Feb. 17, 2010
By Matt Winter
GoHuskies.com Contributing Writer
SEATTLE - Quincy Pondexter has waited a long time for a season like this. The senior from Fresno, Calif., is nearing the end of his run at the University of Washington, and Husky fans are witnessing firsthand what four years under coach Lorenzo Romar can do for a player. After years of hard work, dedication, struggle, and patience, the senior captain of the 2009-10 basketball team has become one the premier players not only in the Pac-10, but the country, as well.
Pondexter came to UW from San Joaquin Memorial High School as part of a highly touted recruiting class that consisted of him, Spencer Hawes, Adrian Oliver, and Phil Nelson. However, because of transfers and the calling of the NBA, Q-Pon was the only one left by his early sophomore year. Now as the lone senior, Pondexter has carried the burden of senior leadership alone this season, a burden that no recent Husky star--not Bobby Jones, not Brandon Roy, not Jon Brockman--has ever had to bear.
"I'm living a dream right now. I can't explain it sometimes. I'm just a kid from Fresno, Calif., and not many people get a chance like I do to be successful."
Despite that burden, Pondexter has flourished this season. Statistically speaking, he is undeniably one of the top two or three players in the Pac-10. Pondexter is averaging 20.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
What is more impressive is how well rounded his game is. For much of the year, Pondexter has ranked among the conference's top 10 in most major statistical categories. He is third in points, third in rebounds, sixth in field goal percentage (54.2%), fifth in free throw percentage (81.8%), eighth in steals (1.4 per game) and second in offensive rebounds (3.4). He also ranks among the top shot blockers per game and is shooting 36% from three-point range. His consistent success this season has been rewarded with four Pac-10 Player of the Week awards -- a Husky record and a tie for the conference record.
Pondexter said earlier this year that he is "1000 times" the basketball player he came to UW as, and that improvement has continued over the course of this season. In his first three years as a Husky, Q notched 12 20-point performances. This season he has done it 15 times, including three games with 30 or more.
"I'm a lot better player now than I was a couple months ago; my game has continued to evolve," states Pondexter. "I'm one of those players that learns from being out there in the game time situations and going through so many experiences. I've grown up so much, especially this season. From the beginning of the season to now, I think I'm making better decisions than I was in the beginning, and I'm just very comfortable where I'm at right now."
The most noticeable difference in Pondexter's game is no doubt his improved jump shot. His size and athleticism makes it impossible to block, and his feathery touch takes care of the rest. Combine that with his powerful slashing ability and you have an unstoppable shot. Throughout this year his jumper has been a staple of the Huskies offense and a dagger in the side of opponents.
"I played him twice in high school so I've seen him grow, especially as an offensive player," says junior Justin Holliday, who hails from Cambell Hall High School in Chatsworth, Calif. "He's always been able to jump and go by you, but I think the thing that changed the most is his jump shot.
"I remember when I first came we would joke about, `Don't let him get to the basket, just let him shoot,' but now he's hitting it."
That shot has also served the role as offensive savior for the Dawgs this season. Last season when the team was struggling to get a bucket, they would dump it down to Brockman a couple possessions in a row for some automatic points (Brockman was pretty automatic on the block). It was an easy way to stop an opponent's run and get some much needed points. Similarly, this season Pondexter's mid-range jumper has continually silenced the opponent and jump-started UW's offensive production.
"As far as leadership, he knows when he has to step up now," Holdiay adds, "Especially on the court--getting scores when we're down and keeping us in the game."
If there's one word to describe Pondexter's offensive game it's complete. At 6'6" and 215 pounds, he can dribble, drive, pass, shoot the mid-range shot, shoot the three, post-up, crash the boards (he's averaging 3.6 offensive rebounds per game), make free throws, and run the fast-break. He can play the wing and the post. He can be the dribbler or the screener on pick-and-rolls. He can provide flash or stability to the offense. To put it simply, Q is the ultimate offensive weapon.
His role as number-one-option this season is something new for Pondexter. In high school, despite averaging 23 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, he shared glory with McDonald's All-American twins (and future Stanford stars) Brook and Robin Lopez. His freshman year, he wasn't even the most highly touted in his class, playing second-fiddle to Spencer Hawes. In Q's sophomore and junior years, Brockman was the star of the team.
However, the 2009-10 Huskies are undoubtedly Pondexter's team. That not only means taking leadership on the court, but handling the responsibilities off of it.
"It's completely different being the star on the team," Pondexter explains. "We've got other great players on this team, but it's different being the key guy because teams are gunning to stop you.
"It's a little different to be the face of a program, but it's a great burden to have. It's a great feeling because I've worked so hard and waited so long for this moment."
Pondexter is everything you would want in a leader--smart, serious, dedicated, focused, and humble. The team is always before the individual in his mind, and he holds himself directly accountable for the team's triumphs and failures.
"You always want your team success to be at a high level, and when we're not winning I'm not happy," says Pondexter. "I could score a thousand points, but if we're not winning I'm not happy. At the end of the day, if our team isn't as good as we're supposed to be, I will feel that I let everyone down. Even if my play is considered to be good by a lot of people, I could have done better for our team."
Another thing that is striking about Pondexter--something that most 21-year old college seniors don't possess -- is his perspective. One of the most fun aspects of this season's Husky team is the emergence of Brendan Sherrer, a fan-turned-walk-on who watched every game from the Dawg Pack a year ago. Toted "The Human Victory Cigar" because of all his minutes occurring late-game with a Husky victory in hand, Sherrer has found his biggest fan in the locker nearest his own.
"I'm his biggest fan," Pondexter says with a big smile, "I cheer for him, I watch his highlights on SportsCenter every night. He shares a locker next to mine, and every time he gets in the game it's a joy to me because he is a great person. He's a great story, he's a great kid. For him to have the chance to go from the Dawg Pack to getting on the court, it's a dream come true to him, and it's so much fun to watch him get buckets."
It's refreshing to see an athlete who really appreciates the small things that make college basketball great. It's also refreshing when an athlete doesn't take for granted the situation they are in. After the Washington State game on Jan. 30th (Q's last at home against WSU), Pondexter was asked if it was dawning on him that his time at UW was coming to an end. This is what he had to say:
"That's why I can't sleep at night. I'm living a dream right now. I can't explain it sometimes. I'm just a kid from Fresno, Calif., and not many people get a chance like I do to be successful. Everything is just a blessing, I can't really explain it."
Humility, appreciation, selflessness, dedication -- not exactly the words people use to describe the modern athlete, but that's exactly what Pondexter is. Now, as he's nearing the end of his run as a Husky, Q appreciates how far he has come.
"It's all 911 and nerves coming out," Pondexter explains. "When you get down to the end you start thinking about the beginning and all the things you've been through."
For him, everything will be for naught if the Dawgs can't get back into the NCAA tournament.
"When I came back this year, it was key for me lead this team to the NCAA Tournament again," Pondexter says. "By not making the NCAA tournament, so much is on my shoulders because I'm the leader of this team.
"It's a magical experience to play in the NCAA tournament. A lot of guys on the team last year know that feeling, and we want that feeling back."
In the two NCAA tournament games the Huskies played last year, Pondexter averaged 21.5 points and 9 rebounds. He had a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards in a narrow 76-74 second round loss to Purdue. Fact is, Q will do everything he can to keep this team and his college career going as long as possible.
"At the end you want to go out on top and get your team in the best position possible. You want to win games and make your mark on the Husky legacy. That's what my goal is--just to make sure this team is highly successful this season."