Pondexter's Rise Helping No. 21 Washington Thrive
Feb. 24, 2009
The Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) - Even while playing the best basketball of his college career, Washington's Quincy Pondexter still won't allow himself to be fully pleased.
After every game there's something -- a pass he could have made, a shot he could have passed up, a defensive rotation he missed. It's part of his critical nature and a trait that hasn't gone away, even as Pondexter is quietly thriving for the No. 21 Huskies, who are on the verge of their first outright regular season Pac-10 conference title since 1953.
'I'm probably even more critical of myself now,' Pondexter said Tuesday, two days before the first-place Huskies host second-place Arizona State. 'It's moves I should have made and winning plays I should have made for our team. It haunts me every night.'
Full of talent and promise that never meshed into the on-court product that Pondexter expected of himself coming out of high school, the versatile swingman is finally fulfilling expectations that were two years in the making.
Bruising forward Jon Brockman is getting his due for bullying in the paint, guard Justin Dentmon is being recognized for his improved play and shifty freshman Isaiah Thomas has been lauded for bringing a missing spark and athleticism to the Huskies (20-7, 11-4).
Yet, it's been Pondexter quietly coming up with big shots and making some huge contributions entering Thursday's showdown with the 14th-ranked Sun Devils in Seattle.
In his last six games, Pondexter is averaging 17.6 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting nearly 60 percent. He's scored 20 or more points in four of the six games -- a pretty significant accomplishment for a player who had never posted consecutive 20-point games until earlier this month.
Arguably the best performance of his career came last Saturday against USC. With Dentmon, the Huskies leading scorer, and Brockman being held in check by the Trojans' defense, Pondexter hit huge shots down the stretch of a 60-51 win that kept Washington a half-game ahead of Arizona State.
Pondexter finished with a season-high 22 points and scored four consecutive baskets in the closing minutes as Washington pulled away.
'He has scored more points, he has had more spectacular moments, but never with the magnitude of game that we had against that type of opponent on the road has he done that,' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said on Tuesday. 'Not only did he score, but he defended, he rebounded, he hit big shots when we needed to have his scoring there. ... Without question I don't think there's been another game where he's done that.'
Pondexter's improved play is part of an overall redesign of his game that meant humbling himself and shaking criticism that dogged his first two years at Washington. As a freshman, Pondexter was already dreaming of the NBA after he averaged just 10.7 points and 4.0 rebounds on a team that didn't make the postseason. Equally low was a year ago when Washington could only manage a 16-17 record and first-round loss in the College Basketball Invitational.
With the underachieving play came criticism Pondexter heard.
'It did get to me,' he said. 'I got down on myself a lot because I thought of so much more I could have done. We weren't winning as much and that took a toll on my body and mind. I've dedicated myself to this program and winning games and took away all my individual goals ... and staying here and winning a championship.'
But there were signs toward the end of last season that Pondexter was beginning to grow into being more of the high school star from Fresno, Calif., who drew comparisons to former Washington star Brandon Roy before Pondexter even stepped on campus. Both can score in bunches. Both can shoot from the perimeter and score on the interior. And, ironically enough, both have fallen into similar roles during the junior seasons.
When Roy was a junior, Washington won the Pac-10 tournament championship and earned the school's first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Roy was a role player off the bench for that team, before blossoming into an All-American his senior season.
While starting all of this season, Pondexter has filled a similar role. When Dentmon, Thomas or Brockman have been slowed, it's been Pondexter providing the needed scoring punch. His improvement rebounding and on the defensive end is standing out to his teammates.
'He's a lot more relaxed. He doesn't have the pressure on himself to make the big jump to the NBA,' Brockman said. 'He's thinking about our team and what he needs to do to help our team. He's really just taken on that captain's role and in turn that's helped his game.'