Forty years ago, this team truly was the "Pittsburgh" Panthers; however, to those of us who are not old enough to appreciate the glory days of the 20th century, it feels like four hundred.
The 1973-74 Panthers made the Elite Eight with a team consisting chiefly of WPIAL and City League players, including Braddock legend Billy Knight and Quaker Valley alumnus Mickey Martin. Their top six players, all from the area, were immortalized in a Sports Illustrated photo atop Mount Washington (see page 60).
You'd have to go back to former Schenley star and current Dallas Maverick DeJuan Blair to pinpoint the last time Pitt welcomed a hometown player who was good, let alone great. Five years isn't ancient history, but Blair was an outlier, not the norm, for this program under Jamie Dixon.
Currently, the closest thing Pitt has is Phoenix transplant Mike Lecak, who spent some time in Pittsburgh as a kid and walked onto the Panthers after opening his collegiate career at Wheeling Jesuit University of NCAA Division II.
On the road map of college basketball recruiting, nobody will ever confuse suburban Pennsylvania with, say, rural Indiana, but, in recent years, the WPIAL has improved its stead. It has improved so much, in fact, that Pitt will welcome not one but two local players next season—and, barring unforeseen developments, a third will be on the way later.
Former Beaver Falls swingman Sheldon Jeter (pictured here) will be eligible next season after transferring from Vanderbilt and sitting out the 2013-14 campaign. Jeter (6'8", 225 lbs) played mostly off the bench for the Commodores, averaging 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in his lone season.
Previously, he led BF to the WPIAL Class AA championship as a senior as well as a berth in the state final, and he was named the consensus WPIAL Player of the Year for the 2011-12 season. He grew stronger as he got older, and he also grew more coachable as he got older. He can run the floor, and his range is satisfactory.
Ryan Luther, the top scorer in Hampton history, will join the Panthers after leading his Talbots to three consecutive trips to the WPIAL finals. Luther (6'9", 215 lbs), a PIAA Class AAAA all-state selection, ranked third in the WPIAL with 21.3 points per game as a senior. He, like Jeter, can stick the three and give the Panthers more toughness inside.
Meanwhile, we don't have a crystal ball handy, so let's assume that Lincoln Park class of 2016 shooting guard Maverick Rowan honors the verbal commitment he made to Pitt as a freshman. If so, he could become the most significant homegrown talent on the team since Blair.
Rowan (6'5", 180 lbs), one of Pennsylvania's players of the year, scored a game-high 37 points, including four key foul shots, to push the Leopards to their first PIAA Class A crown on March 21.
Pitt has lacked players who can completely take over games, which has haunted them one postseason after another. Rowan, who is ranked No. 14 nationally by Panther Digest, could be that man, and he could also help Dixon silence those who say he doesn't get the most out of potential superstars.
Pitt returns its starting backcourt and forward Michael Young. Beyond that, how easily can Jeter and Luther climb a depth chart that includes semi-regulars Durand Johnson and Jamel Artis and Nigerian prospect Joseph Uchebo? The career paths of these newcomers could affect the future of the program, to say nothing of its recruiting base.