‘Today's the day that we start winning’ Pitt women’s basketball introduces former UMass coach Tory Verdi as new head coach

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff writer

Published: 04-12-2023 7:20 PM

It didn’t take the Pittsburgh women’s basketball program long to introduce its new head coach, Tory Verdi.

After the seven-year UMass women’s basketball coach had been rumored to be in talks with Pitt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Noah Hiles reported late Thursday night that Verdi had a meeting with his UMass players to inform them he’d taken the Pitt job. Less than 24 hours later, Verdi and his family were in Pittsburgh, being introduced to the Pitt press by athletic director Heather Lyke.

“We had great expectations of what we needed in our next leader and we did not settle for anything less. And we found that leader in Tory Verdi,” Lyke said. “I’ve known coach Verdi since 2013 when I first met him at my press conference at Eastern Michigan...for two years I watched coach Verdi’s work ethic. I saw how he built relationships with his players, the interactions with our donors and our community. I saw his concept of family come to life.”

Lyke paused in the middle of her statement, getting visibly emotional before continuing on.

“I remember the tragic passing of (Eastern Michigan basketball player Shannise Heady) and I saw how Tory embraced every kid on our team and brought that family together in the toughest of times,” Lyke continued. “I saw coach Verdi build a program that no one expected to be successful, and he did it the right way with the right people.”

Verdi’s connection to Lyke seemed like a significant factor in his hiring. Lyke already knew what to expect in hiring Verdi from their time together at Eastern Michigan, and Lyke said that Verdi had kept in touch even after he moved on to UMass. Lyke said that the process of finding a new coach was extensive and “inclusive” – they interviewed a number of coaches before they came to an agreement with Verdi.

“I always kept an eye on his progress and like his personality that you will all come to know, he stayed in contact with me because people matter to him,” Lyke said. “Coach Verdi continued his career at UMass and he did what no one expected was possible again. For the past seven years under coach Verdi’s leadership he built not just a successful team, but a program. His proven ability to build and elevate programs is undeniable.”

As a program, Pitt seems like a perfect fit for Verdi. He thrives most with programs where he can build from the ground up, evidenced by what he did to turn around the UMass program. This past season, Pitt finished last in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a dismal 3-15 record. Most of the team’s players from this season have already entered the transfer portal, leaving just four players remaining. There’s nowhere for the team to go but up, which is just how Verdi likes it.

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“Today’s the day that we start winning. We will win and we will win big. I say that with such confidence because I’ve been doing it for the last 25 years. I know that we can win here. I felt that from the moment that I stepped foot on campus,” Verdi said at his press conference. “Today we will act like winners. Today we will carry ourselves like winners today. Today we will look like winners. I’m prepared for this moment. This program as a sleeping giant and it needs to be awakened. The lack of success within this program has scared many coaches off, but not me. I look at this program as an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before.”

Verdi stressed that he wanted his team to have immediate success. It may take some time, though Verdi said that “I don’t have patience” in his presser. Both Verdi and Lyke recognize that there’s a lot of work to do, and that seeing the results they want won’t happen overnight. Whether those plans include current UMass players remains to be seen – junior guard Ber’Nyah Mayo entered her name in the portal today, and she likely won’t be the only one. For now, Verdi is focused on the four currently returning players, forwards Gabby Hutcherson and Liatu King and guards Marley Washenitz and Aislin Malcom. It’s also possible that guard Avery Strickland returns to the Panthers.

“We’re gonna be really busy. I’m just super excited about the four players that we have in our program right now. They’re my main priority. I had the opportunity to be with them a little while ago, and spend some time and I’m excited to coach them,” Verdi said. “We’re going to tackle the portal and there’s a lot of work to be done here in the next 48 hours...but we have a great opportunity to bring in great players, players that can impact and help us win now. We’re not waiting for three years. We’re not saying that we need all this time to rebuild and get the right people in. We’re not waiting. We’re winning.”

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