What would have happened if Pittsburgh, which captured the Big East men's basketball regular-season title for the first time that year, would have gotten a matchup against eventual national-champion Kansas? Instead, the second-seeded Panthers dropped an NCAA Tournament second-round game to Vanderbilt to finish the season with a 24-7 record.
Bobby Martin returned Sunday to Pitt with his former teammates to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that talented team that claimed the program's initial Big East title. The Panthers accomplished that goal despite losing twice to Seton Hall in the final five regular-season games. Pitt went 1-1 in the Big East Tournament, losing to Villanova, and went 1-1 in the NCAAs with the loss to Vandy.
"It's a great feeling, being in this beautiful facility, and this is a great tradition here at Pitt,'' Martin said. "So, it's great to be back with all the guys. ... Were we the best Pitt team ever? Probably. I'd like to get a chance to compete against some of the other teams, but that's never going to happen.
"And I would have liked to get a shot at Kansas that year, too. We had a good team with a good coach, and we were able to put together some big wins. But we unfortunately lost to Vanderbilt in the NCAAs, and that was a lot earlier than we expected to go out. But it was a great experience, and I'm happy to be back to celebrate the success that we did accomplish that season.''
That terrific Panthers team, coached by Paul Evans, was led by All-Americans and future NBA first-rounders Charles Smith and Jerome Lane up front. Pitt also had a talented freshman class with Sean Miller as the point guard, along with guard Darelle Porter, Jason Matthews and Bobby Martin.
Other key players were senior forward Demetrius Gore, sophomore forward Nate Bailey and frosh guard Pat Cavanaugh. Two other players, Rod Brooken and Brian Shorter, were academic casualties that season. Smith (18.4 points, 7.5 rebounds), Lane (13.8, 11.8), Gore (12.6, 3.5), Miller (9.6, 5.7 assists) and Matthews (7.9 points) were the primary starters that season.
"This is about the second or third time that we've been honored, so it's always nice to be back,'' Porter said. "We were here with the 100-year team, and it was nice to be back for the 20-year anniversary of our big season.
"When you get all the guys back, we get to hear a lot of stories and meet everyone's families. But my class, Jason Matthews, Bobby Martin, Sean Miller, we're in touch all the time. But some of the other guys, we don't get to talk to them that often, so it's nice to get caught up with them, too.''
Where does Porter believe the 1987-88 Pitt team ranks among the Panthers squads past and present?
"I really think, talent-wise, it probably was the best team,'' Porter said. "But wins and losses and in the tournament, they've had some more successful teams. Not too many who were more successful, but as far as pure talent we probably had the deepest team that ever played here at Pitt.
"We had a classic point guard (Miller) and an NBA front court with Jerome Lane, Charles Smith, and then you had guys like Bobby Martin and Jason Matthews. ... It was hard to get time back then. So, I'm surprised that I played as much as I did, but I played in every game and even got a few starts.''
Evans coached six more seasons at Pitt, through 1993-94, but never again achieved the level of success that the Panthers reached in his second season.
Pitt Honors 1987-88 Hoop Team
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