Column: Pitts an option in Ashley's absence
Come March, freshman guard Elliott Pitts could be a dark horse for the now No. 2-ranked Arizona men’s basketball team.
An early season wrist injury sidelined the freshman. But even when he returned to the team, a tough non-conference schedule kept him on the bench as head coach Sean Miller didn’t believe he was ready to step off the bench during valuable minutes.
Pitts didn’t play in 14 of the Wildcats’ first 22 games.
But with the recent injury to Brandon Ashley, Miller had no choice but to put his faith in Pitts.
Elliot Pitts shakes hands with head coach Sean Miller after Arizona's 54-76 win against Oregon State at McKale Center on Sunday.
In the past two games, the shooting guard has shown relentless hustle on defense, attention to fundamental details and a desire to prove himself.
“The thing I’m most proud of him is that he’s really battled defensively,” Miller said of Pitts. “It’s the thing I love about him being a young player, he’s ahead of the curve. Seeing how much he contributed on defense as he did is a good sign for us and him moving forward.”
In Arizona’s 67-65 come-from-behind victory over Oregon, Pitts was given the opportunity and rose to the occasion.
Pitts grabbed rebounds, made baskets and guarded some of the Ducks’ best scorers.
After the Oregon game, 3-year starter Nick Johnson praised Pitts and said he has high expectations for him in the future.
“I kept on telling him before the game, ‘Don’t come in and play scared. Shoot the ball, because you are one of our best shooters,’” Johnson said.
Pitts is an uncovered treasure waiting to be polished and put on the court. While he has had a modest stat line in his 67 minutes played — scoring 17 points with eight rebounds and two steals — the Northern California native’s contributions extend far beyond the stat sheet.
He hustles hard on defense, isn’t afraid to get down and dirty for a possession and always keeps basketball fundamentals in mind, unlike many players his age.
If all goes according to plan, Pitts’ true talent as a lethal jump shooter will surface and he will become an instrumental piece of the Wildcats’ puzzle in upcoming seasons.
His path seems similar to that of sophomore guard Gabe York. Both are talented shooters but needed to improve on defense to gain more minutes and experience.
“He’s always been in every practice, getting ready and preparing,” Miller said. “In a funny way, you see a guy like Elliott who doesn’t have a role in a game, and yet he’s getting better. He has a beautiful-looking shot. … I think he can give us maybe a punch on offense, and that can be one of the positives as we utilize him more.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17