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Laurel High graduate takes over as Division II basketball head coach

Laurel High graduate takes over as Division II basketball head coach
Former Laurel High basketball standout Damian Pitts, shown here in 2017 at Laurel High, was named as head basketball coach at Clarion University. (File photo)

Making a move up the college basketball ladder was not on the radar early last season for Damian Pitts, a graduate of Laurel High School.

In his second season as the head coach at Division III Centenary, his men’s basketball team at the New Jersey school began the year with just one win in the first 10 games.

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"At that point you are not thinking about moving up but how can you survive this,” Pitts recalled.

His team survived and thrived, winning 11 of its last 16 games and going 9-1 in one stretch to finish the season with a mark of 12-14.

Then came a surprise after the season when he heard from Clarion, a Division II program in northwest Pennsylvania.

They had interest in Pitts as a coach, and after a phone interview and visit to campus he was offered and took the post June 8 as the new coach in the competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

“I didn’t have any intention of leaving, but the job at Clarion came open,” said Pitts, a 1994 Laurel graduate. “I had applied for it the last time it came open.”

Clarion finished near the bottom of the standings last season. And Pitts had to rebuild the Centenary program.

“That is what I sold in the interview process,” said Pitts, who grew up in south Laurel and played at Division III Goucher in Towson. “I want to build the team through the four-year kids and not do the quick fix. We will take our lumps early.”

Pitts, whose parents still live in Laurel, is very familiar with the PSAC.

He was an assistant coach for nearly two decades at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and was a graduate assistant when the Marauders won the 2002 PSAC East title.

He was a full-time assistant from 2007 to 2014 when Millersville made three NCAA tournament appearances and advanced to two NCAA region finals.

He earned a master’s degree in sports management from Millersville in 2002.

Pitts helped develop 11 players who went on to play at the pro level and two were named to the school’s Hall of Fame.

“I am thrilled to introduce Damian Pitts as the newest member of our Golden Eagle family,” Dr. Wendy Snodgrass, the school’s athletic director, said in a statement. “Throughout the search process, Damian impressed us with not just his basketball acumen, but also his abilities to communicate, lead and inspire student-athletes on and off the court. We are confident that he is the person to lead our program during this exciting period of change and transition.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank associate athletic director D.J. Bevevino and the members of his search committee for their work in identifying and interviewing candidates for this important job,” Snodgrass added. “Their attention to detail and hard work allowed us this opportunity, and I am grateful for their how they handled this search.”

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Pitts and his staff will have their hands full.

Clarion was 6-20 overall and 4-17 in conference play last season and parted ways with former coach Marcess Williams. He posted an overall mark of 40-98 in five seasons at the school.

A freshman on the team last season was James Price, who is from Joppa and played in high school at Archbishop Curley.

Pitts has been on the road a lot during the busy July recruiting period. His wife, Meredith, and their son, Samuel, 7, have remained in New Jersey for most of the summer before making the move to Pennsylvania.

The top assistant at Clarion will be Mike McCready, who also worked with Pitts at Centenary.

“It has been great for my career. He lets his assistants grow,” McCready said of Pitts. “The only way you can do that is if your head coach lets you do things. He is open to anything his assistants say, so they have a voice. The past two years have been awesome. He has been great to me. He has let me spread my wings, so to speak. He wants his assistant to move on and be head coaches one day.”

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