After finishing 15-16 a year ago, the Gophers women’s basketball team has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the local sports scene this season. Despite their first loss of the season this past week at North Carolina, the Gophers are 7-1 heading into Sunday’s home game against Eastern Michigan at Williams Arena.
Perhaps the biggest individual surprise on the team has been the immediate contribution of freshman Destiny Pitts. She was the Class B Associated Press Player of the Year in Michigan as a senior at Detroit County Day, and the transition to college has been seamless. Though she’s only 5-10, Pitts has been playing power forward for the Gophers and is averaging a double-double — 13.4 points and 10.5 rebounds — through the first eight games.
Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said Pitts has been “phenomenal” in playing the exact role envisioned when Pitts was recruited.
“We knew she was versatile and could play the two, three or four. And we play a four-guard offense, as you know, so the two, three and four are somewhat interchangeable in what we like to do,” Stollings said. “What we like to do is create some matchup situations for the opponent to have to deal with when they’re preparing for us, and she really allows us to do that at a very high level because of her versatility.”
Pitts chatted about that versatility and more recently with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q This has been quite the start to the season both for the team and for yourself individually. What were your own expectations of how your college debut would go, and have you exceeded them so far?
A Yeah, I think I’ve exceeded some expectations. I mean the coaches kind of knew what I could do, but it helped that as soon as I got here on campus, the returning players came and helped me out to get me ready for the competition I’d be facing this year.
Q You’re only listed at 5-foot-10, but you’re getting a lot of rebounds this year for someone that size. Have you always been a good rebounder?
A I mean, yes, but here I’ve even focused on it even more. There’s been a big emphasis on my rebounding and not letting teams get second-chance points and then helping us get second-chance points on the offensive end. So I’ve been focused on that a lot. I’ve been playing the four, and most people would say I’m undersized for that position. So I just fundamentally box out each time, and if I do that, I know I can get the rebound even though the other player might be taller than me.
Q On the other end of the court, being a smaller power forward, does that give you matchup advantages?
A Yeah, it gives me a lot of different advantages over a true four. Most of the times I’m quicker than them, and the way they play screens they aren’t used to someone shooting threes. It allows me to get some transition threes and things like that.
Q I don’t think there were a lot of outside expectations for this team. Do you feel like you have turned some heads at this point?
A I think we all knew we were capable of this just because of what we were doing in the offseason with all of us coming together. The coaches weren’t forcing it, we were just doing it on our own. But we’ve been doing it, and it’s catching a lot of people’s attention.