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Former Sweetwater star Michael Pitts (right) hoists his jersey plaque next to former Red Devils coach Gary Zarecky at halftime of the Sweetwater-Morse game on Saturday

Section’s 1979 Player of the Year has No. 44 jersey retired

NATIONAL CITY – As Sweetwater’s basketball program looks to move forward this season, current players got a taste of past Red Devils success on Saturday night. At halftime of the Red Devils’ 62-53 loss against Morse, the school retired the No. 44 jersey of Michael Pitts, the 1979 CIF Player of the Year.

“As I thought about it more, the honor really sunk in,” Pitts said. “I’m really honored and touched by this whole thing.”

As a senior, Pitts was the star on a Sweetwater team that lost to Kearny in the Class 2A finals. The 7-footer was the first McDonald’s All-American from San Diego and ranks fourth all-time in the section with 1,277 career rebounds.

“You would have seen a really lanky guy. A lot of our stuff was inside-outside and I had a step move and a turnaround jumper because I was taller than everybody,” Pitts said. “I was also fortunate to play with some really good passers. Every year we had guys that could get me the ball in my spots.”

Pitts played collegiately at California and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1984 NBA Draft. He tried out for the Spurs twice unsuccessfully before playing in France and Spain for three years.

“Michael Pitts by far was one of greatest players I ever coached because he had everything you want to see in a player. He had attitude, aptitude and great character,” said former Sweetwater coach Gary Zarecky.

Currently Pitts is the superintendent of a youth rehabilitation facility in Northern California. He has worked with juvenile probation for the past 20 years.

“I kind of felt like I was going to do something with teaching or coaching and this was a good fit for me,” Pitts said.

Pitts and Morse star Cliff Levingston were the central figures in a 1979 Morse-Sweetwater playoff game that is considered one of the greatest basketball games in section history. Pitts made a jumper at the buzzer to win the game.

“A lot of people that I’ve talked to over the years believe one of the best high school games ever played was Morse and Sweetwater in the semifinals,” Zarecky said. “They had such a huge traffic jam and the helicopters and police cars were out.”

Morse and Sweetwater enjoyed a strong rivalry in the 1970s. The rivalry between the schools separated by four miles has diminished over the years as the area has grown and more high schools have been built.

“At the time very few things in the state rivaled it – it was on a level by itself,” Zarecky said. “It always stunned me – the enthusiasm and the fans – and was something that has never been seen in San Diego.”

Sweetwater’s first-year coach Jesse Aguirre played for Zarecky in 1985 and is looking to restore the Red Devils program. After going winless in 2009-10 Sweetwater is 8-10 this season led by freshman guard Spencer Mattox, who is averaging 19 points per game.

“He’s trying to build it back and I think he has all these memories of what we did,” Zarecky said. “I think it’s going to come back.”

As for the game itself, Sweetwater played Morse (14-9) close for three quarters before the Tigers pulled away and won by nine. Aguirre announced at halftime that the past rivals would play each other every year starting next season.

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