunked on me and Nate (Sibande) and he was talking trash. So I told him, okay, you want to talk now, but just do it in a game.”
“So he did, and now I have to shut up and say thank you for making my assist.”
The journey continues for this remarkable group.