SEATTLE — Basketball has taken Quincy Pondexter to places he never thought possible, whether it was on interstate trips as part of his Fresno AAU team, to the NCAA tournament with the University of Washington basketball team or to Serbia as a member of the World University Games team last summer.
But there is one place Pondexter has never in his life been on a basketball court: the center of attention.
After playing in the shadows of 7-foot twins Brook and Robin Lopez at San Joaquin High School, then future NBA players Brandon Roy and Jon Brockman at the UW, Pondexter is finally in the leadership position he has so long coveted as team captain of the 2009-10 Huskies.
“It’s definitely something I’ve been waiting for since I got to the University of Washington, to be the leader and to be the guy here,” Pondexter said. “I think I’ve learned from some great leaders in Jon Brockman and Brandon Roy, and I think I’m ready to fill the position.”
While the Huskies followed last year’s run to the second round of the NCAA tournament wondering how they would replace Brockman’s leadership, that question already has been answered in the form of the 6-foot-6 Pondexter.
“Quincy Pondexter has really stepped up and provided some leadership for us up to this point,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said last week. “We haven’t played games, no one’s missed shots yet, no one’s been pulled out of the game yet. But right now, Quincy’s doing a heck of a job as the leader of this basketball team.”
It’s been a long time coming for Pondexter, who was named the Huskies’ hardest-working and most-improved player last season.
A member of a nationally-ranked high school team that went 33-4 in his senior year, Pondexter came to UW with a heap of expectations despite his more high-profile teammates. He started 22 games and averaged 10.7 points per game as a freshman but never seemed to live up to the hype.
When Pondexter’s numbers dipped as a sophomore — he averaged 9.9 points per game, shot 45 percent from the field and 68.5 percent from the free-throw line — a once-promising career appeared headed for oblivion.
But Pondexter’s junior year saw him emerge as a go-to scorer and team leader. While guard Isaiah Thomas led the team in scoring last season (15.5 points per game) and Brockman was its undisputed leader, Pondexter was the Huskies’ best player in the two NCAA tournament games. He averaged a team-high 21.5 points per game in the tourney and spent the offseason traveling with the USA national team that won bronze at the World University Games in Serbia.
Pondexter has certainly come a long way.
“He is as well-rounded as he’s ever been — in all aspects,” Romar said. “If he had it to do over again, if he could have (had a breakout season) earlier, I don’t know if he would have changed it. … I think the way things are working out for him now, the last chapter of the book will be pretty good.”
As far as his UW story goes, Pondexter has only one chapter left to be written. The Huskies are looking to him, as the lone senior, to lead a team filled with quality underclassmen.
“He’s been through the ups and downs of this program,” Thomas said. “He’s seen a lot.”
Pondexter has tried to be more vocal this summer, and the mild-mannered sociology major with the chemist’s name has even gotten on a few teammates when the moment called for it.
He’s taking his role of team leader seriously.
“It means you have to be the heart and soul of this team — on and off the court,” Pondexter said. “You have to be the emotional leader and the coach on the court. I have to take pride in everything I do.”
As a player, Pondexter has worked to improve his shot by seeking the advice of former Stanwood and UW star Ryan Appleby, who now works as a personal trainer. Already projected as a second-round pick in the 2010 NBA draft, Pondexter could improve his stock if he develops an outside game.
But even more than that, Pondexter is just trying to lead the Huskies to bigger and better things in his final season.
“It’s one of those situations where you’re like: ‘Man, you’re it now. You’re the heir to the throne. You killed the leader and whoever’s left,’” he said of his new role as leader. “It’s me now. It’s like: ‘Either we win, or we lose, and it’s you.’
“I think the guys have helped me to become a bigger leader. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to.”