Jason Capel, a Pitt assistant coach and former forward at North Carolina, told the News & Observer that he didn’t want his actions to distract from the Panthers’ 65-64 win in the Dean E. Smith Center on Wednesday.
The Panthers swept the Tar Heels and have beaten them five of their last six meetings. But the postgame quickly overshadowed the game’s outcome on social media, as reporters captured him returning to the locker room with his raw emotions on full display.
“Shouldn’t be a story. I shouldn’t be a story. Pitt winning should be the story,” Capel said in a text with the N&O.
Prior to tipoff, the public announcer at the Smith Center acknowledge Jason Capel as a former Tar Heel player before he introduced Pitt head coach Jeff Capel.
Because his older brother Jeff played at Duke, his name was met with a chorus of boos. But there didn’t appear to be any noticeable animosity directed at Jason.
That apparently changed immediately following the game.
Jason Capel said he went to talk to UNC’s legendary guard Phil Ford, who was an assistant coach during his first two seasons at Carolina. Ford’s seat is essentially perpendicular to the Heels’ bench. Capel said in a text message that’s when expletives were directed his way:
“I’ll be better. But yelling (expletive) YOU repeatedly to a grown man, multiple ppl (people), when all I was doing was speaking to MY COACH – Phil Ford, Ain’t cool. Repeatedly. To all of us.”
Jason Capel reiterated in his text messages that he did not have any problems with Carolina’s current players and UNC coach Hubert Davis: “Have nothing but love and respect for Hubert — his staff and those players.”
Jeff Capel said the slights started with UNC basketball’s “Gameday” post on social media. The picture showcasing the 7 p.m. tipoff was one of walk-on Creighton Lebo, with his tongue wagging as he runs up the court. Lebo happens to wear No. 25, which is the number Jason Capel wore from 1998-2002 in Chapel Hill.
“He wore that jersey with a lot of pride and since he’s left here, there’s been a lot of disrespect towards him,” Jeff Capel said. “And one thing happened (Wednesday) — and I don’t think it’s coming from within the basketball program, and I don’t know who controls their social media — but there was a tweet, and I was hoping he didn’t see it.”
Jeff Capel said he’s not on social media, but an assistant showed him the picture of Lebo. He believed the tweet was made to troll Jason Capel.
A UNC spokesperson said that every player on the roster gets featured for at least one game and that choosing Lebo was not directed at Jason Capel.
“It’s a complicated relationship with him and North Carolina,” Jeff Capel said in his postgame press conference. “He loves it. But I think at times he doesn’t feel that back.”
Jeff Capel pinpointed the 2009 Elite Eight game as the moment things started to turn. He was the head coach at Oklahoma at the time and Jason Capel wore an OU shirt as the Sooners battled the Tar Heels for a spot in the Final Four. Jeff Capel said some UNC fans were, “pretty (expletive) towards him, excuse my language, but pretty, pretty nasty,” because he wore the shirt.
Jason Capel’s words from Pitt’s win last season in the Smith Center could have added to the acrimony on Wednesday. The Smith Center’s entertainer B-Daht tweeted after that game that Capel said, “They’re cute over here now, ” implying that UNC played soft.
Jeff Capel hinted that the whole episode likely could have been avoided.
“This is one of the most tradition-laden programs in the history of college athletics, not just college basketball,” Jeff Capel said. “And you hear about the Carolina family. And it’s just amazing to me that their social media people would do that. I don’t think it’s humor.”