Pensacola State College will start its men’s basketball season Friday with increased recognition.
The past two days have provided that boost.
The Pirates were selected by Panhandle Conference coaches as the top team in preseason poll voting announced Monday. That followed Sunday’s announcement that PSC standout center Rozelle Nix gave a verbal commitment to continue his career at the University of Pittsburgh, following his visit there during the past weekend.
“It validates the work that the kids we have and (coaching staff) have put in…. That you are recognized by others,” said PSC coach Pete Pena, in reference to the preseason selection. “But we haven’t done a thing yet this year. Now, we have the capability. we really do. But it’s still a case of let’s see how we were react when facing adversity.
“But the difference in being number one in this conference or number four or five is a couple of possessions. It really is. That’s how tight this conference is.”
Nix, a 7-foot sophomore center from Cincinnati, who lost significant weight and gained strength since coming to Pensacola State, is one of six returning players. The Pirates had a breakthrough season in reaching the state junior college tournament as co-Panhandle Conference champs for the first time last year since 1998.
Pena said Nix weighed 385 pounds when he started school in 2013. He weighs 305 now. His work ethic, along with his academic standing are factors in why he received several offers from major colleges. PSC also has a past connection with the Pitt Panthers program.
Pensacola High grad Ontario Lett played for the Panthers a decade ago, after transferring from PSC. He is now a first-year assistant coach on Pena’s staff.
“It was going to be a tough decision, because he had three good choices,” said Pena, whose team opens its season Friday night as hosts of the four-team Pirate Classic at Hartsell Arena. “He is someone who has worked very, very hard to transform his body to transform his basketball abilities and it’s all been through a lot of hard work on his part.
“He really deserves the opportunity to play at the University of Pittsburgh at a program that is perennially in the NCAA Tournament. You are playing in the ACC against the best that college basketball has to offer night in and night out and he has worked very hard to put himself in that position.”
Nix is expected to sign with Pitt during the NCAA early signing period that begins Nov. 12. Until then, a verbal commitment is a non-binding agreement. He will be the first PSC player to sign with a Power Five conference member in Pena’s four seasons.