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Originally published November 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 8, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Pondexter ready for a breakout season

To use the common sports vernacular, Washington sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter looms as the Huskies' "breakout player" for the 2007-08...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Preseason NIT, Tuesday, Wednesday

Huskies play New Jersey Tech in first round, then would have to beat Utah to get to the semifinals in New York.

At Oklahoma State, Dec. 1

UW's entry in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.

At Louisiana State, Dec. 29

Tigers will want revenge for last year's mauling, but no longer have Glen Davis.

Washington State, Jan. 5

Pac-10 opener for both teams; Cougars have a five-game winning streak in the series.

UCLA, Feb. 10

Sunday afternoon spotlight for UW's chance at Pac-10s reigning kings.

To use the common sports vernacular, Washington sophomore forward Quincy Pondexter looms as the Huskies' "breakout player" for the 2007-08 season.

He is the guy with the most potential to drastically improve his scoring average of a year ago (10.7), maybe help fill the offensive void created by the loss of Spencer Hawes and carry the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said as much: "We'll probably look to him to shoulder more of the load offensively, if he's ready."

Pondexter says there are no ifs about it.

He's not predicting he'll score a lot more, saying diplomatically he'll just do whatever the team needs.

But he certainly is ready to "break out" after a freshman season in which he was too often hemmed in on the court and closed up off it.

Regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in the nation out of San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, Calif., Pondexter struggled to find his comfort zone once Pac-10 play began, and he was benched for nine games at midseason.

That only added to the cloud Pondexter felt perpetually hanging over his head.

He admits he was slow to adapt to college life, in part because he figured he'd barely need to unpack his bags on the way to the NBA.

"To be honest with you, I was thinking of it more as a short-term stay," he said.

So Pondexter felt little need to immerse himself in college, saying he often spent his nights holed up in his dorm room, watching ESPN.

"I'd stay in my room all the time," he said. "I never came out. It drains you, watching 'SportsCenter' 100 times."

That, however, was sometimes better than calling home, where the news was often unsettling.

His grandfather, Roscoe Pondexter Sr., died at age 77 after a lengthy sickness and his parents, married for roughly 30 years, decided to separate.

"Man, all this was happening over two months," Pondexter said, a timeline that coincided with his benching. "It all just steamrolled at one time."

Along the way, he also contracted a staph infection that caused him to lose about 15 pounds, and sprained an ankle.

Pondexter wanted to shout it all out to the world but decided not to, in part not wanting it to come off as an excuse for anything happening — or not happening — on the floor.

"There were so many things I just kept bottled in and didn't tell anyone," he said.

Romar says the family strife almost certainly had some impact on Pondexter's play, even if he tried not to let it show.

"As males we internalize a lot of things," Romar said. "You want to be tough; 'Everything's OK, I'm all right.' Yet it could bother him."

Pondexter's parents are staying in Fresno in separate residences, and he says this season he's going to be a bit more selfish in his emotions.

"I felt the pressure to take care of my family [last season]," he said. "But I was like, 'You know what? They are all right. They are fine.' All that stuff is out of the way now. Everything is fine."

He's now ready to settle in to Seattle and with the Huskies, saying thoughts of the NBA are distant.

"Last year, I was more concerned with that stuff than my team doing really well," Pondexter admitted. "It sucks to say that. But when it's your future and it's been your goal since you were a little kid and you see it in your grasp, it's just hard to overlook that. But you know what? The NBA is going to always be there, and I don't care if I stay here 100 years. I love being a Husky more than anything any NBA team can do for me."

And being a Husky, he now understands, means playing defense — especially this season, with the team emphasizing it even more after the struggles of last season.

Romar says that was the root of Pondexter's benching last year.

"Defense and rebounding, those things keep you out there," Romar said. "Sometimes you have to get someone's attention, and the only way to get their attention is by cutting their minutes."

Pondexter admits "the defensive end was something I didn't really cherish that much. But you know, I've worked tons on that. That's the part of my game I am starting to take pride in, and it's helped me to become a better player. Every time I play I see a different type of person."

Romar says Pondexter has already shown improvement in that area. And that, the coach says, should lead to better offense.

Pondexter averaged 15.9 points during nonconference games last season. But he averaged just 8.4 points in Pac-10 games, going eight straight games without hitting double figures.

"His lack of offensive production down the stretch wasn't because he wasn't a decent offensive player, but because he wasn't on the floor as much," Romar said. "We would get on him, and like they say, 'Coach is in your head.' It has nothing to do with your offense, it's your defense, and yet it affects your offense."

Pondexter, however, also struggled at times to find his place in a Huskies offense focused on Hawes and Jon Brockman in the middle, which often left driving lanes hard to find. With Hawes off to the NBA and the Huskies more experienced in the backcourt, the Huskies are returning to more of an up-tempo style that should be a better fit for Pondexter.

"I feel that this structure now is really molding to my style of what I thought UW basketball would be like," he said.

Added Romar: "When we got to conference play and the team started to slow the ball up and didn't run it as much, I'm sure that affected Quincy."

But Pondexter also scored 21 points in one half against Arizona (25 in all), giving a tantalizing glimpse of his talent.

"It can definitely happen," he said, remembering that game. "That game really exhibited the type of player I really am and me actually in a comfort zone. That was something that was hard for me to find last year, to find myself within the team flow because of going inside and so many aspects of the game that you don't really realize at a young age."

Comfortable describes how he's beginning to feel now.

He's more than happy to leave his room now, sometimes just taking off and driving and exploring.

"I don't want to upset Husky fans, but last year I wasn't really a Husky, you know?" he said. "I wasn't from Washington state. I didn't realize a lot of things last year that I probably took for granted. But you know what? I've adopted this state now, and at the top of my agenda is to represent this city and school. It's just very important to me now."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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