Apr. 7—Russell Battistoni likes everything about Nate Santos' ability on the basketball court.
"He's always been able to shoot the ball. He's always been able to handle the ball and be really skilled and defend and has a lot of toughness," said Battistoni, the coach at Loomis Chaffee School, a boarding school in Windsor, Conn., where Santos — Pitt's first recruit from the class of 2021 — spent the past three years.
If those skills translate to the ACC, they will serve Santos well next season as the first piece in Pitt coach Jeff Capel's quest to rebuild his roster.
But Battistoni, who is also Loomis' associate director of admissions, has seen other aspects of Santos' personality that may help him succeed at Pitt.
"Loomis is a high academic boarding school," said Battistoni, whose roster has included student-athletes from the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Lithuania. "Getting through the academic curriculum here is not easy, certainly for three years. The transition is not always easy, being away from home."
Santos' three years at Loomis haven't been easy. He tore an ACL in his knee as a sophomore and missed half of that season. He started his junior season (2019-20) under a restricted-minutes mandate that was lifted midway through the season.
He and two other Division I recruits — Dayton's R.J. Blakney and UNLV's Reece Brown — helped Loomis win a New England prep league championship last year. Santos (6-foot-7, 200 pounds) averaged 17.7 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 3-pointers at a percentage just under 40%. As a team, Pitt shot 33.8% (11th in the ACC) from beyond the 3-point arc last season.
With the injury and covid, Santos' recruitment hasn't been a smooth ride.
"This is a kid who hasn't been seen on the (AAU) circuit in two years," Battistoni said. "This is a top-50 kid without a ranking, in my opinion."
Covid protocols limited Loomis' 2021 season to three games in March, but he averaged more than 30 points per game.
"In terms of the program, Nate has shown this year to really be a leader in a small season," Battistoni said. "It wasn't in any way normal. He did a great job of being a mature presence and he's come a long way from that standpoint. He's only going to be that much more ready for life in the ACC."
But can he play?
"The skill is there, man," said Battistoni, who helped George Washington win the 2005 Atlantic 10 championship and played briefly with the Washington Wizards and in Europe.
"I mean he can really shoot it. His jump shot is as perfect as it gets, from how he elevates, his release point.
"He's a tough kid. He can defend multiple spots. Usually, the guys who can make shots, they'll find a spot on the court (in college).
"For a freshman, there are going to be ups and downs for him, just like there are for most freshmen. Nate has been through that here, transitioned to life at Loomis. He'll be ready for any of those ups and downs."
Santos, who transferred to Loomis from Geneva, Ill., had scholarship offers from George Washington, Xavier, Virginia Tech, Creighton, Illinois and New Mexico and was attracting interest from Maryland, Washington and Boston College.
Pitt assistant coach Tim O'Toole has been in conversations with Santos and Battistoni since late summer. Pitt finally made an offer March 29, and Santos didn't need much time to make up his mind.
"From my understanding, they really need some guys who can put the ball in the hole," Battistoni said, "and Nate can do that."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .