MOREHEAD — When she was in high school at Tates Creek, Brittany Pittman received a T-shirt from a teammate's mother with these words: "# 1 SHOT BLOCKER."
"That must have been a premonition," said Pittman's mother, Tammy Muffley. "She's really the number one shot blocker now."
Pittman, a junior center at Morehead State, led the NCAA in blocked shots per game last week. After Thursday night's games, her average of 5.94 blocks was just ahead of Louella Tomlinson of St. Mary's (Calif.), whose average was 5.88. Third-place Marlies Gipson of Kansas State was at 3.9.
In the Ohio Valley Conference, Pittman, with 113 blocks this season, is the career leader after blocking five Thursday night at Southeast Missouri. She needs 44 blocks to break the NCAA Division I season record of 156 set by Tomlinson last year. Pittman's 123 blocks and 4.1 average last season shattered the OVC records of 77 rejections and three a game.
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Pittman is 6-foot-3, "skinny, long and lanky," as she describes herself. Her 140 pounds cause her to consider herself small.
In perfecting her special skill, Pittman has learned that timing is everything. Her mentor and several of her coaches agree.
"I was tall, so that was always an advantage," she said following a recent home game. "I have good timing. That's why I block without fouling. It's a natural thing. I see the ball, and I block it. Other than that, I really don't know."
Morehead's Mike Bradbury, her fourth college coach, considers timing her biggest asset.
"She has a keen sense of when to jump and not to jump," Bradbury said. "She lets the opponent make the first move, then reacts off of that. She won't jump until they jump, and she rarely gets caught off her feet."
Shot blockers have a certain timing and a knack for knowing when to block and not foul, said her mother and mentor, Muffley. "The more she did it, the better she got."
"I was impressed with her early on," said Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell, her coach for one year at Morehead. "I thought she could do what she's doing. She's so athletic and can block shots so well."
Maurice Garrard, her AAU coach for two summers during high school, isn't surprised by his protégé's success, "not one bit," he said. "I liked her length and aggression toward the ball. She positions herself and attacks the ball."
Perhaps none of Pittman's success on the court would have happened if she had become a cheerleader when she was a sixth-grader at Southern Middle School in Lexington.
"I guess I was too tall," Pittman said. "When Mom and I looked at the list, all my friends made (cheerleader) but me. I cried. Mom said there was a reason for this and wanted me to try basketball. I'd never picked up a basketball. I knew nothing. I wanted to be a girl and wear makeup."
"Her older sister had been a cheerleader, and that's all she wanted to do," her mother said. "She was devastated."
Pittman had not played basketball in elementary school or attended any youth camps. "She'd never touched a basketball," her mother said.
Muffley and her younger daughter put up a goal. "Every night in good weather we were out there shooting," Pittman said. "I picked up the fundamentals."
"I tied a hand behind her and made her shoot with one hand," Muffley said. "That's why she's ambidextrous."
Pittman tried out for the Southern squad and made the sixth-grade "B" team. "At the end of the season, I had 14 points. I was horrible," she said.
"I was on the 'A' team in seventh and eighth grades, and I got better. We ended up winning the middle school championship those years."
Pittman competed on the Tates Creek varsity as an eighth-grader. She went on to set the state record (since broken) with 18 blocks in one game. And she made the Kentucky All-Stars for the summer series with Indiana.
During her high school career, Pittman discovered she could block shots.
Her mother recalled a game against Henry Clay and Mary Tobin, an AAU teammate.
"Mary was much stronger, and Brittany couldn't get close to her," Muffley recalled. "Brittany was long enough and skinny enough. She just reached over and blocked a shot."
Blocking shots became natural. "I really had no choice," Pittman said. "My arms are so long. If I put my arms up, they shoot right into them."
During the summer, Pittman played for the Central Kentucky Storm AAU team and polished her skills with Garrard's coaching. She faced top-flight competition, including future Tennessee All-American Candace Parker.
Garrard often played Pittman at small forward as the Storm competed in elite tournaments around the country.
"We didn't keep stats of blocked shots," Garrard said, "but Brittany probably got in double figures. She wasn't a true center. She could handle the ball and was good at mid-range shooting. She had instincts like a guard. It made her different from anybody else."
With college looming, Pittman weighed 38 offers from Division I schools, enabling her to fulfill her dream of playing at that level. She chose Middle Tennessee State over Miami (Ohio).
She signed before her senior season. By the time she went to Middle for summer school, Coach Stephany Smith and her staff were already at Alabama. Rick Insell took over, and all of Smith's last incoming class eventually left.
Looking to transfer after playing in 17 games as a freshman, Pittman chose Morehead State. Her determination was driven by a couple of blogs she read on the Middle Tennessee Web site.
"Mom mentioned one to me, and I got online," Pittman said. "It said I was too small, and I couldn't play at the Division I level. I'm small, but that doesn't mean I'm fragile."
Her redshirt year with the Eagles was the most profitable of her career.
"It was time for me to work on my individual skills," she said. "I couldn't go on road trips, so I'd stay here and work on my game."
"It wasn't a wasted year for her but an opportunity to get better," Mitchell said. "She helped us in practice and made us a better team."
Then Mitchell was hired at Kentucky, and Pittman soon was playing for her fourth coach, Bradbury.
"I enjoy coaching her," Bradbury said. "She likes basketball again. That's the biggest thing."
"I have it so good all the way around," Pittman said. "My personal life. I'm an hour from Ashland (her mother) and Lexington (her father Tommy, a former Berea star). Morehead has a great journalism program. School is going well. I fit in perfectly in basketball. I'm so glad I came."
GP-GS Avg. min. FG-A Pct. FT-A Pct. Reb. Avg. Blk. Avg. Stl. Pts. Avg.
19-19 31.9 72-151 0.477 54-92 0.587 190 10.0 113 5.9 32 198 10.4