There’s no question that Pittsburgh Basketball has been through a brutal patch in the past 24 hours. The hope for the program was that after struggling in the frontcourt for the past few years, that things would take a turn for the better, with a pair of stars to lead the way in Efton Reid and Justin Champagnie.
Reid is a five-star prospect in the 2021 recruiting class and one of the best available big men this offseason. His recruitment has been quiet and full of unknowns, with a list of teams being involved not even named throughout. However, the Panthers have been a program clearly involved throughout.
Coach Jeff Capel has been looking to land his first (and keep) a five-star recruit for Pittsburgh and after having to wait over a month since a previous postponed announcement, looked on the verge of getting big news this past weekend.
But after another delay and simply pure confusion, Reid decided to play for Will Wade and the LSU Tigers. It’s huge for the SEC team that was reloading this offseason but brutal for Pittsburgh and a coaching staff that has been building this relationship for a couple of years.
The next blow for the program came just a few hours later where on Monday, star forward Justin Champagnie elected to stay in the 2021 NBA Draft. The All-ACC player led the team this past season with 18.0 ppg and 11.6 rpg and had back-to-back 20-point and 20-rebound games. Had he came back, the junior would’ve been a preseason ACC Player of the Year and All-American candidate.
With Champagnie gone though, Pittsburgh is left without a frontcourt and without much hope for the upcoming season. Including outgoing transfers Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson, that makes the top three scorers from this past season and the lone double-digit contributors for a team that still finished towards in the bottom four of the conference standings.
But credit to the coaching staff for having some positive news to share right after Champagnie leaving, landing top-tier Junior College prospect Chris Payton. The 6’7 forward from Indian Hills averaged 12.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, and a couple of blocked shots a game. He’s an impressive athlete and two-way player that adds immediate depth in the currently shallow frontcourt for the Panthers.
Payton will have three years of eligibility remaining thanks to the extra year given by the NCAA and for Pitt fans, hopes to be the first of several future commitments to bolster the roster for the 2021-22 season. Right now, Pittsburgh Basketball is filled with players with potential but without proven productivity at the ACC level. Payton has the potential to become a focal point of the frontcourt on day one if his skills can translate. Though that may take time.
Look for Pittsburgh to continue scouring the transfer portal for an experienced big man to start at the center position. There aren’t too many that are proven ACC-caliber left but if Coach Capel can land a big fish, the Panthers’ hopes may not be doomed in 2022 after all.