Pitt Panthers Basketball: 5 Best Players in Team History
The University of Pittsburgh’s men’s basketball team has been playing ball for 107 seasons now, so it’s not the easiest task to single out the five best players in the program’s history.
Pitt has had an uptick in recent years of players making it to the National Basketball Association with names like Aaron Gray, DeJuan Blair and Steven Adams being more recognizable to the modern fan. But that doesn’t mean the program’s history isn’t stacked with less-familiar names that had incredibly productive careers at the university, names like Don Hennon, Charles Smith and Billy Knight.
This list isn’t intended to measure the best Pitt players who went on to the NBA, nor is it intended to rate the most prolific scorers in the program’s history. Rather, it’s intended to highlight the best all-around players who called Pitt home and played their best basketball there.
The list will show that, while Pitt basketball might not have the storied history of other college programs, some of the best players in the program’s history rank among the finest college basketball players ever.
Let's start first with the honorable mentions, three players who had tremendous careers at Pitt but didn't quite make the cut.
Sean Miller, 1987-1992
Current college basketball fans probably recognize Miller as the coach of the Arizona Wildcats without realizing he had an incredibly productive career at Pitt.
The Western Pennsylvania native isn’t known as being a prolific scorer, only racking up 1,282 career points at Pitt. However, he is known as being the best three-point shooter in the program’s history and one of the best free-throw shooters of all time. In fact, his .885 free-throw percentage still ranks as the 10th best all time in Division I history.
Julius Page, 2000-2004
Page came into the program right around the time Ben Howland started turning Pitt back into a national powerhouse, and he helped lead the charge back to annual respectability for the Panthers.
A rare four-year starter, Page is highly regarded as one of the best defenders ever at Pitt and a player who would serve as a model for the defensive-minded scheme the team has become known for. That’s not to say he couldn’t score. Page currently ranks in the top 15 in scoring in Pitt history with 1,512 points and still holds the school records for minutes played in a career with 4,398 and games started with 136.
Page finished his career at Pitt with a record of 107-30, one of the most prolific winners in the school’s history.
Ricardo Greer, 1997-2001
Unfortunately for Greer, he played his ball at Pitt at the tail-end of the dark years of the 1990s, just before the team skyrocketed back to success under Howland. However, Greer still had himself a tremendous career at Pitt made even more impressive by the lack of talent around him.
A member of the Dominican Republic national team in addition to his time spent at Pitt, Greer scored 1,753 points during his college career, the seventh-highest scorer in school history. He also compiled 35 career double-doubles in college, which ranks as the fifth-most in team history.
For icing on the cake, Greer is one of only four players in Pitt history to score 1,000 points, grab 600 rebounds and dish out 200 assists in his career.
5. Brandin Knight, 1999-2003
It was mentioned earlier that coach Ben Howland brought the program back to national respectability during the turn of the century, and Knight was right there with him.
He is regarded as one of the best point guards ever to lead the team on the floor, finishing his career with school records by compiling 785 assists and 282 steals. His 6.2 assists per game are also a school record, as are the 91 consecutive games in which he registered an assist.
Knight scored 1,440 points during his tenure, good for 16th in school history. He is only one of four Pitt players to ever have his jersey retired by the school and now currently serves as an assistant coach under Jamie Dixon.
4. Jerome Lane, 1985-1988
Jerome Lane is almost certainly best remembered by sports fans as the man who shattered the backboard with a dunk during a game against Providence in 1988. The play is the definition of highlight-reel material and is often remembered as one of the more memorable plays in college basketball history, complete with Bill Raftery's call of “Send it in, Jerome!”
What is lesser known about Lane is that he's perhaps the best rebounder in Pitt history. He's one of only two players in school history to have two consecutive seasons averaging more than 12 rebounds per game, and he's one of only four players to record at least 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 200 assists.
Those numbers are even more impressive when considering that Lane only played three seasons at Pitt before being selected by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 1988 NBA draft.
He was drafted as the 23rd pick and played five seasons in the NBA.
3. Billy Knight, 1971-1974
This local kid from Braddock, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, also only played three years at Pitt before shuffling off to the NBA, but he made the most of his time.
Knight averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game during his entire tenure at Pitt and finished with 1,731 points, good for ninth best in team history. He also averaged 22.2 points per game in his career.
Knight is another one of the four players to have his jersey retired by the school, and he helped lead Pitt to a school-record 22 straight wins in the 1973-74 season. The team reached the Elite Eight that season, a feat it wouldn't again accomplish until 2009.
He spent 11 seasons in the NBA and is still the third-highest career points leader for the Indiana Pacers. He also served as general manager of the Atlanta Hawks but stepped down in 2008.
2. Don Hennon, 1956-1959
Perhaps the best shooter and scorer in Pitt history, Don Hennon is the fourth leading scorer in team history despite playing in an era where freshmen weren't allowed to play. He finished with 1,841 career points in only three seasons, and his 24.2 points per game are still a school record.
Hennon's record of scoring 45 points in a single game still stands, while he has three 40-point career games on his record. His jersey was the first to be retired in school history, done right after his career ended in 1959.
He was drafted into the NBA but turned down the chance to play professionally, instead deciding to study medicine at Pitt. He graduated in 1963 and went on to a long career as a surgeon.
1. Charles Smith, 1984-1988
If Hennon was the team's best scorer, there's no question that Charles Smith was Pitt's best all-around player ever.
Smith started every game during his four-year career, setting school records in points with 2,045 and blocks with 346. He holds a record at the school for once going 53 straight games with at least one block while also becoming one of two players ever to exceed the 2,000-point mark.
He has an assortment of school records to his name, including most free throws made with 628, most double-digit scoring games with 106 and seven blocked shots in one game.
He became the first player in Pitt history to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, going as the third overall pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. He went on to have a productive 10-year career in the NBA.
The team didn't wait until his career was over to retire his jersey. Instead, school officials did so before his final home game at Fitzgerald Field House on March 2, 1988.