As the woeful cries of disbelief over freshman-stud Ray Smith’s sudden season-ending ACL tear continue to reverberate throughout Tucson, a potentially overlooked replacement may be patiently waiting in the wings, ready, at last, to prove he is a legitimate threat. Although head coach Sean Miller has suggested playing 6’9 transfer forward Mark Tollefsen at the now open 3 position because of his ability to defend both big men and guards, Tollefsen lacks Pac-12 experience, not to mention he is still adjusting to the Wildcat system. However, junior Elliott Pitts, Miller says, "knows our system inside and out" and "has really made a jump from his first and second year to now." Pitts averaged just 8.4 minutes his freshman season, followed by 14.9 minutes as a sophomore when he averaged less than 4 PPG. His shooting, at 39.4% last season from field-goal range, has been largely inconsistent but, Miller says, "he is one of our team’s best defenders." An ESPN analyst remarks that Pitts’ only other weakness besides his inconsistent shooting is his "ball-handling while being pressured," and praises his overall raw talent, specifically his ability to play "on balance." This same ESPN analyst reaffirms Miller’s diagnosis by calling him an "excellent defender" and notes that Pitts "appears to be getting more confident with each event."
Now, attach Pitts’ progressing confidence and undeniably raw talent, as well as Miller’s remarks about his making a "jump" from his first two seasons, to a suddenly wide-open opportunity at the 3 and you have a player arguably on the verge of a break-out year. Yet, perhaps not immediately. Miller is expected to rotate early in the season a myriad of players at the 3 depending on match-ups. At 6’5 and 185 pounds, Pitts makes a rather small small-forward, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with his defensive prowess and playmaking ability on offense, and Miller has said he will toy with a smaller line-up. When unexpectedly given more minutes last season, Pitts scored in double-figures twice, including a 12-point performance against Pac-12 foe Colorado.
Indeed, the ingredients are now all present for junior Elliott Pitts to carve out an important role in Arizona’s plans to surpass their Elite 8 run last March, especially if his shooting consistency from three, which at 37.2% last season was really not all that horrible, is part of what Miller referred to as having made a "jump." Miller concluded, "Pitts is someone who can step up, no question, in the future." It may very well be that the question regarding Elliott Pitts is not whether he rises during his junior season, but only by how much.