Arlee boys’ basketball coach Zanen Pitts admits being baffled after he was the recipient of the Montana Class-C state Coach Of The Year Award.
Pitts led the Warriors to its first-ever Class-C state basketball title with a 73-69 victory over Manhattan Christian in the state championship game in Bozeman March 11.
Pitts said he felt receiving the individual honor was more of a culmination of the work his team, staff, and family put in rather than an individual honor.
“I don’t really know what to say (about winning the award),” Pitts said. “It’s not a goal I ever had. It feels like a privilege and a statement to the team, the program, my assistants and it kind of feels like a Team Of The Year Award rather than a Coach Of The Year Award.”
Pitts was quick to credit several key contributors and members of the Warriors staff that he felt were worthy of recognition, including his first assistant Francis Brown, second assistant Andrew Heavyrunner, bus driver Clint Rice, and his wife, Kendra Pitts, for being responsible for all of the accolades he and his Warriors team won.
“My two coaches, my wife, and all 20 of us were a big part of it,” Pitts said. “It’s all special. I guess now that the title is there, I have to make sure that I put more time in, and be more of a student of the game.”
Pitts credited the trust he and his players established together throughout the season.
“The whole aspect of everything within the walls of our locker room and the wall of our bus makes it easy to receive this award,” Pitts said. “Everyone on our team bought in and was on the same page, from the managers to the bus drivers, to all of the players and coaches. We all knew what the goal was. There was a vision and everyone was going for that. They allowed me to apply my philosophy, put forth the effort, and reach for the goals that they wanted.”
Pitts said establishing the trust between his Warriors’ players and himself was a process.
“There are two sides to everything and especially with kids, because kids have a lot of emotion,” Pitts said. “Once they started to see the writing on the wall and they started putting in the time, their skills just got better and better. Once they learned the importance of acquiring knowledge of the game, they wanted to go out and make history. It was important that they trusted me. They went to battle for me and I went to battle for them.”
Pitts said the trust was easier because he was the one coach the Warriors have been led by since they began their high school careers.
“No one has ever coached these guys except me and their own parents that built them into basketball players,” Pitts said. “These kids were groomed and prepped. They had all of the components to develop into champions, but it took the effort of everyone.”
Pitts credits his players for applying the principles that he and his coaching staff emphasized during the season.
“There are things that people miss, like when Phillip Malatare fouled out of the game against Plains and he never fouled out of another game all season,” Pitts said. “Or, one time, Phillip had six turnovers and never had six turnovers in a game again. Those are the things that we addressed and talked about. Greg Whitesell never got over one steal or rebound. We took our weaknesses and turned them into strengths.”
Pitts also talked about his team overcoming its lack of depth with playing a lineup of eight players.
“We didn’t really have a deep team but we were still an impressive team all the way around,” Pitts said. “Our team’s ceiling is still scary. We really broke the game down and taught them our principles and rules.”
Pitts said he was “deeply humbled” by winning the title.
“I am beyond proud and grateful and it was a blessing,” Pitts said. “Without God, none of this would have happened. This has been a blessing more than anything I could have ever imagined because winning this game was so much bigger than just a game. We won this for a lot of different people. It shows that winning does matter and it’s not just a game. It can help mold and heal people in the community.”
Pitts admits winning this award motivates him to win another championship.
“Everything that we have been applying is working and taking affect and that really motivates me to keep getting better,” Pitts said.