The latest subject of our hoops Q&A series is Texas center Dexter Pittman, who's off to an impressive start in his senior season, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game.
He arrived in Austin in the same 2006 recruiting class with Kevin Durant, but weighed more than 390 pounds and played sparingly in his first two seasons. In four years in Austin, the 6-foot-10 Pittman has undergone a miracle transformation, slimming down to near 290 pounds and establishing himself as the anchor in the paint for the second- ranked Longhorns, who are 8-0 and have big tests looming against North Carolina and Michigan State. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Luke Winn: Can you tell me the origin of the nickname Sexy Dexy? I was watching the Long Beach State game (on Dec. 7) and an announcer suggested that you might have made it up. Figured I'd give you a chance to set the record straight.
Dexter Pittman: The nickname originally came from the women's basketball team, the summer before my freshman year. I'd be the only male basketball player in the weight room early in the mornings, when they were there, and they saw how hard I was working. They commented on how my body was changing, and one of them said, "You're getting sexy!" All the girls were like, "Yeah!" -- and one came out said, "Sexy Dexy!" That's where the name came from. I was just a pup then, and Kevin wasn't even on campus yet, because he was still playing All-American stuff.
LW: Who were the key players involved in that -- and was either a future girlfriend?
DP: It was Mariana Mergerson and Kristin Nash. I did date Mariana a little bit. We're still like best friends.
LW: Why is your Twitter account Big_Pitt instead of Sexy_Dexy? I thought that would be a natural handle.
DP: I didn't want people to think I was conceited.
LW: I wanted to ask you about a few Tweets. One said that you had Twitter activated on three phones. Really?
DP: I love phones like women love shoes. Even if they're not on -- I just want to have them around. I'm known on the team to have the best phones. Like, if the iPhone is out, I get it before any one of my teammates. And then they be getting on me, like, "Man, you change numbers more than anybody I know! I'm not even saving yours in my phone!" I have the iPhone right now, but I love Blackberries, so I got the Storm and the Curve, and I don't know which one I want to give up yet.
LW: Why this phone obsession?
DP: I think phones are the backbone of this generation, communication-wise, the way we stay in touch with family and friends. And I love technology. My dream was always to be an engineer or something when I got older. When I was a little boy I didn't think about playing basketball, I dreamed about building computers and robots. ... When I was seven, if the VCR broke, my grandma would tell me to fix it, and I'd take it apart and put it back together. Or I'd go to one of my neighbors' houses and fix their TV. I love taking things apart and putting them back to together.
LW: The other Tweet was about your love for Wal-Mart. You said it's "my favorite place and it's the place to be." That's a serious thing?
DP: Oh my god. If I could live in Wal-Mart, I'd live there. Do you know that movie Where The Heart Is? It's the one where the lady has a baby in Wal-Mart, and stays in Wal-Mart. That's one of my favorite movies because of that scene.
Wal-Mart is a great store. If I get rich, I want to buy one, because it has everything. You don't have to go anywhere else. I'd rather go to Wal-Mart than the mall. I had an addiction where I was going to Wal-Mart every day to buy something, but I calmed down. I haven't been there in two weeks -- that's why I don't have any food in my fridge.
I'm scared I'm going to go there and blow all my money. Because I'd stop in the electronics department and buy a Blue-ray or something, and I'd get home and be like, why did I just buy this?
LW: Seems like it got a little out of hand.
DP: I was going every day. It was crazy. I'd even get mad when someone would say something about Target. I'd be like, "I hate Target, don't talk about Target." Wal-Mart is so much better. I want to go there right now, now that we're talking about it.
If you watch CNBC, they've been showing a special about Wal-Mart. I've watched that probably three times. It talks about the communities where they build stores, their prices, their stock, all that.
LW: When did this obsession start?
DP: My grandma used to always take me there when I was younger. It's a superstore ... and that's another reason I like Wal-Mart: It's so big, I feel small there.
LW: You're shooting 78.6 percent from the field this year, which is second in the nation. It seems like you've been trying to dunk everything in the post. Why the change in mentality this year?
DP: I kind of got that from Blake [Griffin], the thought that I should attack the rim and look inside the rim every time. That was one of my biggest failures last year, I'd get a shot off, but I'd miss because I wasn't looking inside the rim or the goal. I remember after the Oklahoma game -- we could have won that game, but I missed two shots and it was the difference -- I told myself, "Every time I go up or I jump, I'm going to look inside the rim and finish through it." When I go up I don't always think I'm gonna dunk; I'm going up and saying, "I'm going to get over the rim, and if it's there, I'll dunk it, and if it's not I'll hook it over and in."
LW: So Blake Griffin told you to do this?
DP: Yeah. I'm good friends with DeAndre Jordan, who plays with Blake on the Clippers, and Blake's a great guy, so I talked to him about it. He led the country in field-goal percentage last year, and what he did was look inside the rim every time he went up to score.
LW: When you were younger, (Texas) coach (Rick) Barnes had to limit your playing time because of conditioning. You're playing a career-high 19.8 minutes this year. Could you play more without getting winded?
DP: I could play more, but only thing is, we have such a great bench that I don't need to play that many minutes. Every time I come out, someone behind me goes in and turns it up another notch. If we didn't have so many guys, then I'd have to play like 30 minutes a game.
LW: Are you in shape enough to play 30?
DP: You couldn't tell?
LW: Your team is No. 1 in the nation in defensive efficiency, which is a big jump from last year, when you were 28th. Has there been a bigger emphasis on defense this year?
DP: We're just taking pride in it. And we have pit bulls in the backcourt -- guys like Dogus (Balbay), Mase (Justin Mason) and Varez Ward, before he got hurt. They dig into the other team's guards and don't let them breathe. And I know that whenever those guards drive the lane, I've got to be the last line of defense -- I've got to go over and block the shot or change it. Sometimes I hope that guards do drive past one of our guys, just so they'll come to the hole and have to deal with me.
LW: I read that Charles Barkley left a voice mail on Coach Barnes' phone to encourage you last year. What did Barkley say?
DP: He did that after the USA Today article was written last year. He just told me to keep working, because he went through the same weight issues that I'm going through. He told me to make sure I didn't stop working.
LW: That article talked about how you counseled younger kids about their weight problems. Are you still doing that this season?
DP: I talked to one kid today, actually. He got in touch with me through my strength coach, Todd Wright, and (the kid) was telling me about his team and stuff, and how he was coming to our next game. I was like, OK, great, I'll be sure to come and shake your hand before the game. Kids look up to me because of the journey I've been on, and how much weight I've lost. It's a great feeling.
LW: How close are you with Coach Wright, the guy behind your transformation?
DP: He's a big part of my life. He helped me become the person that I am now. If I had gone to another school, I might only be halfway to where I'm at right now. He's become a part of my family; him and my mom talk every other day. When something's wrong my mom calls him.
LW: He has before-and-after photos of you that are just insane -- you're an entirely different shape from what you were in 2006. Are you ever going to let someone print those?
DP: We might release them when I leave. He doesn't want that much attention on it. And I'm not done yet, either -- I want my body to be like Dwight Howard's is now. And I'm going to get there, because I love to work in the weight room.
LW: When you look at the guy in the "before" photos, what's your reaction?
DP: I think, I can't believe that was me. I don't even know who that person is in the first photo.