Lyke Lights A message from Pitt's Director of Athletics

During one of my initial visits to the arena of the Petersen Events Center, my attention was drawn to the wall that displayed four retired basketball jerseys.

I quickly made a mental note to learn more about our accomplished hoops history and, specifically, the four individuals celebrated on the banners.

Since that time, I’ve become very familiar, and inspired, by the achievements of Don Hennon (No. 10), Billy Knight (34), Brandin Knight (20) and Charles Smith (32). Each were not only outstanding individual players, but also exceptional leaders who made those around them better.

Dr. Hennon, a sharpshooting guard, scored 1,814 points from 1956-59. He was the first basketball player to have his number retired by the University of Pittsburgh, receiving that honor in 1968.

Billy scored 1,731 points from 1971-74 and led the Panthers to the Elite 8 before going on to a distinguished 11-year pro career.

Brandin became our gold standard for point guards while playing for Pitt from 1999-2003. He scored 1,440 points and also dished out a school-record 785 assists.

And Charles set the standard for Pitt big men, scoring a men’s record 2,045 points from 1984-88. He then played on the U.S. Olympic team and was selected third overall in the NBA Draft.

In admiring the banners, I could not help but wonder if we were missing something. Or, more specifically, someone.

Were no women’s players worthy of such an honor?

As my research and staff soon confirmed, there was a very deserving woman.

Lorri Johnson, who grew up in nearby New Castle, Pa., arrived at Pitt as a freshman in the fall of 1987. By the time her career was finished, she established herself as one of the greatest players—male or female—in school history.

Playing during an era when the spotlight did not shine as brightly on the women’s game, Johnson still was a star by any measure. Consider the following:

  • Lorri is the all-time leading scorer in Pitt basketball history—again, male or female—with 2,312 points.
  • Not content to merely be a scorer, she also grabbed 908 career rebounds.
  • Twenty-eight years following her final game at Pitt, Lorri still holds school records for field goals in a season (266) and points in a game (45).

I talked to our new women’s basketball coach, Lance White, about the idea. “We’ve never retired the jersey of a women’s basketball player at Pitt,” I said.

Coach White readily agreed this honor was long overdue, especially when we had such a deserving recipient.

And so it was decided: Lorri Johnson’s No. 24 would take its rightful place alongside our four other Pitt basketball retired jersey honorees.

Lorri returned to campus on January 13 for our game with Boston College. As a tribute to Lorri, our team wore its “Retro Pitt” uniforms.

At halftime, I walked to center court for the retirement ceremony with Chancellor Gallagher, Lorri and Kirk Bruce, her head coach at Pitt who was a longtime athletics administrator for us.

During my relatively brief time at the University of Pittsburgh, I’ve experienced many special moments that gave me goosebumps. The unveiling of Lorri’s retired jersey banner is absolutely one of those occasions that I will always remember.

Making it even more memorable was the fact that many of her former teammates were in attendance to share this special day with her.

I’m told that Lorri never craved the spotlight as a player. She just went out every day and competed to the very best of her ability. Similarly, she was quite humble in receiving this honor, choosing to soak up the moment rather than give any lengthy acceptance speeches.

“Pitt basketball will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said.

And Lorri Johnson will always hold a special place in Pitt Athletics history.

Hail to Pitt!

- Heather Lyke

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