Destiny Pitts is probably like a lot of freshmen in college. A year ago, her mom was waking her up each morning so she could get ready for school. Now, it’s on Pitts to get up, get to breakfast and get her day started.
That’s not unusual.
Get Pitts on the basketball court, though, and that’s where she’s setting herself apart from a lot of other first-year players.
The former Detroit Country Day star has wasted no time making an impact for Minnesota. She joined the starting lineup just four games into the season, and leads the Golden Gophers (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) in rebounding (7.7), and is third in scoring (13.6). She’s tied for the team lead in 3-point shooting (39.9 percent, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten), and is second in free throws (86 percent).
She’s a five-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week winner, already, with a month of the regular season still left to be played.
But, Pitts has impressed with more than just numbers and accolades. It’s been her passion, and her poise, too.
“What’s been most impressive,” said Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings, in her 19th season coaching at the Division I level, and fourth at Minnesota, “is her ability to absorb information, how much she wants to grow, and how hard she works. Those three things stand out to me.”
Stollings doesn’t like using the word “surprised” when discussing Pitts’ impact in her first season. It just doesn’t fit. After all, she knew Pitts was a talented player, but “the way she’s carried herself as a freshman is remarkable,” Stollings said. “There are always some highs and lows, but for the most part, she’s been very steady, and that consistency is unusual for a freshman.”
Ask Pitts, and that’s a credit to her coaches and teammates, who took her “under their wing” from the get-go. She says she’s felt comfortable from the start.
“It’s our whole team, really,” said Pitts, the Class B Player of the Year as a senior at Country Day, where she won two state titles. “It’s one more reason why I came here — the chemistry, on and off the court.”
It’s helped her fit on a team that already has surpassed last season’s 15 victories, and matched the five won in conference play. Minnesota had three straight seasons in which it won at least 20 games — including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014-15 — until last season.
Last season’s struggles haven’t been lost on Pitts’ teammates, she said.
“I definitely get that sense,” she said, “… The returners remember what happened (last year), and they have a chip on their shoulder … They’ve raised their intensity, and that’s helped me raise mine.”
The Gophers returned their top three scorers from last season in senior guard Carlie Wagner (19 last season; 17.8 this season), redshirt junior guard Kenisha Bell (15.9, 19.6) and sophomore guard Gadiva Hubbard (9.7, 12.2). Pitts joins that trio in a four-guard lineup, along with senior center Jessie Edwards, though that can change depending on matchups.
That usually means Pitts can find herself going up against taller foes, where she’s proving she can hold her own. She leads Minnesota with five double-doubles, and says she’s developed “a knack” for rebounding by working on her positioning, despite giving up inches to opponents. That “knack,” Stollings says, is Pitts’ ability as a strong “fundamental” rebounder.
Minnesota averages a Big Ten-best 44.3 rebounds per game, and its margin of 6.2 per game ranks fifth — numbers aided by another player from Metro Detroit, 6-2 sophomore forward Taiye Bello.
The Southfield-Lathrup product is the Gophers’ top reserve, averaging 6.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game. The rebounds rank second on the team, and her 3.5 offensive rebounds per game are tied for fourth in the Big Ten, even though she’s mostly come off the bench with two starts in 21 games played.
Bello, whose twin Kehinde Bello averages 2.2 rebounds in five games for the Gophers, had 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting and nine rebounds in a 77-72 victory Jan. 21 over Iowa — the last game before a nine-day break for Minnesota.
“She’s extremely efficient while she’s in there,” Stollings said. “She’s been a rebounding machine for us, and she’s been scoring better of late. … She’s able to maneuver and use her athleticism against taller (opponents).”
Minnesota returns to action Jan. 31 at Wisconsin (8-14, 1-8) to usher in February, which Stollings calls “the month of separation.” The Big Ten remains ultra-tight, with Minnesota sitting in fifth, but just two games behind Big Ten-leading Maryland, and one game ahead of Iowa and Penn State, which are tied for eighth.
“That’s how the Big Ten is,” Pitts said. “You can’t take any games off.”