Ex-Longhorn not only in NBA, but has chance to play with James

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE -

Maybe Dex­ter Pittman should play the Lotto. But no need for that. He feels like he just won it.

The for­mer Texas cen­ter had two goals when he left Rosen­berg Terry High School. One was to have a chance to play in the NBA. The other?

“To play with LeBron James,’’ Pittman said by phone Wed­nes­day.

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Pittman, as­sum­ing he makes the Mi­ami Heat’s ros­ter, will not only get his wish to play with James, but he’ll also play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, two of the best in the game.

Pittman was one of the mil­lions of tele­vi­sion view­ers who tuned in last week to see James an­nounce his in­ten­tion to join Wade and Bosh on South Beach, trans­form­ing the Heat into an in­stant cham­pi­onship con­tender. It was great news for Pittman, who had told Bosh one month ear­lier that he would love to have him as a team­mate. Now this.

“I was pretty ex­cited at the moment, but I was like, ‘I can’t get too ex­cited be­cause this is the NBA,’ ’’ he said of James’ sign­ing. “It’s a busi­ness. I was look­ing for­ward to play­ing with

Con­tin­ued from C1 (Wade), but I wasn’t ex­pect­ing LeBron and Chris to join.”

Pittman walked through the Heat’s locker room a day af­ter the an­nounce­ment and no­ticed that James al­ready had a locker with his No. 6 jersey, for­merly be­long­ing to guard Mario Chalmers. He also in­forms us that there is a throne, pre­sum­ably for King James, lo­cated in the arena.

Ah, the luck. Is there a bet­ter sce­nario for an NBA rookie cen­ter than know­ing he will be asked only to re­bound, block shots and get the oc­ca­sional put­back for a team with three Olympic gold medal­ists who have all av­er­aged 20 points per game in this league? Think Bos­ton’s Ken­drick Perkins with a bet­ter ver­sion of the big three.

Pittman is com­ing off a tu­mul­tuous spring. He strug­gled down the home stretch and saw his draft stock fall, fol­lowed by the tragic death of his teenage brother in May.

But he has emerged on the other side. He’s in Las Ve­gas play­ing with the Heat’s sum­mer league team this month and this is his first taste of the NBA ex­pe­ri­ence on the court. He de­buted with five points and three re­bounds on 0-for-4 shoot­ing against a ream of fel­low rook­ies and free agents from New Or­leans on Sun­day, then came back with seven points and four re­bounds against Golden State two days later. He was held out Wed­nes­day with a sore toe.

He’s landed in a good sit­u­a­tion. He won’t be asked to score or do things out­side of his com­fort zone. With three All-NBA per­form­ers on his team and highly re­spected big man Zy­drunas Ill­gauskas hav­ing just signed, Pittman has rea­son to smile.

Af­ter strug­gling of­fen­sive-

Mi­ami rookie ly in the sec­ond half of his se­nior year, Pittman, once thought to be a no-brainer first-round pick while dom­i­nat­ing in stretches of his ju­nior year, was sur­prised to see he was pro­jected to go in the sec­ond round by some mock drafts.

Af­ter the Longhorns fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son with a first-round loss to Wake For­est in the NCAA tour­na­ment — Pittman’s late strug­gles were a source of frus­tra­tion — he went to NBA draft camps, but had his tour cut short af­ter re­ceiv­ing the news that his 16-year-old brother Dar­ius John­son had been shot and killed in Hous­ton on May 20. For a guy work­ing to make his dreams hap­pen, the news could not have come at a worse time.

“It was tough,’’ said Pittman, who is still not en­tirely com­fort­able dis­cussing the sub­ject. “It kind of took me back for a while, but now I’m back on track.”

With tough times hope­fully in his rear view, Pittman is do­ing one of the things he does best. He’s re­bound­ing.

Pittman knows get­ting drafted isn’t the end of the jour­ney. Now he has to prove he be­longs.

The ab­sence of a face-up jumper and ques­tion­able stamina — even af­ter los­ing close to 100 pounds while at Texas — are pos­si­ble rea­sons he slipped to the sec­ond pick of the sec­ond round at No. 32 over­all, but he be­lieves the best is ahead.

The 5:30 a.m. work­outs with UT strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Todd Wright pushed him to his phys­i­cal and mental lim­its, and now he’s reap­ing the ben­e­fits. The ups and downs of his col­lege ca­reer have given him more mo­ti­va­tion and a ma­ture per­spec­tive on his new pro­fes­sion.

And there are the nick­names. He came to Texas as Big Dex, then be­came Dex-a-Trim when he lost the weight. Then he be­came Sexy Dexy.

So what’s the lat­est moniker?

“South Beach has al­ready given me a new nick­name,’’ he said. “They’re call­ing me Big Sexy.”

The NBA is a man’s game and Pittman knows noth­ing will be given to him. He will have to play much bet­ter than he did in the fi­nal month of col­lege if he is to stay in this league.

His first goal is to drop 20 pounds off his 303-pound frame be­fore the sea­son starts, which will help with his stamina. Then the rest is bas­ket­ball. As­sis­tant coach Keith Askins is help­ing for im­proved foot­work in the paint. They call it dance class. And you know he’s tak­ing a lot of jumpers in prac­tice.

This is what Pittman al­ways dreamed of do­ing. Now it’s start­ing to take shape.

“It’s all about work­ing hard ev­ery day,’’ he said. “I’m go­ing to keep push­ing my­self to get bet­ter. I’m ex­cited.”

‘It’s all about work­ing hard ev­ery day. I’m go­ing to keep push­ing my­self to get bet­ter.’

DEX­TER PITTMAN, for­mer Longhorn and sec­ond-round pick of the Heat


Dex­ter Pittman

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