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Pitt’s Stallings talks a different talk

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The naked eye saw Pitt knock off a cupcake in Gardner-Webb Monday night. Your average, run-of-the-mill sacrificial lamb beat down in front of an underwhelming home crowd.

Peel back a few layers and those eyes turned ears would notice a watershed moment in the Pitt basketball program in just the second game of the Kevin Stallings era.

After the 99-81 victory over Gardner-Webb, Stallings articulated just how he felt about what he has seen thus far on the basketball court from his players… and it wasn’t pretty.

“I thought we missed an opportunity to get better tonight,” Stallings said. “I was disappointed in our intensity, concentration and focus. While we did do some nice things offensively, I think if you look at our defensive numbers, our turnover numbers and our foul shot numbers, it is kind of indicative of a team not wired to play, and that’s my fault.”

Stallings wasn’t done.

“I don’t know if I saw significant change in our body language.  I’m still figuring them out,” he said. “I could see if you rag-tag them in practice and give them a little beat down, but that’s not going on here. So we have to see what can be done.”

Frustrated with what he has seen on the court from his starters—particularly the seniors—Stallings made it known from jump by not starting Michael Young, in which he explained later during his press conference as reasoning due to a “minor infraction that was handled in a minor way.”

He then made five-men subs throughout the game, giving bench players Jonathan Milligan, Justice Kithcart and Damon Wilson nearly as much time as starters Jamel Artis (20) and Chris Jones (23).

 “What I said didn’t seem to matter to them, so I need to find a different way to communicate better,” Stallings said referencing a talk he had with the team during a practice leading up to Monday night’s game.

“I’m still learning about this group,” the coach continued.  “I like them, I like them as a group, but I didn’t know if we would have carry-over from what we saw in practice yesterday, but we did. Our body language wasn’t right.”

Stallings even talked about an encounter with a referee during a media timeout in the second half.

“One of the officials came over and he said to me, these guys must really love playing for you. I asked him why he would say that, and he said because they have so much freedom,” Stallings explained. “But if you look at their body language, you would think that they hate playing for me.”

Stallings then went on to talk about future games, including a Thursday night showdown at Madison Square Garden with SMU, simply stating, “We’re not going to be able to beat anybody that is equivalent to us because we don’t play defense with any intensity.”

Whether you agree with a coach calling players out or not, one thing is for certain: transparency is a vibrant shade in the Stallings’ regime.

And Stallings, who is not yet exactly in the college basketball hierarchy as names like Huggins, Pitino and Calipari, certainly has a plan congruent to theirs. That is letting ears, other than those involved with the team, know and hear the frustration, setbacks and issues that are present within the locker room.

This tactic certainly has mixed results, but it comes as a breath of fresh air to Pitt fans who have endured over a decade long of generic, cookie-cutter Jamie Dixon rhetoric that could certainly be recited verbatim by most of Pitt faithful these days.

For 13 years Dixon ran a program that was about as transparent as the Nixon administration, keeping practices closed, most behind-the-scenes anecdotes hush-hush and all players’ doings on a classified need-to-know basis. While that is not an indictment on Dixon’s coaching ability, which is top-tier with success that’s hard to match, but definitely a judgement on the relationship between the basketball program and its fan-base, which seemed almost stagnant more times than not.

This program has been in critical need of a colorful character and they may just have it in Kevin Stallings. The man, for better or for worse tells you how it is, and he doesn’t seem to pull many punches. 

A positive response from the players will be no guarantee, but the change in pace is certainly palpable.

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