Why Pitt basketball players are like Najee Harris

Jeff Capel’s connecting with this group, what Burton said of the UNC rematch
Najee Harris on the sidelines
Photo credit Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – It’s a small town when it comes to the local sports teams. The coaches know each other, bounce ideas off each other and occasionally you’ll see a coach from one team watching practice of another.

That is where Pitt Head Basketball Coach Jeff Capel realized his team is much like Steelers rookie record-setting tailback Najee Harris.

“I think it was before last season, I went over and watched the Steelers practice,” Capel recalled on Monday. “It was before the season. I was hanging out with Mike (Tomlin). I remember asking him about Najee Harris. (I asked) how is he? He was like he’s really good. He’s going to be really good because he’s never in a hurry.”

“I asked what did you mean by that?”

“He’s never in a hurry to leave here. When he’s there he’s locked in, he’s paying attention, he’s learning. He takes advice, he takes stuff from the older guys. When practice is over with, he’s never in a hurry to leave the building, does extra work. Does extra treatment and film work.”

“That has stuck with me.”

“We have a group of guys who are not in a hurry to get out of here. They want to work. They want to be good. They want to be around each other.”

“After the game the other night, I was up here, did stuff with you guys, went to my office. Hung out for a little bit, ready to go but my son was shooting. I wanted to let him stay out here and shoot, but finally had to wrangle him out. I go downstairs in the locker room to grab something to drink and there were four guys sitting around in there watching TV and talking.”

“That was an hour and a half, two hours after a game.”

“That’s fun, that’s fun being around guys that want to be around each other. You can talk basketball. You can talk off the court stuff. You can talk what is going on in the world.”

Capel said he has players over to the house often. It was one of those times where he had Nelly Cummings and Jamarius Burton as guests. They asked for a tour of the house. What happened next had the Pitt head coach thinking he has something different with this group.

“They start talking to me and my wife about our artwork,” Capel said. “Wanting to know what does this piece say to you? I looked at my wife like ‘what the hell? This has never happened.’

“It was cool to be able to talk and explain and get their opinions on what they see. It’s been fun, that’s why we have to protect what we have and keep being about the right stuff.”

Federiko Federiko vs North Carolina
Photo credit Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina success

Even with a few struggling years, Pitt basketball has won four of the last five against the Tar Heels, including a noon tip December 30th.

“We got to continue to gang rebound, going into their hostile environment,” said guard Jamarius Burton who played in a high school playoff game at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. “Bacot is a strong presence down there, we will have to continue to gang rebound. Then get back in transition, they’re a very dynamic team in an open floor. They have great guards who can do great things with space and opportunity. For us, it comes down to trying to make the game as difficult as possible and executing where we can.”

Burton had a career-high 31 points in the comeback 76-74 victory. Blake Hinson finished with 16 points, seven in the final minute and a half of the game.

Tip Wednesday night at 7p with pregame starting at 6:30 with Bill Hillgrove, Curtis Aiken and Cale Berger on 93.7 The Fan.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports