Welp, this should be… something.
After Jamel Artis put the team on his back and nearly dragged them to an improbable comeback two weeks ago, you can bet Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has his team zeroed in on making sure Artis is defended at all times. Very likely with some double-teams and trying to trap as much as possible.
In theory, this should open things up for other Pitt players on the court to have opportunities with open looks and open drives to the basket. Whether that translates to points is anyone’s guess.
Of course, the game takes on a secondary feel after yesterday.
In the media availability session yesterday, Coach Kevin Stallings set the tone by talking about the team’s struggle to be willing to play defense and a lack of leadership. You can watch the videos of interviews on the game notes page.
I’m not saying all of it was laid at the feet of the seniors. But most of it was.
“I haven’t got them to buy into the way we have to play defensively,” Stallings said. “I haven’t got them to buy into the way we need to communicate, the way we need to support each other, the way we have to fight when adversity hits.”
Stallings conceded Pitt is restricted by its lack of depth, especially with top sub Ryan Luther (foot) still “weeks away” from returning. But the team does have the perceived advantage of four senior starters. Young, Jeter, Jamel Artis and Chris Jones came into this season with a combined total of 400 career games played.
“These seniors have some things they are comfortable with, but if there is any deviation, the comfort leaves,” Stallings said. “Even though it might not be the best way to attack a particular defense, I have to be mindful of putting these guys in situations that they are more comfortable in, rather than being more strategic.”
So, their comfortable with all the freedom on offense, but not so much when actually asked to do something on defense. Promising.
Senior Sheldon Jeter admitted he “checked out a little bit” in frustration during two practices after Pitt’s loss to N.C. State last week.
Senior Michael Young, a four-year starter, talked about the difficulty of setting an example for younger teammates.
Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?
The issue, at least as far as Stallings sees it, is that the seniors don’t want to lead.
“I think what I probably overestimated would be the value of that experience and how it would pertain to leadership and how it would pertain to bringing other guys along,” Stallings said. “The successful programs I’ve been in and the teams I’ve had and the programs I’ve had, the older guys helped coach the younger guys because they had been through it. That doesn’t happen too much [here] right now.
“The idea in any program is the older guys — especially if they’re the better ones, which they are in our program right now — reach out to their teammates and help bring those guys along and help make those guys better. That part has been a little bit of a disappointment because there’s not a ton of that that goes on. You talk to guys about being more outward and making guys better. That’s just not in their nature. It’s not how they’ve been used to doing things, apparently.”
Much of that problem, as Stallings sees it, isn’t related to an unwillingness to lead; rather, it ties back to the players’ more mellow, laid-back personalities, ones that weren’t relied upon for guidance in the past as Pitt had established, veteran voices such as former point guard James Robinson.
Sheldon Jeter felt that was a little harsh, but admitted that they are missing someone to take charge.
Jeter, who said he understands Stallings’ feelings but doesn’t see that same leadership void, noted the adjustment to life without Robinson, a four-year starter, has been problematic at times.
“It was a difficult transition,” Jeter said. “Some of us are outward as far as giving energy to the team. Some of us are inward as far as … I don’t want to say worrying about themselves, but their energy is directed more inward. James was always an outward person. He was the one that would get us in huddles and do stuff like that. In some ways, we do miss that leadership, but at the same time, I think there’s still leadership on this team.”
I just can’t wait until someone tries to blame the lack of leadership on the team this year on James Robinson. “See, Robinson was too in charge. He ran things and no one else was given a chance…”
Jeter and Jamel Artis know what to say. They give honest, well-thought out answers when interviewed. Yet, neither seems to take charge of the team in the game. Mike Young, openly admits his leadership effort is by example.
“It’s really hard, individually, to come with the same energy, every day, the same fight, the same will, the same desire every day,” [Young] said. “(Leadership) is moreso being coachable. For me, it’s moreso just about being a guy the coaches want me to be.”
Jeter said leadership isn’t totally lacking.
“If he (Stallings) feels that way, as players we need to re-evaluate,” Jeter said. “He’s probably justified in feeling that way. I guess I understand it. I don’t see it.”
I have to assume some of this is calculated by Stallings to get the players fired up and focused for tonight. That in the practices for the past week, he’s seen a team that may be on the verge of totally checking out on the season. Letting the adversity, injuries and losses have them give up now.
We’ll see whether it worked. Not even in terms of winning or losing. But whether there is effort across the board. If not, undermanned or not. I wouldn’t be surprised if some players find themselves in diminished roles regardless of being better than the players behind them.