GREENSBORO, NC – Jeff Capel echoed a line from his old college coach Mike Krzyzewski in the aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 2nd-round NCAA Tournament elimination at the hands of Xavier on Sunday.

The college basketball season is more about the journey than the destination.

And what a journey the Panthers took him on this season.

Twenty-four wins, 2 of them in the NCAA Tournament. ACC Coach of the Year and a ticket off the coaching hot seat. 

They’re accomplishments Capel would love to take a step back and savor. But that’s not how college basketball works these days.

Because the NCAA’s relaxed transfer rules have made the sport so transient, the next journey starts immediately after the last one comes to an end.


“Unfortunately, in the way the job is now, you don’t really get a break. It’s not like it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago in the profession,” Capel said about 15 minutes after the Panthers were eliminated in an 84-73 loss at Greensboro Coliseum. “So you get right back to it. You start to figure it out. … That will probably happen when I get back to the hotel.” 

Capel turned his program’s fortunes around after 4 straight losing seasons while saving his job in the process through the effective use of the transfer portal.

The top 5 scorers on this year’s team all started their careers at other schools with 3 – Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliot III – arriving this season.

Because most of those players will be leaving, Capel figures to be active on the free-agent market again this offseason. In fact, he said that members of his staff  “have already started that process of looking at guys.”

But before he can start recruiting elsewhere, his first task will be re-recruiting the players he already has.

One of them, last season’s leading scorer John Hugley, has already announced his decision to enter the portal. That leaves 5 others – leading scorer Hinson, sophomore center Federiko Federiko, deep reserve Nate Santos and 7-foot brothers Guillermo and Jorge Diaz Graham.

Of that group, the identical twin towers from the Canary Islands are clearly the foundation upon which Capel would like to build for the long-range future.

Both are still raw. But both have made significant progress, especially since the end of the regular season. 

Guillermo has been particularly promising. 

His overall numbers, only 3.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, aren’t Earth shattering. But in the 5 games after moving into the starting lineup in place of injured teammate Federiko for Pitt’s ACC Tournament opener against Georgia Tech, he’s improved those averages to 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots.

That includes an 11-point, 8-round effort in 34 minutes against Xavier.

While Jorge’s progress has been slower, he’s also shown tangible signs of growth. He finished his freshman season by scoring 7 points in Sunday’s loss.

The twins gave a glimpse of what they’re capable of in Friday’s win against Iowa State when Jorge fed Guillermo for a rim-rattling dunk on a perfectly executed give and go.

“That was a blast of energy, coming from my brother especially,” Guillermo said. “I knew it was going to be big-time. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here with him.”

Capel praised the work ethic of both youngsters, saying that they’re “not afraid of the process.”

But he also gave a big assist to the veterans in his program, whose arrival has provided a potential turning point for the Panthers moving forward.

“One of the main things and something that’s been different in our program this year that we’ve not had since I’ve been here is that (the Diaz Grahams) were very lucky and very fortunate to have these four guys,” Capel said, pointing to the quartet of Cummings, Elliott, Jamarius Burton and ACC 6th Man of the Year Nike Sibande.

 “These four guys are really good examples of what a good college basketball player should look like or can look like if you put in the work, if you put in the time, if you are serious about it.”

The contributions of that veteran corps helped put Pittsburgh back onto the college basketball map and in the process led the Panthers on a journey that returned them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Jamie Dixon left for TCU in 2016.

It’s a journey that reached its destination on Sunday.

And a new one has already begun.