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Originally published Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Huskies' Pondexter emerges after putting team first

After putting pressure on himself to be a star, Quincy Pondexter has emerged as a key weapon for Washington men's basketball after putting the team first and taking some of that pressure off himself. He scored 20 points Saturday in a victory over Oregon.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The burden weighed heavily on Quincy Pondexter his first two seasons at Washington. The weight of all his expectations followed him on the floor from game to game. The expectations followed him around campus, as annoying as gnats.

From the day he arrived on campus, Pondexter expected this world to be his world. He expected a career of double-doubles and newspaper covers. He expected to embrace the presence of NBA scouts and cherish the madness of NCAA men's basketball tournaments.

He told us as much.

He expected his time at Washington to feel like a fairy tale. Instead it just felt grim. He wasn't an instant sensation, everybody's All-American. The team didn't win as much as he expected. It didn't make the NCAA tournament in either of his first two seasons.

"It just wasn't going to work as quickly as he wanted it to," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "But before it was all said and done, I thought it would work."

When everything didn't happen right away, Pondexter got down on himself — hard. He spent hours in Romar's office. By Romar's unofficial count they had "a hundred conversations" about a hundred different topics.

A quiet, smart, sensitive kid, Pondexter was affected by the criticisms he heard and read about. The same students who cheered on game nights, jeered him on blogs. That contradiction frustrated him. After many games, he would leave Edmundson Pavilion hidden deep inside the hood of his sweat shirt.

But now, in this season of good news for Washington basketball, Pondexter's play is one of the best stories of the year.

He has been unburdened.

"I did feel a lot of pressure on myself," Pondexter said Saturday after signing dozens of autographs. "I found there were a lot of times when I would just be in my room and just wondering when it was ever going to be great here. Now I think it's turning around into that fairy tale, and I'm loving every minute of it."

Pondexter's game fits with this team. He scored 20 points against Oregon on Saturday in Washington's 103-84 win. He made 6 of 8 shots from the field and sank 8 of 10 free throws.

In this junior season he has found himself. He is scoring inside. He is defending, grabbing rebounds, understanding his role on this NCAA tournament-bound team.

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And just as important, he is laughing, enjoying basketball again and enjoying his college life.

"I think the biggest thing Quincy has done is taken the pressure off himself," said senior Jon Brockman, who had 21 points and 18 rebounds Saturday. "He's taken the whole NBA thing out of the deal and just said to himself, 'Forget about that. I'm going to think about the team. I'm going to think about our season instead of worrying about my future.' He was putting too much pressure on himself. No one's going to come out and score 30 points and have 20 rebounds every single game.

"You've just go to keep it in perspective. We have so many weapons on this team, and the fact that he's more team-oriented now is helping our entire group. Freshmen come in and just want to score, score, score. But this season, Quincy has come in and concentrated more on defense and rebounding and passing, and it's paying off."

Pondexter is giving Romar exactly what he needs. He has started all 25 games and is averaging 11.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 27.1 minutes. Not coincidentally, Washington is 19-6 and alone in first place in the Pac-10.

"It took a little bit longer than I expected," Pondexter said of this emergent season. "I thought I could be a Brandon Roy as an 18-year-old kid and that's really tough to do. But right now I'm settling into myself and it's becoming my own little script."

The script, like the player, is a work in progress, and the best is yet to come.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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