Nebraska forward Walter Pitchford is giving up basketball for his senior season to further focus on getting his degree, according to a release from the school. The 6-foot-10 forward started 26 games, playing in 30 games overall, and averaged 7.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Pitchford came to Nebraska after transferring in from Florida. He will work to finish his undergraduate degree in ethnic studies.
“I thank Coach Miles for giving me the opportunity when I transferred from Florida,” Pitchford said in the release. “I have learned a lot about myself in the three years I’ve been at Nebraska and it is not an easy decision to give up playing basketball. I believe it is in the best interest of both the team and myself that I devote my time to completing my degree at Nebraska and eventually go into a career in business.
“I appreciate all the support I have received from the coaching staff, my teammates and the fans during my time at Nebraska and it has become home for me. I know my teammates support me on this difficult decision, and I will be there to support them.”
Although Pitchford played more minutes last season than his sophomore campaign, his shooting percentages plummeted. After a sophomore season in which Pitchford shot 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range, those numbers dropped to 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range as a junior.
“I completely support Walter in his decision,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said in the release. “It shows a great deal of courage for a young man to see his career path and pursue it. I know leaving behind basketball is not easy for Walter or his family, but I also believe this is the best thing for Walt because it targets what he wants to do.”
Big Ten Tournament: Flailing Buckeyes overcome double-digit deficit, shock Nebraska
Ohio State looked beaten. With roughly thirteen minutes remaining the second half, the Buckeyes were losing by eighteen points and appeared as if they would rather be anywhere other than Indianapolis. The squad was teetering: too proud to lay down and allow Nebraska, one of the nation’s hottest teams, to finish the steamroll, but uncertain if it was worth fighting back. OSU slowly began to chip away, however, and the lead, decreasing minute by minute, evaporated until OSU took the lead with sixty seconds remaining. Ohio State’s rebirth was complete — the Buckeyes escaped the quarterfinals, defeating the Cornhuskers 71-67.
Making their move midway through the second half, the Ohio State win was a combination of traditionally stout Buckeye defense and a complete breakdown of Nebraska’s offense. Tim Miles’ team scored .99 points per possession in the first half, but that rating dropped to .92 in the final twenty minutes; rather than continue attacking their OSU defenders and getting to the basket, NU started settling for long-range attempts (of which they converted only 30 percent), a puzzling strategy since it’s been proven that Nebraska’s outside shooting isn’t robust (32.9 percent in Big Ten play). The moment which encapsulated NU’s offensive timidity came after Walter Pitchford rose for an ally-oop but missed the attempted reverse dunk — Nebraska converted only two shots from the field following the failed dunk.
LaQuinton Ross was the hero of the stat sheet, scoring 26 points on a variety of mid-range jumpers, but the Buckeye who deserves credit for sparking the comeback, and one who clearly enjoys playing Nebraska, is Amedeo Della Valle. The lanky wing, sporting a hairdo that rivals Bradley Cooper’s ‘American Hustle’ character, had previously scored a season-high 15 versus NU, and followed that effort with twelve points today. The sophomore barely played last season, but after a successful summer leading Italy to the U20 European Championship (earning an MVP nod for his efforts), it is evident the wing’s frenetic offense and fearlessness when in the open court could earn him more minutes.
With their leading scorer and leading rebounder both having graduated, few believed that Nebraska would be able to begin its climb to respectability during the 2013-14 season. Picked to finish dead last in the Big Ten preseason poll, Tim Miles’ Huskers held out hope that transfers Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford would be ready to assume starring roles.
And after an 0-4 start to conference play Nebraska’s turned things around in a big way, and their 77-68 win over No. 9 Wisconsin moved the Huskers closer to their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Petteway and Pitchford were once again key figures for Nebraska (19-11, 11-7), with Petteway accounting for 26 points and ten rebounds and Pitchford adding 15 points and five rebounds. But they weren’t alone, as guard Shavon Shields put together his second-best performance in conference play. Shield scored 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting, with his dribble penetration punishing Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) on numerous occasions.
As a team Nebraska shot 52% from the field, and after failing to attempt a single free throw the Huskers attempted 25 in the second. Granted some of those attempts came late when the Badgers were giving fouls in an attempt to close the gap, but Nebraska was able to force opportunities when the game was still in doubt with their ability to break Wisconsin down off the dribble.
Nebraska also took great care of the basketball, turning the ball over five times, and they also managed to make Wisconsin pay for its mistakes. Wisconsin turned the ball over just 11 times but Nebraska took full advantage, scoring 17 points off of those turnovers. That all adds up to a quality victory for Nebraska, with the Huskers also earning a bye in the Big Ten tournament.
How many wins will Nebraska, which will play the winner of the Ohio State/Purdue matchup, need in Indianapolis? That’s anyone’s guess, with the members of the selection committee being the only ones who truly know the answer. But for Nebraska to be in this position considering how they started conference play is a credit to Tim Miles and his program, which has made far greater strides than anyone expected in year two.
On Saturday afternoon Nebraska will celebrate its past, with numerous former players returning to Lincoln for the Huskers’ game against Northwestern and the Legends Weekend festivities. And the current team will dress the part, wearing throwback uniforms inspired by the 1911-12 team.
That team went 14-1 and won the Missouri Valley Conference title, the program’s first league title. Nebraska also recorded a video with Walter Pitchford, Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields going through some “old school” drills (more than a few of them are still used to this day) in the jerseys. There’s Pitchford executing the timeless “Mikan drill,” and Petteway shooting an underhanded free throw (although we don’t get to see the result of the shot).
Embracing their history is something college teams need to do, because those legends can also impact the rebuilding of a moribund program. Get those players on board and they become great salesmen for the current staff, which can prove to be beneficial in regards to recruiting and alumni donations for new projects.
However even with the Legends Weekend festivities, what’s of greater importance to Tim Miles’ team is to get back on track, with an NCAA tournament berth that seemed improbable a month ago within Nebraska’s reach.
That’s welcome news for a Husker program that has often struggled to find quality big men. Pitchford is 6’10”, 221 lbs., and he’s joining a team that will be losing two post players a year from now. He’ll be a prime option for the Big Red after sitting out a transfer season. Pitchford may apply for a hardship waiver and step in right away, however. According to an April story in the Orlando Sentinel, Pitchford is transferring closer to home to be near his ailing grandfather. Per Google Maps, Lincoln is over 700 miles from East Lansing, Michigan, so it’ll be interesting to see if the NCAA buys into that logic.
The Omaha newspaper reported that Pitchford committed Saturday morning on a visit to Lincoln. That leaves new Husker head coach Tim Miles with one scholarship left to give.
It’s hard to know exactly what Pitchford will bring to Nebraska, since he only played one season on a loaded team, but the newspaper summed up what is currently known about the new Husker:
Pitchford played just 22 minutes in 13 games last season, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds. At prep school in East Lansing, Mich., Pitchford averaged 17.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.
If Pitchford is able to gain a waiver, the Huskers will look a great deal more like their Big Ten brethren. 6’11” Jorge Brian Diaz and 6’10” Brandon Ubel will be seniors next season, and Pitchford could provide a legit third big man with a little built-in experience.