I met Kevin Pittsnogle, once, on the one day on which I met basically every NBA player I’ve ever met. He was at the NBA Rookie Shoot during my tenure at Topps, running around wearing a Celtics jersey with no number on it — Topps had signed him to an autograph deal despite him not getting drafted — getting other rookies to autograph their cards in the set of photo-shoot cards (destined to become rare “chase” cards in the Topps Basketball set) that he and the other rookies received. He posed for the usual pictures and did a brief and personable interview with me, but his goofy exuberance is what I remember best.
During an interview I was doing with some player, I think it was Randy Foye, Pittsnogle snuck up and just dropped his card down in front of Foye, who was autographing stickers that would later be applied to other cards (Rookie Shoot is a magical day). Foye looked up, I looked up, and Pittsnogle just grinned like a little kid and kind of shrugged. Foye (or whoever it was) signed the card and handed it back to him, laughing and shaking his head. There was no way not to like Pittsnogle, and I felt bad — in that sort of absent way one can feel anything while reading sports transactions — when he didn’t make the Celtics and began doing the minor league circuit.
I figured he’d make it to the NBA eventually, and while John Branch’s terrific piece on Pittsnogle in today’s New York Times doesn’t foreclose on that opportunity, it’s more notable for showcasing a guy whose definition of “making it” seems admirably and maturely flexible and modest. I’m not sure how I feel about K-Pitt’s Bugs Bunny-themed necktie, but I sure had high school teachers who dressed worse.
Less than three years ago, Pittsnogle was an all-American senior averaging 19.3 points who led West Virginia to the 2006 regional semifinals. He expected to be chosen in the N.B.A draft. He was not. Now, at 24, he is a middle school teacher in his hometown. He is also an unpaid assistant coach for a high school basketball team. He bowls in leagues three nights a week and occasionally plays bingo at Big Bucks Bingo. His wife, Heather, is a bank teller. They have two children and live in a double-wide trailer, and together they wonder how much appetite they have for uprooting their lives again so Pittsnogle can have one more chance at a basketball career.
His more immediate concern is to graduate special education students into regular classes. œI wasn™t supposed to do anything else but basketball, I think, in everybody else™s mind, Pittsnogle said.
…Something happened on the way back to an ordinary life. Pittsnogle learned last fall that he had a thyroid condition that slowed his metabolism. It helped explain his fluctuating weight, long trending upward. Medication has helped him lose 25 pounds and re-energize his playing hopes. He is pondering N.B.A. summer leagues, one last time.
œIf I look the way I™m supposed to look, and play the way I™m supposed to play, I think I™ll get a chance, Pittsnogle said. œIf not, I™ll come back and live my life here.
His attitude is dipped in realism. A teacher at his level makes about $25,000. A four-month season in the N.B.A.™s developmental league pays about the same, but would keep hope for an N.B.A. career alive. An offer, though, would force a decision over whether to leave the family behind or have his wife quit her job.
The accompanying video slide show is eminently worth watching, too. Especially for some close-up looks at Pittsnogle’s many, goofy basketball-themed tattoos. Thanks to Brendan Flynn for the link.