Former Laurel High standout's opportunity as college coach finally arrives

For the Laurel Leader

Damian Pitts had been the assistant men's basketball coach at Division II Millersville University for 15 years when his long-time boss and mentor, Fred Thompson, was let go after the 2015-16 season.

Pitts, a 1994 graduate of Laurel High School, was a logical and qualified candidate to take over for Thompson but the head job went to Casey Stitzel at Millersville in Lancaster, Pa.

Instead of sulking about being passed over, Pitts remained on staff as an assistant to Stitzel this past season, thanks in part to a contract that guaranteed him his assistant position at Millersville.

"It could have been really uncomfortable," Pitts said of working with Stitzel, whom he did not know before they were part of the same staff. "We clicked immediately and became great friends."

"It is quite a unique situation," Stitzel said. "Most coaches will clean house. I had to retain Damian for as long as he wanted to be there [as an assistant[. It was not that [uncomfortable] at all. He was very supportive, very loyal. It could not have worked out any better."

The patience and hard work of Pitts, a finalist for Millersville and other college jobs in the past, was rewarded last month when he was named the head men's basketball coach at Division III Centenary University in basketball-rich New Jersey, about one hour from New York City.

It is the first head college post for Pitts, a former Spartan standout who played in college at Division III Goucher in Towson under Leonard Trevino. Pitts played at Laurel High for head coach Dwayne Jones, now the principal at the school.

"The coaching profession is brutal," said Pitts, 41, who attended Bond Mill Elementary and Martin Luther King Junior. "It is hyper-competitive; everyone wants to be a head coach. Every job you put your name in for, there is 150 applicants or more, be it Division I, II and III. The lower down you go the more competitive it is."

Since Pitts was named the head coach at Centenary, he has moved his family, which includes his wife, Meredith, and 5-year-old son, Samuel, from Lancaster, Pa., to New Jersey. He is also working to complete his coaching staff, which will include two graduate assistants and one part-time coach.

"It is extremely exciting. I am working here just to get up to speed on what Centenary is," Pitts said. "We are trying to get the roster settled for next year and get acclimated to what Centenary is. The good thing is being at Millersville so long I learned a lot of valuable experiences I can use."

An unusual connection helped Pitts land the head job at Centenary, which is a member of the Division III Colonial States Athletic Conference.

Millersville men's soccer coach Steve Widdowson, a one-time standout in his native England, is the former coach at Centenary and had an office near Pitts while at the Lancaster school.

Centenary athletic director Keith O'Connor called Widdowson after Pitts had applied for the job in New Jersey.

"He gave me a ringing endorsement I guess," Pitts said.

The Cyclones were 12-14 overall and 8-10 in the conference last season under former head coach Tim Fusina, who was named the head coach at Cal Lutheran on June 1.

"I am extremely pleased to welcome Damian and his family to Centenary University," O'Connor said in a statement when Pitts was named to the job July 21. "Damian firmly believes in developing student-athletes both on and off the court in preparation for their futures after college. I am confident that he will make our men's basketball program and university community better."

Pitts said he spoke recently with Fusina. "He gave me the lay of the land" Pitts said.

Centenary is a private school of about 1,100 students that was founded by the Methodist Church in the 1860s.

Pitts said Jones and Trevino were instrumental in his coaching career.

"Coach Jones was a great person to be around. He was a yeller and screamer, but he cared about us," Pitts said. "He was not that much older than us when I look back, only about 12 years older than us [players]. He was a man-to-man defensive guy. That was one of the first things I learned."

Jones recalled Pitts from his days as a player at Laurel High.

"He was a shooting guard who was tall, thin and unassuming," Jones said. "His mother and father, they did a great job with Damian and his younger brother. I was tickled pink when I heard he obtained a head coaching job. He was an assistant coach for a long time. Good things happen to good people who are patient. He is a Laurel student who has done well."

Trevino left Goucher and is now the athletic director at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

"Coach Trevino and coach Jones, in terms of style and team philosophy, were very similar," Pitts said. "They were both motion-offense guys. We became very good at the full-court press at Goucher. I enjoy playing that way. We had a lot of success; I played in three conference championship games in four years and we won two and lost one by one point" at Goucher.

Trevino said Pitts did not fit the profile of a rah-rah coach while he played in college.

"Ironically he was probably the quietest guy on the team," said Trevino. "He was quiet and laid back. He loved the game. He was always a hard worker and he really developed as a player. He was an integral part of championship teams."

One of Pitts' teammates at Goucher was Bakari Ward, a graduate of Arundel High who was a two-time conference player of the year in college.

Ward remembers Pitts as a quiet player who focused on academics and cared about his teammates.

"If he had just five dollars he would give you five dollars," said Ward, a resident of Baltimore County.

The move from Millersville to Centenary was not entirely smooth for Pitts and his family.

His family thought they had found a nice rental property a few miles from campus in mid-August.

"The ceiling collapsed the day before we were supposed to move," said Pitts, speaking from his hotel room in New Jersey. "We thought we had a nice little place lined up."

The Laurel product can only hope the construction project with the Cyclones goes a lot smoother.

The Damian Pitts file

Hometown: Laurel

Schools: Bond Mill Elementary, Martin Luther King Middle, Laurel High class of 1994

College: Goucher

Position: Head men's basketball coach, Centenary College of New Jersey

Height: 6-5

Age: 41

Did you know? He was an assistant coach at Division II Millersville before being named the Division III Centenary head coach on July 21. … Pitts played Division III basketball as a forward at Goucher College in Towson. … He and his wife, Meredith, who is from Canada, have a son Samuel, who is 5. … Pitts grew up in South Laurel and played for Dwayne Jones at Laurel High and Leonard Trevino at Goucher. Jones is now the principal at Laurel High and Trevino is the athletic director of Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

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