Freshman Pitts making big splash at VUU

Fred Jeter | 11/29/2018, 6 a.m.
Demarius Pitts saw no need to meekly dip his toes in the water to get a feel for college basketball. ...


Demarius Pitts

Panthers home at last

After playing the first five games on the road, the Virginia Union University basketball team is back at cozy Barco-Stevens Hall. The Panthers play Queens University of Charlotte on Monday, Dec. 3. Tipoff: 7 p.m. Queens University, which is 5-2 this season, was 32-4 a year ago, reaching the NCAA Division II Elite 8 semifinals. In 2016-17, Queens went 30-4 and beat Virginia Commonwealth University in an exhibition game.

Demarius Pitts saw no need to meekly dip his toes in the water to get a feel for college basketball.

Boldly, he dove in head first instead.

The Virginia Union University freshman is off to an exciting start for Coach Jay Butler’s rebuilding Panthers.

“Demarius is a special kid on and off the court,” Coach Butler said. “Every day he wants to work hard to keep getting better.”

After five games, including four starts, the slender 6-foot-4 guard from Upper Marlboro, Md., is averaging 17.7 points, with 11 3-pointers and 3.7 rebounds. He had a season best 21 points against Cheyney University Tuesday night.

“The Marlboro Man” is shooting 40 for 79 from the field and 15 for 20 at the foul line, while getting little rest. The newcomer averages 36 minutes per game.

“He can shoot the three, take it to the basket. He has a midrange shot, too. He’s an excellent athlete,” said Coach Butler.

Pitts didn’t disappoint in the Panthers visit Nov. 23 and 24 to St. Petersburg, Fla. for a top tier NCAA Division II tournament at Eckerd College.

Pitts scored 18 points in the Panthers’ 70-64 win over host Eckerd College and added 20 points in VUU’s 67-66 loss to the University of Tampa.

His quick emergence as a front-line performer was well timed for a program that suffered the loss of seven seniors from last winter’s CIAA championship squad.

Pitts starred at Frederick Douglass High School in Maryland and spent the last season at Springfield Commonwealth Academy in Springfield, Mass.

“He’s really gotten bigger and stronger since his senior year at Douglass, where he was an undersized center,” Coach Butler said.

VUU now has a 3-2 record after Tuesday night’s 93-68 win over Cheyney. The Panthers have played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. VUU’s first five opponents are a combined 18-6, and it gets no easier.

The Panthers have two upcoming games against national powerhouse Queens University of Charlotte. Queens comes to VUU’s Barco-Stevens Hall on Monday, Dec. 3. Then the Panthers play at Queens on Jan. 3.

“We want to be battle-tested when we get to CIAA play,” Coach Butler said. “That was our plan last year, too. Playing the tough schedule with a lot of road games prepared us for winning four straight games in the (CIAA) tournament.”

Pitts isn’t alone as an early-season standout. William Jenkins, a 6-foot-7 junior from Baltimore, is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds.

Jordan Thornton, a 6-foot-8 senior from Fredericksburg, averages nine points and four rebounds and has made 17 of 20 field goals for 85 percent.

And Jemal Smith, a 5-foot-10 senior from Bronx, N.Y., set a school record with 21 assists in the win over Cheyney.

Also, 7-foot junior Malik Kuwornu is starting to receive playing time off the bench. Coach Butler is hopeful the towering native of Ghana will become a significant factor once CIAA play begins in January.

Although they were away from home, the Panthers enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 22, at their St. Petersburg hotel.

“We had it catered,” Coach Butler said. “Cornbread, collared greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, rolls. You name it. Everyone got seconds and thirds. Plus we got to make plates and take some with us.”

On the downside, the team bus didn’t leave St. Petersburg until noon Sunday, returning to campus at 3 a.m. Monday.