There were smiles, hearty handshakes and what looked like a party atmosphere at the Pitt/Louisville basketball game Saturday night at Petersen Events Center.
Of course, it had little to do with the basketball team that lost again to extend its historic losing streak to eight.
It was one of the first big opportunities for football coach Paul Chryst and his staff to host a group of recruits. Despite the final score, Pitt, the Pete and its Oakland Zoo denizens put on a great show for their guests (at least until it became clear Pitt couldn’t keep up with Louisville).
The recruits came from three states — Washington, Wisconsin and Ohio — and were joined by several local kids on unofficial stops (most notably Shaler tight J.P. Holtz and Sto-Rox linebacker Deaysean Rippy; I say most notably because they are uncommitted at the moment).
I had a chance to talk to the father of Ryan Lewis, a 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback from Sammamish, Wash. Dad is Will Lewis, the vice president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks and the brother of former Pitt star Tim Lewis, presently an Atlanta Falcons assistant. Tim Lewis was the Steelers’ defensive coordinator for a spell under Bill Cowher.
Will Lewis said his son, who has offers from Pitt, Colorado and Utah, was impressed by the visit to the Oakland campus for at least one significant reason — Chyrst didn’t pressure him into making an immediate decision.
“He wanted (Ryan) to take it back home and kick it around a little bit,” the elder Lewis said. “He told him, `Talk it over and weigh your options a little bit and if you are able to make a verbal, we will go from there.’ ”
Will Lewis said that was a departure from other schools’ take-it-or-leave-it approach.
Lewis was joined by cornerback Sean Draper and defensive tackle Willie Henry of Glenville (Ohio); Marion Franklin (Ohio) defensive tackle Terrell Jackson, who at one point could be found amidst the Oakland Zoo; offensive lineman Gabe Roberts of New London (Wisc.), who is considering Wisconsin; and fullback Dave Durham, who is transferring from Ohio State and won’t be eligible until 2013.
Players who have committed to Pitt also watched the game as a group, including Fox Chapel offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, defensive lineman Darryl Render of St. Edward (Ohio), Woodland Hills linebacker Mike Caprara and Hopewell running back Rushel Shell.
Holtz will announce his choice between Pitt and Michigan State on Wednesday, and the fact he is doing it on local TV is an indication that he will pick Pitt. Plus, almost everyone who knows Holtz believes he is leaning toward the Panthers.
Rippy has tweeted that Arizona, Pitt, Colorado and West Virginia are his finalists.
Pitt has lost three Todd Graham recruits to other schools, and had a total of 15 on its commitment list as of Monday night. That leaves some room to make additions in the next eight days. Signing day is Feb. 1.
Chryst and his staff have a lot of work to do to rebuild the class and the reputation of a program that has lacked stability since firing Dave Wannstedt 13 months ago.
It won’t happen with one recruiting class, but getting Holtz and Rippy to join Shell, Bisnowaty and quarterback Chad Voytik would be a nice start.