Fitter, happier, more productive Pittman a potential key for Texas
AUSTIN, Texas -- Before Texas center Dexter Pittman could eat a meal during the past two years, he had to call Longhorns strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright before ordering.
A 6-foot-10, 293-pound center, Pittman could become the low-post presence the Longhorns have lacked during recent seasons. He attended Pete Newell's Big Man Camp in Las Vegas this summer and has looked more confident and productive in preseason practices."We've changed the expectations for him," Barnes said. "Dexter knows just getting through practice isn't good enough anymore. Dexter can give us a really good power game inside. He's got to be a factor. We've got to make him become a factor."
Pittman showed Barnes how good he can be in last season's NCAA tournament. In a 74-54 win over Austin Peay in the first round, Pittman scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He had six rebounds in a 75-72 win over Miami in the second round, and grabbed six rebounds in an 82-62 victory over Stanford in the regional semifinals.
To be real honest, I feel like every time I give Dexter the ball in the paint, it's a basket. He has worked his tail off. He has to be a force inside. If we're going to go where we want to go, Dexter has to be a big force.
"I'm more confident because I understand the game a lot more," Pittman said. "My teammates really helped me get through some tough times."Pittman -- whose father, Johnny, is 7-foot and played at Oklahoma State from 1989 to 1991 -- has greatly altered his diet. He eats one cup of eggs with ham and half a piece of toast for breakfast. He eats half a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and drinks two bottles of water between classes. For lunch, Pittman usually eats a ham sandwich or baked pasta. Lunch is followed by a one-hour workout and then practice. Pittman said he eats some sort of baked chicken for dinner nearly every night.
During a road trip to Texas Tech last season, the team's bus stopped at a fast-food restaurant for lunch. Wright didn't see Pittman inside and found him sitting alone on the bus.
"What are you doing?" Wright asked him.
"Coach, I can't eat fried chicken," Pittman told him.
"He's done it," Barnes said. "He's the one who put in the time."
And now it's time for Pittman to produce on the court."I know I've got a big role to play," Pittman said. "If I don't live up to that role and become the player coach Barnes wants me to be, I know I'll let my team down." A dominating inside presence might be the only piece the Longhorns lack heading into the 2008-09 season. They return four starters from a team that finished 31-7 and lost to Memphis 85-67 in the regional finals of the 2008 NCAA tournament. Texas has more depth in the backcourt and frontcourt.
"This is the most depth we've had since our Final Four team [in 2003]," Barnes said. "We're really thick up front. We have six or seven or eight bodies we can put up there. We can play small ball if we need to. We can get big if we need to. We have a lot of combinations."Senior guard A.J. Abrams is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 after averaging 16.5 points per game last season. Junior Damion James is one of only six returning players in Division I who averaged a double-double in 2007-08, finishing last season with 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Senior Connor Atchley, a 6-foot-10 forward, is coming off his best season at Texas, averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds with a team-high 80 blocked shots.
James, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Nacogdoches, Texas, spent a month this summer working with former Longhorns star Kevin Durant, who returned to Austin for summer school. Each morning, James and Durant would play one-on-one at the Longhorns' practice facility. James would try to score against Durant with no dribbles, one dribble or two dribbles."It was great," James said. "It took my perimeter game to another level. Going against Kevin every day took my overall game to another level. We got into a bunch of arguments and almost got into a couple of fights. But it was tough love. I really love him for coming back down and helping me get better and helping my team get better." But Pittman is the player who can make the Longhorns better than anyone else.
"To be real honest, I feel like every time I give Dexter the ball in the paint, it's a basket," James said. "He has worked his tail off. He has to be a force inside. If we're going to go where we want to go, Dexter has to be a big force."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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