Oct. 18, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Tom Herrion uses words like “talented,” or perhaps “versatile,” the Marshall coach might be talking about his deep-depth frontcourt for the 2012-13 basketball season.
Or, he could be talking about one of his junior college recruits, Elijah Pittman.
Turns out it’s both.
The 6-foot-9 Pittman’s anticipated arrival in Thundering Herd hoops was advanced by assistant coach Mark Cline’s assertion not long after he did most of the legwork on Pittman that the Covington, Ky., native was “the best player he’d signed since Blake Griffin.”
That’s no hollow statement. Not only is Griffin a former national college player of the year at Oklahoma and NBA standout for the Clippers, but Cline is no rookie in picking out and landing talent. The former Wake Forest three-year starter has been an assistant at North Carolina A&T, Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, VCU and Oklahoma before moving to join Herrion at Marshall.
Anyway, after two junior college stops and three inches of growth since he and junior classmate Ricardo Johnson (now playing at Ohio University) helped Holmes High to the 2009 Kentucky Sweet Sixteen state tournament title, Pittman is ready to make a difference among a crowded front line for the Herd.
“What’s different here from junior college is the tempo,” Pittman said before Marshall’s practice Wednesday. “The speed that everything happens, practice, drills … Your whole play has to be quicker, and you have to be stronger, mentally and physically. Everything is uptempo.
“Practices are a lot longer, there’s a lot more to them and they expect a lot more out of you. And just the competition in practice makes everyone better.”
Pittman’s junior college recruitment follows those of the Herd’s Dennis Tinnon
and Robert Goff
by one year -- big men who are stronger and have played hoops and managed in-the-paint physicality at a higher level than the overwhelming majority of high school prospects with size can immediately provide.
Pittman didn’t arrive on the MU campus until the last week of August, after graduating at Lamar State College-Port Arthur in Texas’ traditionally strong junior college Region XIV. The one transition many JUCO transfers find difficult when they get to Division I is at the defensive end of the floor.
Pittman – his smile can fill up the lane, too -- said that won’t be a problem for him.
“I come from a junior college that played defense,” said Pittman, who averaged 18.6 points and 6.8 rebounds last season for a 24-8 team in 2011-12. “I come from a place where all we did was play defense, and the adjustment won’t be as hard as you think because I’m 6-8, 6-9, long, athletic and I adapt quick.
“We played some man, but the 1-3-1 zone trap was best. We ran a lot of zone at Port Arthur with a lot of traps, a lot of fast quick defense like we could do here at Marshall, because we have the talent and the athleticism to do it.”
Herrion and Pittman both see the player at the three and four spots, depending on the matchup. Pittman is what Herrion called “wiry strong” at 219 pounds, and he can step out and shoot the three-pointer with success – which makes Pittman different from the Herd’s returning frontcourt contributors Tinnon, Goff, Nigel Spikes, Jamie Hanner and Yous Mbao.
“He’s making really good strides,” Herrion said of Pittman, whose presence will change how the third-year Herd coach can employ personnel in the frontcourt and on the wings. “Elijah is a very gifted young man athletically, talent-wise, and as he continues to get a grasp of our terminology, our system, he’ll become more and more comfortable on the floor.
“He’s done a good job to this point … a guy we’re excited about, has a good chance to make an impact on our program. He’s a versatile guy, shoots the ball, skilled, can stretch out to the three. He’s got that ability to make three-point shots, a nice asset for a guy his size.
“We’d love to see him put on some weight, but that probably won’t happen with any significance until next offseason. We expect him to be a really good rebounder for us and you can see he’s a very talented offensive player. He’s got a motor, and he’s a very competitive guy.”
Pittman said he “really doesn’t want to be 230 or 240,” preferring to play “at 225, and be solid and cut.” He said that although other teammates besides he and JUCO All-America wingman D.D. Scarver were in Huntington for summer workouts, the two have caught up now that regular drills have begun.
“It’s really not been that difficult picking things up,” said Pittman, whose three Holmes’ teams were a combined 95-10 and had a state runner-up finish in 2008 to precede a state title. “It’s really about being patient and trying to learn.”
He said he also considered two of the Herd’s Conference USA foes, Memphis and UCF, as Division I destinations before deciding to lengthen Marshall’s longtime Bluegrass State talent connection.
“This just felt like being home when I came here,” Pittman said. “It felt like ‘no place like home.’ I really liked the fans when I visited, and the people they have here, it makes you want to come here, build your future here.
“Coach Cline … he just told me the truth, gave me the honesty, what they do here, and what I needed to do to play at Marshall.”
Herrion said Pittman just needs to keep doing what he has been showing in early practices, pointing to the start of a tough 2012-13 schedule with a Nov. 9 opener against Longwood at the Henderson Center.
What, so far, has opened the player’s eyes about his Herd?
“There are a lot of big guys,” Pittman said, grinning. “There’s what I call ‘different’ talent. That’s what surprised me … not everybody plays the same. Everybody does different things and does them well and does what the team needs. That’s the big difference.
“In junior college ball, everybody does the same thing. The ones on scholarship, they all have the same moves, the same skills, the same everything. Here, you might see some of the same stuff, but when you do, it’s on a pro level.”