Raleigh, NC — Wakefield High School’s boys basketball program shares the same goals as everyone else in the state, their goals are just hanging on the wall.
Each time the team walks into the gym, the Wolverines see banners from state championships won in 2004 and 2006. That was the goal again this past season for Wakefield.
“Everybody wants the championship,” senior guard Jaxon Brown said earlier this year. “I feel like this year we’ve got a real hunger to get it.”
Their head coach, Garrett Stevens, knows what it takes. He was on the team in 2004.
“We feel like we have a lot of talent, a lot of depth and then that part we were missing last was that experience,” Stevens said.
If the banners were a reminder of the goal, the initials “MP” painted onto the court were the inspiration to reach it.
,[Us] knowing his mindset,” junior guard Ellijah Preddy said. “That gives us a bigger reason to why we need to go as hard as we can.”
“MP” stood for Messiah Pitt.
“He was a dog,” Brown said. “He always played hard, always gave it his all.”
Wakefield wore Pitt’s No. 4 and his initials proudly on their warm-up jerseys. His picture was hanging in the locker room. During games they would drape his jersey at the end of the bench. It was a constant source of motivation for the team, but also a persistent reminder of player and friend gone too soon.
“There are times you look down at the bench and you expect to see him there,” Stevens said in January.
Pitt should have been a senior at Wakefield this season, he should be graduating this week. But his life was taken June 19, 2021.
It was just after midnight, Pitt was attending a graduation pool party in Garner. According to Garner police, gun shots broke out in the parking lot. Pitt was not the intended target, but he was struck. He was taken to the hospital where he died. The team found out that morning on their way to a summer tournament game.
“I just had a whole bunch of emotions, I started breaking down,” Brown said. “I don’t know it just really hurt me a lot.”
The situation wasn’t something coaches expect to deal with, but Stevens had no choice.
“I didn’t have the answers that day, I didn’t know what was right or wrong for them,” Stevens said. “We did end up going to play that day. A couple parents came together and said these kids love to play.”
The kids wanted to play. They wanted to represent their friend and teammate.
“We came together as a family that day,” Preddy said. “We chose to play basketball because that’s what he wanted.”
Preddy is one of several players on the team who went to get tattoos with Pitt’s initials and number. The team has made it their mission to honor Pitt’s memory every where they go. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“I really appreciate how the teams, not just Wakefield, but other schools have honored him,” Pitt’s mother, Latrice Austin, said. “I just feel like it speaks to his character a lot.”
The pain is something Austin has learned to live with daily. She can smile as she goes through old photos while sitting at the kitchen table of her apartment. She flips through his birth announcement, a picture of him in his argyle sweater that he refused to wear as a little kid, then there’s a photo of him dunking on his toy basketball hoop.
“He loved the game of ball,” Austin said. “That was just life for him. He would not miss anything for basketball.”
Four men have been arrested and charged in Pitt’s case. Garner police said a second vehicle left the crime scene that night and the investigation is still ongoing. In the meantime the Wakefield basketball team will continue to do Pitt’s memory justice.
“When I say our team is a family, we are together every day,” Preddy said. “He was with us every day so it always feels like he’s with us.”
Stevens says his team is discussing ways to continue honoring Pitt in the future. One consideration is having a player of the week who will get to wear his jersey in practice. At HighSchoolOT Honors, they’ll honor him as a finalist for the Stuart Scott Courage Award.
The Stuart Scott Courage Award presented by PBS North Carolina recognizes people in high school sports who have demonstrated courage this school year. Each day this week, a new story will be posted about each of the five finalists. The winner will be named during the HighSchoolOT Honors awards show on Saturday at 6 pm