Feb. 25, 2009
Rafiq el Arculli and Thomas Stepp, Texas Media Relations
In the Longhorns' locker room prior to last Saturday's match-up against Oklahoma, Dexter Pittman was doing what he has done before many games -- focusing on what he needed to do to help the team be successful that night.
However, this night was different. It was not because he was about to face a leading contender for National Player of the Year in the Sooners' Blake Griffin, or because of playing the second-ranked Sooners on national television.
As he sat in the locker room that night, he was meditating, listening to the voices and advice of his both of his grandmothers as he had done many times before when he was young.
He looked down at his left wristband, picked up a marker and first wrote, "To God be the glory," a phrase commonly used by his grandmothers.
He writes that phrase on his wristband before every game prior to writing, "Faye," in honor of his maternal grandmother, Faye Franks, who passed away when he was in the sixth grade.
That night, though, unlike in the past, prior to writing, "Faye," he had first written, "Martha," in honor of his paternal grandmother, Martha Pittman.
Just hours earlier he had been in his hometown of Rosenberg where he attended her funeral following her passing on February 12 from a heart condition.
"My grandmother (Martha) was a great lady and she always believed in loving one another," explained a somber Pittman. "She would constantly talk about how our family could bond and ways to make our family stronger."
With his father, Johnny, playing basketball overseas when Dexter was young, it was his grandmothers who had primarily raised Dexter through the sixth grade. The loss of Faye had been a difficult time for him, and he was now faced with the loss of Martha.
"She was a big part of my life," Dexter said.
Despite his tenacity on the floor, away from basketball Dexter is known by many to have the characteristics of a "gentle giant." He spent the majority of his childhood under the wing of Martha and credits her for much of the personality that shows through today.
"All of the characteristics that you see in me right now are there because of her," Pittman said. "She was humble, sweet and was nice to everybody that she knew, and I naturally took on those characteristics as well. She molded me into the soft-spoken person that I am today."
In fact, the similarities did not end with personality. In just under a week on March 2, Dexter and Martha would have celebrated their birthdays together with Dexter turning 21 and Martha turning 73.
Having been a motherly figure as Dexter was growing up, Martha naturally wanted him to focus his efforts on studying and obtaining good grades. To her, basketball was secondary.
"The funny thing is, she probably thought that I came here to Texas to just get a degree," Pittman joked. "She always preached to me about getting my degree, and she never really said much about basketball."
When reflecting back on his memories, Pittman remembers her through the smell of peaches and the long hours he used to spend doing chores around the house.
"She was the one who taught me about responsibility," Pittman said. "I used to go over to her house and help her out a lot in the yard. She had a big garden in her lawn, and we used to eat peaches together while we did the work."
On the afternoon of the 12th, Dexter was at practice when he was called over by Strength and Conditioning Coach Todd Wright, another person Dexter is extremely close to and who has helped him make great strides in his well-publicized conditioning and weight loss.
Dexter's mother, Selma Harris, had given Wright permission to convey the news.
It was a difficult time to get through, but after practicing with the team last Friday, Dexter drove to Rosenberg for the funeral and made it back to Austin on Saturday in time for the Longhorns' shootaround.
When he returned, Dexter had a heavy heart, but he was able to rely on support from his family, coaches and teammates.
"My family kept reminding me that my grandmother would have wanted me to come out and play as hard as I could," Pittman recalled. "They told me to not worry about it and to just go out there and play."
Pittman did just that. As part of his six rebounds in the game, he sealed the upset victory over the Sooners by grabbing an offensive rebound off of A.J. Abrams's missed three-point jumper, and powered his way over three Oklahoma defenders for the game's final field goal.
Abrams only had praise for his close friend and commended him for fighting through such tough adversity.
"You can see that he's hurt, but he hasn't really shown it," Abrams said. "For the most part, he's done a good job of staying positive and staying focused. We all told him that we're sorry for his loss, and if he ever needs somebody to talk to, we're all there for him."
Pittman thinks his loss will only make him a better person in life and a better player on the basketball court.
"I'll have to work twice as hard on the court now that I have two people to honor during games," Pittman said. "Even though she's gone, I know that my grandmother will always be with me, long after my basketball career is finished. I want to live up to be the type of person that she always wanted me to be."