Feb. 17, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
When Quincy Pondexter first arrived at the University of Washington, he brought with him a short list of goals. First, set the Pac-10 Conference on fire. Second, quickly ascend to the National Basketball Association.
An athletic, 6-foot-6 junior swingman, Pondexter had the size to dominate collegiate guards and the first step to sprint past opposing big men. Points were going to come in bunches. The hype surrounding his arrival out of Fresno, Calif., was so much that some analysts had Pondexter penciled into a few mock NBA drafts before he even showed up on campus.
But in the span of three seasons, Pondexter has instead suffered some frustrating hardships and humbling moments. Still, it's hard to find one person connected to the Husky basketball program that doesn't think Pondexter has improved exponentially as a player. And it's still an ongoing process.
"There are a lot of things I still need to get better at," Pondexter said. "Basketball is a really tough game, man. You think you know everything about it or your game, and you still struggle."
While his scoring average might not meet the inflated expectations some had for Pondexter coming in, most coaches and fellow players will point to other areas. Coach Lorenzo Romar believes Pondexter is markedly better as a defender, where his athletic ability and frame make him a matchup problem for opposing scorers, as well as fill out the gaps in the team's help-oriented defensive schemes.
Need further proof? Check out the highlight clips from the Huskies' sweep of the Los Angeles schools in January. Pondexter was an ignitable ball of energy, hustling back on defense after turnovers and diving for loose balls. One such leap even propelled him horizontally over the scorer's table during the game against UCLA, earning Pondexter a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"He's matured a lot this past year," said Trevor Wade, a Huskies manager and one of Pondexter's closest friends on the team. "He's realized that it's not going to be as easy (here) as it was in high school and AAU. He's doing the little things to win."
It's all part of how Romar is sculpting Pondexter into a complete player - not just a hired gun who can fill up the scoring column on a stat sheet. He noted that those types of hustle plays weren't a part of Pondexter's repertoire his first two seasons. Instead, it was more lackadaisical defense and an erratic shot selection, which earned Pondexter a spot on the bench his sophomore year.
"I think he's been willing. Submissive may be the (right) word," Romar said. "Obviously, if he had his choice, he would like to go out there and put up 25 or 30 points a night. I think he said, 'you know what, I want to do what's best for this team.' It may not be his first choice, but he's committed to it."
Because of a handful of scoring options the Huskies have, Pondexter isn't relied on to shoulder that kind of responsibility. He's still averaging around 10 points a game (as of Jan. 29), but it's the way he's become more efficient that has impressed Romar the most. Coming into the season, the coach identified certain areas on the floor where Pondexter was the most lethal, and gave him free rein to shoot from those spots. Prior to the Huskies' road trip in late January to the Arizona schools, Pondexter had the second-best field goal percentage (.477) on the team, behind Jon Brockman.
Another area where Pondexter has improved is in the manner in which he deals with criticism. The swollen expectations surrounding Pondexter's arrival from San Joaquin Memorial High School - where he played with former Stanford and current NBA big men Robin and Brook Lopez - has been a hard albatross to detach. Notoriously hard on himself anyways, Pondexter had a hard time dealing with negative press that followed. One place he does find solace, though, is in the gym. Wade said it's not uncommon to see Pondexter shoot baskets after a game, especially when he didn't play well and the Huskies lost.
"I'm really hard on myself. As much as anyone can say about me in the media or blogs, I'm 10 times harder on myself," Pondexter said. "It doesn't really affect me anymore."
Even though Pondexter might have tempered his scoring to fit in Romar's system, he still foresees a game where he might have to shoulder the burden offensively. Huskies fans saw a glimpse of that talent in Pondexter's freshman season, when he torched Arizona for 25 points at Bank of America Arena. But with so many scoring options on the floor, Pondexter knows he can still have an impact in a complementary role.
In terms of a finished product, Pondexter and Romar agree he's not quite there yet - but he's close. Pondexter's game feels more polished. His overall understanding of the game is better, from moving without the basketball to looking for open teammates instead of settling for contested jumpers. No longer does he treat defense in matador fashion.
"That's part of the maturing process," Wade said. "We don't need him to score 20 a game, but if he can pull down 10-12 rebounds and dish out four or five assists, then that's just as important to winning a game. It's finally paying off for us this year."