Pondexter Washington's unlikely leader
Quincy Pondexter's meandering path to becoming the lead Dawg of the defending Pac-10 champions has been filled with enough potholes to make a kid want to leave school and go home. "There's been about 30 turning points," Washington's only senior and successor to Jon Brockman as the soul of the Huskies said, on the eve of a senior season that two years ago seemed unfathomable to him. "My friends and I always joking around, 'Man, you've had the most career breakout games in the history of basketball!' There's been a lot of learning curves." This former self-described "hermit crab" didn't want to leave his room early in his college career. Now he's the face of the Huskies. He's Washington's only senior leading nine freshman and sophomores. Last season, he carried the Huskies to their first outright conference title in 56 years by leading them in scoring over the final six weeks. "Isaiah Thomas is the guy everyone wants to talk about," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. He likened the attention being given to last season's dynamic Pac-10 freshman of the year to that bestowed upon flashy Nate Robinson a few years ago while Brandon Roy, an eventual conference player of the year, lurked unnoticed. "But Quincy, he was the best player on the floor in both of our games in the NCAA tournament (last March)." That latest breakout followed a career breakdown. Pondexter arrived three years ago as a misguided Husky, a versatile, 6-foot-6 teenager who lacked strength while well under 200 pounds. He saw Washington as a temporary stop on his way to the NBA, following stardom at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, Calif. After starting the first 13 games of the 2006-07 season he disappeared - for two years. "Sophomore year at the midway point, Christmas break, I was really frustrated," Pondexter said. "All my friends were leaving. (Teammate) Adrian Oliver had just left. I was the only one left in my recruiting class. Our team wasn't as successful as we thought we should have been. Of course those thoughts went through my mind. But, from the time I started playing basketball I never left a team. That's what helped me stay here. I've never quit." Romar calls Pondexter's crossroads the nature of college basketball today: Teen star enters college merely to adhere to the NBA's eligibility rule of players having to be at least one year removed from high school before they can enter the draft. Then, when the teen star doesn't shine right away, other schools woo him with promises of a better opportunity. "There's always someone in your ear. You know, telling you 'The grass is greener over here,"' Romar said. "Quincy found out when you water the grass where you are, it can be even greener." He's on fertile ground now. Pondexter has gained 40 pounds since arriving in Seattle. Yet he is more than merely the replacement for the rugged Brockman as team leader and low-post force. He is Washington's most versatile player, a low-blocks scorer on a guard-dominated team who practices outside with those perimeter players. That includes freshman Abdul Gaddy, the Huskies' new true point guard and last season's Washington state Class 4A player of the year from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. Pondexter had another unlikely turning point this summer. A hernia improved his jump shot. After surgery, Pondexter couldn't run or do anything but shoot. At Romar's suggestion he summoned Ryan Appleby, Washington's 3-point sharpshooter from earlier this decade, for shooting sessions at 2 a.m., at dawn, at all hours. Shots that used to begin from behind Pondexter's head now start more in front of it. And they go in. "Those first couple days, I couldn't make anything. Three feet away and I was air balling," he said, laughing. "But it's really looked a lot better." Pondexter's lead role isn't the only way Washington will be different this season. Instead of relying on Brockman's intensity and his bruising play, the Huskies will run more and ask Thomas to return to his prolific-scoring roots at Curtis High School outside Tacoma. The one man who could resemble Brockman is Tyreese Breshers, who had to redshirt as a freshman last season because of knee and shin injuries. Romar said the 6-7 Breshers "can be just as physical if not more physical than Jon Brockman," but he won't be in full game shape until January or February. "You don't replace Jon Brockman," Romar said. "No. 1 rebounder in the history of the school. No. 2 scorer in the history of the program. It would be tough to have another guy like that. But we'll do it another way. We have a quicker front line." And a most unlikely senior leader. "I've definitely had struggles," Pondexter said. "I think any freshman who gets to college with built-up expectations as soon as you get on campus, it's going to be tough. But, you know what? I can't say I'm disappointed with how the first three years went. "I mean, man, how many kids would want to average as many points or as many rebounds or be a part of a team like this is? This is just an honor to be in the position I am now. "I knew from coming in here I wanted to leave a good stamp. And I have the opportunity to do that by staying all four years."