Andy Poling feeling fulfilled once more at Seattle Pacific
Gonzaga transfer has helped Seattle Pacific to a 3-0 start in exhibition games, including wins over Nevada and Eastern Washington.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Andy Poling was marinating in his disappointment, fighting his growing frustration. He couldn't understand why he wasn't gaining weight.
He was eating as many as seven meals a day and spending extra time in the weight room.
He was doing everything he was supposed to do, but he still was thin as a reed and still at the end of Gonzaga's very deep, very talented bench.
He had been the fourth-ranked center in his recruiting class, playing at Portland's Westview High School. Several recruiting services ranked him in the top 50 overall, but now the 6-foot-11 center was playing behind Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. As hard as he worked, he saw his playing time disappearing.
"I didn't want people to think I wasn't working hard, because that wasn't the issue," said Poling, taking a break between his classes at Seattle Pacific last week. "But obviously it wasn't my time. My body wasn't ready, yet. I guess I'm a late bloomer."
Poling couldn't understand why his body was fighting against him. Between his junior and senior years of high school, after he committed to Gonzaga, he contracted a bacterial infection and lost 30 pounds, dropping his weight to just above 200.
At Gonzaga, the pounds wouldn't return. There were nights when he would be in his dorm room after a long practice, stressed about the paper he still had to write and the 8 a.m. class he had to attend and worried about his hoop future.
After he didn't play in road games, he would sit alone in the hotel and think about transferring. Finally last December, after the team returned from a win at Illinois, Poling told Gonzaga coach Mark Few he was leaving.
"It was a hard decision," Poling said. "Gonzaga was a big D-I program, playing the best teams in the country. I still had a lot of respect for them. But at the same time, I wasn't doing much good sitting on the bench.
"I felt like I was treading water. It got monotonous at times. You sometimes feel like you just want to give up, but the next day, you wake up and you know you have to keep going. Keep trying. Really, I just wanted to play ball."
Poling left school after playing in six of Gonzaga's first 14 games, averaging 1.8 points and 3.8 minutes per game. In the middle of last season, Seattle Pacific coach Ryan Looney contacted him.
After looking at Division I schools such as Fresno State, Long Beach State, Portland, Portland State and Nevada, Poling chose perennial D-II power SPU.
After he arrived, doctors discovered food allergies that were inhibiting Poling's weight gain. He met with school nutritionists and created a diet that is working.
"I've been making my body feel better, making it healthier," Poling said. "It's raised my quality of life. I'm feeling stronger. Now I can focus on basketball and more important stuff."
When he came to SPU he weighed about 220. Now his weight is up to 232 pounds and Poling has made an immediate impact on the Falcons' program.
Seattle Pacific, which opens its regular season Friday night at home against Cal State-East Bay, finished 3-0 in the exhibition season, including road wins against D-I programs Eastern Washington and Nevada.
Poling had 17 points and and six rebounds against Nevada, and went for 16 points against Eastern.
"I think it's natural for anyone, even if a coach is telling you why you're not playing, sometimes it's hard to accept that and sit on the bench," Looney said. "When we first got him you could notice that if he missed a shot, or got beat defensively, he'd hang his head a little bit."
Late in the 84-81 win at Nevada, Looney ran a play for Poling, who got to the basket but missed the layup. In the ensuing timeout huddle, Poling's head dropped slightly.
"Hey, Andy, that play's over," Looney said. "And the last time I checked we're at Nevada and we're winning. There's no reason to be hanging your head. We have a ton of confidence in you, and when we get a stop here, we're going to come right back to you."
SPU got the stop. Poling got the ball, went to the basket, scored and was fouled.
"I definitely lost confidence at Gonzaga," Poling said. "I think that was the biggest thing that happened. And I'm just starting to realize it now that basketball is a lot more about confidence than people realize.
"When I was there, my game just wasn't the same. I wanted to come to a place where I could get work in, where I could get minutes and get that feeling again. It had kind of stopped."
Poling is a D-I player at a D-II school. He has a soft touch from the perimeter and an assortment of moves around the basket. In SPU's final exhibition win over Northwest University he had 20 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots.
"If he had had a little more patience, somewhere in his career he would have had a role on Gonzaga's team," Looney said. "There would have been an opportunity for him.
"But on the flip side, I think he's happy with the move that he made. He really enjoys his teammates, and now he has another opportunity to play in another program that's had a lot of success."
His frustration has lifted like the clouds. His confidence has been restored. Andy Poling is healthy and on the floor again, enjoying the restorative pleasure of playing ball.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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