Justin Pitts would be a great poker player.
Justin Pitts would be a great poker player.
The stone-faced Blue Springs South point guard never lets his emotions show on the court. His icy stare is as much a part of his game as is his deadly 3-point shot and ability to pick an opponent's pocket with ease.
That's why his reaction, when he found out sophomore teammate Kevin Puryear was just 16 years old, was priceless.
Pitts was asked about playing with the 6-foot-8 center that has Division I coaches drooling, and he actually smiled and asked, “Kevin's just 16? Man? He's pretty good for just being 16 years old.”
South coach Jimmy Cain grinned at Pitts’ reaction.
“That’s the most emotion I’ve seen from him in four years,” Cain said, chuckling. “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen him smile. You watch Kevin, and you can’t believe he’s just 16.
“And he just turned 16, too. He played the first of the season and had some huge numbers, and he was just 15.”
Pitts, a senior leader who is a big reason the 22-2 Jaguars are the second-ranked Class 5 team in the state, talked about his young teammate in glowing terms.
“He takes a lot of pressure off me and Carl (Martin, another senior guard standout) because we know if we get him the ball, he's going to do something with it. He's either going to score or get fouled. He's a big part of the team.
“And he's just 16? Man …”
Puryear has been the man for the Jaguars throughout most of the season.
Despite facing double-teams, diamond-and-one and other gimmick defenses, he is averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
One of his most impressive performances came in a 69-52 Suburban Big Six victory over longtime nemesis Lee's Summit North.
Martin (eight) and Pitts (seven) combined for just 15 points in the game, but Puryear exploded for 18 points and he grabbed 12 rebounds. The sophomore then scored 18 again in Tuesday’s home win over Lee’s Summit to share team-high honors with Pitts.
“We didn't want Pitts and Martin to beat us, so we made sure we had a hand in their face every time they shot the ball,” North coach Mike Hilbert said of Puryear’s game against the Broncos. “Then, their big guys score all those points in the paint. Anything it takes to win a game – great shooting, chasing down the ball and getting all the loose balls and playing great defense – they did. Every time I see them I'm impressed.”
And every time a Division I coach watches Puryear, they are impressed.
He has already been offered scholarships by Creighton and Miami of Ohio and has been contacted by Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Marquette.
Page 2 of 2 - “The sky's the limit with Kevin,” said Cain, a former Examiner Player of the Year who starred at Blue Springs High School and then Central Missouri State University. “Things have changed so much – back when I was playing, the coaches just watched you in high school.
“Now, they pay so much attention to the AAU teams, and Kevin is on a great one (KC Run GMC). They really do a great job with the kids, and I have a lot of respect for his team and the coaches. And Kevin’s parents (Kevin and Vicki) are the best. They keep him grounded and make sure he has his priorities set.
“When you have a kid with his talent, with his parents and his work ethic, well, you have a kid that just about everyone around here is looking at. And they're looking at him for a good reason. His best basketball is yet to come.”
The Jaguars open district play next week at Blue Springs High School. South is the No. 1 seed and will meet the Lee’s Summit-Raytown winner in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Puryear knows the path to state will be filled with obstacles.
“Our only goal this year has been going to state,” Puryear said. “And we'll do whatever it takes to win. If I don't score a point, but play good defense and get some rebounds, I'm the happiest guy in the locker room.
“All I care about is winning. I want to win for our seniors – they accepted me last year when I was a freshman and they were juniors and they have accepted me this year too. I never felt like ‘the freshman,’ or the ‘the sophomore.’ I just felt like a member of this team, and I wouldn’t trade the past two seasons for anything.
“This is where I want to be. And I've got two more years to play for Coach Cain, and that's exciting to think about.”
And how exciting is to think about a future that could include a Division I basketball future?
“When I was a freshman, I got my first letter from Oregon, and I thought they had sent it to the wrong address,” Puryear said, grinning. “I'll never forget getting that first letter. Now, I have boxes full of them, and they're still special to get. But I'll be honest with you. I'm having such a good time playing for South, I don't have time to think about college.”
After all, he's only 16.