Marvel Villains in the ACC by Jan Redmond

Can Jeff Capel take Pitt to the top of the ACC?

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When it comes to super hero movies this year wasn’t a first in regards to the number of movies we saw released. We got the usual sequels and the annual “let’s get all the guys from the sequels together for a group sequel”. However we also got a pleasant surprise with Black Panther, this can be backed by the success the movie saw and still continues to see post release. Let’s be honest, Killmonger was the coolest bad guy in any super hero movie Marvel Studios has put out to date (there are many other categories to rate villains so stay the hate mail). While the style and swagger of Killmonger had our curiosity, his motives grabbed our attention. Here you have a guy who was outcast by his people, spending a decade honing his skills and waiting for the day when he could use those particular sets of skills to take his people’s throne; As king, he would liberate oppressed people all over the world with the resources his country possessed. Take out the super powers and this could pass as a story on CNN, there could easily be someone out there in the world who has seen the same struggles and worked to take the same course of action. Well guess what sports fans, there is, and this storyline has manifested itself in college basketball. The man exercising his “Blue Blood” right to challenge for the mantle of king is none other than the leader of the Pitt Panthers, Jeff Capel.

This all makes complete sense when the scene has been set. The ACC is Wakanda, advanced beyond their years and possibly the cream of the crop in the college basketball landscape. The ruler of this land and the one Capel looks to overthrow is none other than Mike Krzyzewski. The natural resource that Duke and a few others (located in the byzantine backwoods of Lexington) have been selfishly hoarding like a TLC two part special, is the nation’s high school talent, college basketball’s Vibranium. Now that the foundation of this ridiculously intricate and niche metaphor has been laid lets walk through the details that led to Jeff Capel becoming the biggest threat to the culture we have seen present in the ACC for so many years now.

In 2006 Capel landed his first big name head coaching job at Oklahoma University. Before that he was an assistant at Old Dominion and VCU where he eventually had a 4 year stint as head coach. While at OU we were able to see early on what he could do from a recruiting standpoint as he landed the future lottery pick Blake Griffin. While some might say that a nutless monkey could get the Oklahoma City native to commit to his hometown university where his older brother was already playing, it must be said he was still responsible for the team making a run in the tournament with not much more than the Griffin brothers and Willie Warren. The benefits of not being in Lawrence Kansas or Bloomington Indiana is that with runs like that you’ve got some wiggle room as a coach. Stay somewhere in and around .500 with your record and the athletic director sends you a nice Christmas card before the holidays. Capel should have been the gold standard of job security after going to an Elite Eight and losing to the eventual national champion. But everyone has that one friend, the one who doesn’t think things through and takes advice from the vaunted Good Idea Fairy who is infamous for leading even the brightest men and women astray. Yes that one friend for Jeff Capel was none other than assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. Going into the 2010 season Taliaferro left the OU coaching staff with the rumor being that it was in relation to NCAA violations. This was the birth of the conspiracy theories that still plague Jeff Capel today which is that he isn’t the squeaky clean coach he lets on to be (that is another rant for another day). Even though an investigation proved Taliaferro’s misconduct and Capel’s innocence in regards to NCAA violations, Capel was fired at the end of the season.

Here is where Capel would be gifted the opportunity to hone his craft after being ostracized by programs across the nation. Just two months after being fired from OU he was hired on as an assistant with Coach Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke. It was within the ranks of this cultist like staff comprised entirely of what I like to call “Krzyzewski Youth”, that Capel became arguably one of the two greatest recruiters currently in the sport.

Of all the Blue Bloods Coach K was easily one of the last to jump on board with the idea of taking advantage of the “one and done” phenomenon. He dipped his toe in the water with commits like Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers and two year players like Seth Curry which would make the 2010 national championship team one of the last “traditional” Duke teams before the shift in his recruiting method. A shift that took full effect when Capel arrived. When Duke got into the one and done business they went all in like Tugg Speedman playing Simple Jack. What allowed them to be so successful was Capel and his seeming ability to stay on 5 Star recruits like white on rice with a glass of milk in a snow storm. During his tenure he was responsible for Duke signing Jahlil Okafor (Class of 14’ and ranked #1 in the nation), Tyus Jones (14’)(#8), Justise Winslow (14’)(#13), Brandon Ingram (15’)(#3), Harry Giles (16’)(#2), Marvin Bagley (17’)(#1) and Wendell Carter (17’)(#7). Of the Dukies mentioned five were lottery picks and all were taken in the first round of the NBA draft after one year at Duke (all still in the NBA). As impressive as this track record might seem it was all nothing more than preamble. Capel solidified himself as a one man recruiting powerhouse with his recruiting class for Duke University in 2018. With commitments from RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson (the #1, 2 and 3 ranked players in the nation respectively) Capel had assembled one of the most impressive recruiting classes (on paper) ever. At this point no one is questioning his ability to recruit and it is hard to think Capel wasn’t starting to question if he could take his super human power and put it to use for his own gain as opposed to Coach K’s.

