In UW loss, Pondexter shows what he can do
Quincy Pondexter has been waiting to exhale. Waiting for something really good to happen to him. He's needed a game like this in a place...
Seattle Times staff columnist
NEW YORK — Quincy Pondexter has been waiting to exhale. Waiting for something really good to happen to him.
He's needed a game like this in a place like this for a long time, needed this to relieve all of the built-up pressure he's been carrying around since January.
He's been looking for this, a night, just one night, when everything came together and the game felt easy again.
"I was playing my game tonight," he said. "Playing up to what I'm capable of. Tonight I felt like I started playing like myself again."
When you've been touted as loud and long as Pondexter has, the unfulfilled expectations begin gnawing at you. If you don't play like a superstar from the first game of your freshman year, the cackle of the skeptics can ring like church bells in your ear.
In Washington's 91-85 loss to Syracuse on Friday in the NIT consolation game, Pondexter had his best game since January against Arizona — 20 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.
"He had a great game tonight," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
Pondexter played the way he played in those days when he was ballyhooed on blogs from one coast to the other.
He needed a game this good inside Madison Square Garden, to remind himself that now, early in his sophomore year, he still is one of the West's most promising prospects. He is that player who was so good in high school that Connecticut, Memphis and most of the Pac-10 fought over him.
Against Syracuse he saw the future. He needed this game. And the Huskies needed this game from him.
"I have a lot of pressure, and I found myself caring too much about the pressure," Pondexter said after Friday's loss dropped Washington to 3-2. "Now I'm trying to relieve that, and I think I'm back to playing the way I can."
In fairness, Pondexter put a lot of that pressure on himself. Before last season, before he'd played a college game, he never discouraged talk about leaving school early for the NBA.
Even when he was struggling late in the year, scoring in double figures in only four of his final 18 games, he didn't rule out the possibility of testing his worth in the pre-draft workouts.
"Those thoughts were going to be around, whether I said them or not, because of the way I had been playing [in high school and AAU]," said Pondexter, who, because of foul trouble, played only 10 minutes in Washington's loss Wednesday to Texas A&M.
Romar changed the starting lineup for Syracuse, replacing 6-foot-4 Joel Smith with 6-9 freshman center Matthew Bryan-Amaning and moving Pondexter back to small forward.
"Tonight coach showed a little trust in me," Pondexter said. "I'd been deferring to the other people and being a little hesitant. I think I got that out of my system."
In the opening minutes, Pondexter hit the floor and forced a turnover from Syracuse's talented point guard, Jonny Flynn. Then he flicked a wrap-around pass across the lane to Bryan-Amaning, who was fouled at the rim.
Pondexter looked relaxed.
"These days, when you're talented, there are a lot of people putting pressure on you," Romar said. "We play on national television, and if you go out and score four points, your phone's ringing off the hook with people asking, 'What's wrong with you?'
"You start thinking, 'Maybe I should be doing these things.' It can be tough. It can wear on you. You've got to be a strong individual, and you've got to realize what's important in the big picture. Some guys start thinking they've got to have this many shots and this many points and this many minutes, and they crumble under the pressure of all that."
Pondexter was supposed to be great from the beginning. He had the pedigree. His uncle, Cliff, played in the NBA and his father, Roscoe, played professionally overseas for 10 years.
And Pondexter had the buzz.
"It starts in Little League," Romar said. "Quincy has a lot of athleticism and a lot of ability. But at this level, what he has been going through is an adjustment period where he's trying to become a complete basketball player, not just someone who plays when the ball's in his hands.
"It's different for him now. Has it been easy? No, but he's catching on. It's all part of going through the fire. You can't bend steel unless it goes through the fire. You've got to go through the fire and it hurts, but once you do, you can bend it and mold it and shape it the way it needs to be shaped."
Inside Madison Square Garden, Pondexter put together his best game in almost a year. A game that felt like a new beginning.
He got through the fire without getting burned.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance: NA. Officials: J.D. Collins, Doug Shows, Brian O'Connell.
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UPDATE - 9:02 PM
Steve Kelley: What happened to the once-scary Huskies?