It seems like every article on college basketball is about the next great freshman, with endless fawning over potential NBA stardom. That’s what is normal now.
But it wasn’t that long ago that even the best freshmen weren’t expected to crack the rotation in their first year. Now, athletes decide where they play based largely on who will give them the most immediate opportunity.
College basketball, which used to be about the development of skills and people, is now the painfully required stepping stone to a professional career. It’s a paradigm shift that we are firmly entrenched in. Somewhere along the way NCAA basketball became a glorified NBA D-League, with the thin veil of a self-righteous stance on the purity of the game propping up the entire institution. It’s a problem that runs deep in the minds of athletes as well as the suits that make the important decisions.
That’s why I appreciate a player like Elliott Pitts.
As a top 100 recruit, he could have gone to another west coast school and played a much larger role. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to show your talent, and he could have drawn some significant attention to himself on a second tier Pac-12 team like Cal, Oregon, or Washington.
But Pitts, unlike so many college basketball players today, was considering something else when he made his college decision. He came to Arizona to develop, not to get his share of the spotlight.
And Wildcat fans should be glad he did.
After Brandon Ashley went down with a season ending foot injury last year, Arizona scrambled to fill the void. One of the most understated contributions in this regard was from Pitts, who was thrust into bench action as Sean Miller adjusted on the fly.
In the 21 games prior to and including Ashley’s injury, Pitts averaged less than two minutes per game. From that point on, he logged double digit minutes in nine of the next ten games leading into the postseason. Arizona went 8-2 over that stretch.
It’s not about what Pitts did on the court, though he did show the ability to make timely three point shots. The value that Pitts brought was his attitude and willingness to do whatever the team needed. He was essentially thrown into the fire, and he gave 100% for every minute he was on the court.
And when the rotation tightened up in tournament play, Pitts brought the exact same attitude and work ethic.
A lot of players would be upset to have their new role taken away from them. But a lot of players don’t have the team-oriented mindset that Pitts does.
Looking ahead to next season, there isn’t much opportunity for Pitts to play outside of blowouts. On another loaded roster stacked with NBA talent, minutes are going to be hard to come by for just about all the reserves.
But on a team with that much talent, you still need guys like Pitts. Pitts is the type of player whose work ethic can be infectious. When a team has a bench player that works as hard as he does for such sparse playing time, that can be inspiring to the guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
And despite all of this, don’t count out Pitts’ talent. He’s 6-5, can shoot with range, and is a high IQ player with a great attitude. Though he will likely play a small on court role during his first two years, as an upperclassman Pitts could develop into a significant contributor.
It’s refreshing to follow a college player whose career isn’t about the immediate payout and rapid ascension through the game’s ranks. Pitts hearkens back to a different time in college basketball, when the game was about developing skills and personal maturity, and he manages to maintain that while at a powerhouse, top-5 caliber program like Arizona.
That’s a special quality, and it’s worth writing about just as much as the parade of one-and-done’s that are brief blips on the college radar.