Enter Kevin Stallings and the University of Pittsburgh. In the classic Big East era their conference rosters were filled with quick and scrappy guards from the northeast and teams were captained by coaches that looked like made men from a Scorsese movie. Pitt was no different, with guards like Brad Wanamaker and bigs like Gary McGhee their roster fit the culture of Big East basketball to the letter. That being said nothing was more Big East than their head coach Jamie Dixon. Running a program that even Jake Shuttlesworth would be proud to send his son to. Making numerous tournament appearances and leaving the school with a 328-123 record over 13 years he left big shoes for their new head coach hired our of Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings. The old Big East was extinct and Pitt with Stallings was a part of the ACC, and if you’re wondering how Stallings did after coming from the nation’s trap game capitol of the world in Memorial Gymnasium allow me to give you the rundown; imagine a dumpster, now fill that dumpster with mounds of garbage, take the now full dumpster and apply heat to it. So what was once a traditional mess is now a sort of heated mess which is even messier. Needless to say Stallings was out after a 24-21 record over just two seasons and Capel took this opportunity to give the whole head coaching thing another try.

So with everything how it is most are probably wondering how any of this screams coup in the ACC. It’s quite simple, Jeff Capel III during his time at Duke became a Demigod amongst mere mortals in the game of recruiting. Since taking the head coaching job at Pitt they have seen the best recruiting class in five years. Now it must be said we can’t expect too much this first year as Capel clearly used all his juice in the recruiting class we will see at Duke this upcoming year. Things won’t start to get interesting until you look to the 2019-2020 season for two major reasons. First, Capel hasn’t fully closed the door on the Monstar recruiting class coming into Duke this year and it is clear that they still have connection with him as well. After taking the job at Pitt Capel was reported as still having communication via text with the recruits at Duke as they prepared for the transition to D1 basketball in the ACC. On the surface this seems quite endearing but in all actuality this is a behind the scenes American Psycho level power move. Duke is no different than any other major program and they see their players transfer all the time when things aren’t going their way. There are plenty of questions as to how the incoming class will work out logistically due to their respective games and the positions they played previously. If for some reason it doesn’t work out Capel wants to make sure he is at the front of the list when they look to transfer. People forget there was a scare toward the end of the last recruiting season as Zion took forever to actually sign with Duke and the worry among the Duke faithful and the prayers of the Clemson and Pitt hopeful was that Zion was going to actually stay close to home or follow Coach Capel but that all was wishful thinking. The second reason his second year will be interesting is because of the actual recruiting class Pitt has for the 2019 season…its actually pretty good. To put things in perspective Duke currently is pursuing 5 top 15 players from the class of 19’. Of those 5, three of them are also being recruited by Pitt who has their eyes set on 4 players in the top 15 of the class of 19’.

Capel is doing all of the right things to set himself up for success. He has a decent sample size as a head coach from his time at OU to his stint as interim head coach for Duke when Coach K was out from injury. The question will be can he recruit with the same success in a division that has him facing Krzyzewski and Roy Williams twice a year? Can he steal some of those top recruits that back in the day were choosing Duke and get them up to Pittsburgh instead? Hearing this should highlight just how much Capel is the real life Killmonger as he has a history of mongering the nation’s top high school recruits. Outcast by his people? Check (thanks OU admin and Coach Taliaferro). Spend years gaining the skills necessary to challenge the king? Check. Finally making the move to openly challenge for supremacy and liberate all the oppressed? Check. For Killmonger it was Vibranium, for Capel it is the top basketball recruits, both with plans to see that commodity used for good and not horded allowing for all those around them to suffer. Now, spoiler alert, we all know that Killmonger’s reign of Wakanda was short lived and ended with him dying on the side of a mountain carved into the shape of a damn panther (irony). This storyline very well might play out the same  with 3 straight years of double digit home losses at the hands of K but I refuse to hedge my bets on this one. The more likely outcome and the one that I am getting behind is Pitt being the new program within the ACC that has a jump in success similar to what we have seen from Miami over the past few years. The conference as a whole is gearing up for a power shift and the moves by Capel along with his background have moved him up very high in the running for the number one spot.

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