Pittsburgh Basketball improving roster with pair of key transfer pickups

The transfer portal can be a two-way street for many college hoops programs. Teams can land players and at the same time, lose some as well in a given offseason. But for teams such as Pittsburgh Basketball, the portal has been taking from them more than given up until this week.

The Panthers had lost five players to the transfer portal this offseason, including key starters Au’Diese Toney and Xavier Johnson before the end of the year. A few other role players leaving and the status of both Justin Champagnie (NBA Draft) and John Hugley (suspension) left the team with a number of available spots to fill this offseason.

The good news for Pittsburgh is that they’re over 1,000 transfers out there. The bad news has several parts though. One, most of them aren’t good enough to play and get minutes in the ACC. Two, those who are good enough, haven’t been very interested in joining a rebuilding program such as the Panthers. That leaves a specific number of targets for them to realistically get but they’ve missed out on the likes of Jarrod West (Louisville) and Joel Soriano (St. John’s).

As things were starting to get worrisome for the fanbase, head coach Jeff Capel was able to snag a pair of transfers this offseason. The first came on Monday in Daniel Oladapo, a 6’7 forward that averaged 12.9 ppg and 8.8 rpg on 57% shooting from the field. He comes from the Oakland Grizzlies and was an All-Horizon League player.

Oladapo is an undersized power forward but is a physical and impressive rebounder, ranking third nationally in offensive rebounding (114 total), and having 10 games of at least 10 rebounds. That includes a 25-point and 20-rebound effort in double-overtime against Robert Morris. He reached double figures in 16 of the final 18 games of the season and can score inside the arc at a consistent clip.

Another pickup for the program can just 24 hours later, landing former Texas Tech and Wichita State point guard Jamarius Burton. He averaged just 4.3 ppg last season but it’s important to note that the backcourt for the Red Raiders was loaded and Burton was going to redshirt before the NCAA gave out a blanket waiver for everyone this past season. He had to play behind Mac McClung, Kevin McCullar, and Kyler Edwards as lead ball-handlers but the Panthers are looking for the sophomore version of Burton.

Two seasons ago, the 6’4 guard averaged 10.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 3.4 apg in 27 minutes and 24 starts for the Shockers. He shot 44% from the field and 38% from deep in limited range but is also a quality defender that can play and guard all three perimeter positions.

Neither Burton nor Olapado is going to break Twitter with their moves to Pittsburgh Basketball. One is coming off a year of not producing much, while the other has questions as to whether or not he’s an ACC-caliber player. But these two give the Panthers something they haven’t had since the first year of the Kevin Stallings tenure… depth.

Despite having a near All-American in Champagnie and two All-ACC caliber players in Johnson and Toney, Pittsburgh’s lack of depth, especially in the frontcourt proved to be a problem in league play. Oladapo can play both forward and center and right now can be penciled in as a starter. If Champagnie comes back and the team lands a real center with size, the former Oakland forward can be a key player off the bench and get plenty of minutes.

As for Burton, he showed at Wichita State that he can be a starter as well at point guard. At the bare minimum, he’ll get 20-25 minutes as either a starter or sixth man for Pittsburgh. He’s another ball-handler on the roster alongside Femi Odukale, who came on at the end of the season as the starting point guard after Johnson left. Both players can play on and off the ball so it’s a great match, while Ithiel Horton or Nike Sibande being the other key guards in the upcoming projected rotations.

As of now, Pittsburgh has a projected rotation that includes Odukale, Sibande, Horton, and Burton on the perimeter, along with Oladapo, and likely Champagnie in the frontcourt. Some key underclassmen to watch include Noah Collier, William Jeffress, and incoming 6’7 freshman wing Nate Santos.

Assuming that Champagnie does indeed return, the center position will be what to watch in the next few weeks. Five-star Efton Reid is still available after delaying his decision last week but with some big new names now getting involved, it’s becoming less likely that he ends up a Panther. Hugley may or may not return but the team will be targeting another center anyways after missing out on Soriano.

If we assume that Pittsburgh native and star UMass center Tre Mitchell isn’t a real target, the program will be focusing heavily on landing someone capable of playing well at the ACC level. If he can be an upgrade over Terrell Brown and give Pittsburgh something offensively, that can be a real game-changer for next season.

No matter what happens in the transfer portal this offseason, the biggest pending news for Pittsburgh Basketball will involved the NBA Draft decision for Champagnie. The recent pickups of Burton and Oladapo won’t make up for the offensive production that Johnson and Toney had but these are the types of gritty players that will help the program succeed in the ACC. And if they lead to more wins and potentially a spot in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, it won’t matter how much noise these announcements made on the national radar this week.

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