PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – After a dismal 2018 season, it’s time for the Pitt men’s basketball program to begin rebuilding.
The first step was hiring new head coach Jeff Capel III. He came to Pittsburgh after spending the last few years as associate head coach at Duke, his alma mater. But, he landed at Pitt in the midst of troubled times.
“I don’t know what it felt like to be 0-19. I don’t know what it felt like to have a coaching change. I don’t know that experience,” said Capel recently at the Petersen Events Center. “They went through a difficult year last year. I didn’t experience that with them. I have empathy for them, but I don’t feel like they did because I didn’t experience that.”
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But, Capel says he is here now and ready to work. He sees great possibility for the future of the program.
“You have to lay a foundation. That’s the first thing. Anything that’s built, that’s sustainable, always has an incredible, solid foundation and you can’t skip steps,” he said.
But, building a foundation also means building a team when most eligible players have committed elsewhere by now. That’s a fact not lost on the coach.
“As far as recruiting goes, it is tough. You want to bring guys, I want to bring guys in that have value, that can actually help us,” he said.
Capel has been around basketball his entire life. His father, Jeff Capel Jr. was a legend. He coached high school, college and professional basketball. He coached in the ACC and the NBA.
“I never felt the pressure of being my dad’s son. It was an honor every day, because first and foremost all he ever wanted to be was our dad. He never tried to be our coach,” said Capel. “When I was little, I loved basketball because he loved it and I wanted to be like my dad.”
Capel says the combination of Pitt’s chancellor and athletic director were the tipping point in selecting Pitt, in spite of the record he was walking into.
“When you take over a program that’s down, but it’s a program that’s used to winning like this program, they may give you a grace period, but you better figure it out. The fact that it was down a little bit was enticing because it gives me the chance to build it exactly the way I want. Brick by brick. Laying the foundation and building something that’s my own,” he said.
Coach Capel is already adjusting to life in our city. He’s been to his first Pens game, a playoff game no less.
“The energy in the building, the pride in the Pens, getting back-to-back Cups and hopefully a three-peat this year. It was truly amazing and a lot of fun,” he said.
Even Capel acknowledges basketball runs in his veins, but he is a die-hard Steelers fan and has been for years.
“I was a big Kordell Stewart fan. I liked the whole ‘Slash’ thing. I was a big Bill Cowher dan, Jerome Bettis fan and Hines Ward. I just became entrenched in that. It got into my blood,” he said.
He has never been to an NFL game and added, ”I guess I waited for the best at Heinz Field.”
Capel didn’t initially see himself as a coach, but watching his father over the years, he started to view coaching as a way to give back.
“Obviously, my dad was always my biggest role model and my grandfather. But, Coach Thompson, big John Thompson, tremendous role model for me because all of a sudden I’m seeing a guy at a big time level, on the sidelines winning championships,” he said.
As far as the giving back, Coach Capel believes it’s about more than just winning.
“I’m about helping these young kids that we have become men. The game teaches that. I am very proud to be a black man and I understand the responsibility that comes with that. I don’t take that lightly. I see it as a badge of honor because I am in a position to help other African-Americans, especially African-American men.”