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Thursday, February 4, 2010
Pondexter learns from father's mistakes

By Diamond Leung
ESPN.com

Quincy Pondexter, once admittedly young and dumb, shakes his head and smiles broadly while describing how he's become the old guy on the Washington Huskies.

Once considered a struggling one-and-done talent, the swingman has ripened into a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate and a senior on the verge of becoming a second-generation NBA draft pick.

Quincy Pondexter
Quincy Pondexter returned to UW and is averaging 20.3 ppg during his senior season.

When someone mentions that the end of his college career is fast approaching, though, Pondexter grows slightly uneasy.

"It's scary," he said. "Where am I going to be in six months? I've been asking so many people, 'What did you do right after college? How did your life change?'

"What's my next move?"

Pondexter, perhaps improbably, stayed at Washington for four years. Despite being benched by his coach and stung by early criticism, he said he never seriously considered declaring early for the draft or transferring like the others in his recruiting class did.

Patience for Pondexter came out of the cautionary tale of his father, a former California Mr. Basketball who never played in an NBA game and ended up a prison guard nicknamed "Bonecrusher."

"I'm not going to let you make the dumb mistake that I made," Roscoe Pondexter said, repeating advice given to his youngest child.

That mistake, Roscoe said, was declaring early for the NBA draft when he wasn't ready.

In 1974, Roscoe and his younger brother Cliff both entered the draft after starring on a Lute Olson-coached Long Beach State team that went 24-2 but was banned by the NCAA from postseason play due to violations committed under Jerry Tarkanian.

The two All-Americans cited their family's financial need in applying for hardship waivers to gain early entry, with Roscoe going against Olson's recommendation that he stay in school. Also impacting Roscoe's decision was his cynicism about the college system. During his junior year, the NCAA had accused him of having someone else take an entrance exam and declared him ineligible until a court judge overturned the ruling.

A power forward without NBA-ready ballhandling skills or quickness on defense, Roscoe wasn't selected until the third round (by Boston). Cliff went to Chicago with the 16th overall pick and played three seasons, but Roscoe had such a small chance of making the Celtics' roster that he never did sign an NBA contract.

"He had some things that he should have stayed in college for to clean up, but he didn't do it," Quincy said. "He tells me that all the time. He says, 'I will never let that happen to you.'"

Roscoe ultimately thrust himself into the professional limelight, but that came long after his decade of playing in Europe and South America.

He had some things that he should have stayed in college for to clean up, but he didn't do it. He tells me that all the time. He says, 'I will never let that happen to you.'

-- Quincy Pondexter on his father, Roscoe

In tell-all articles in the Los Angeles Times and Esquire, Roscoe revealed how, as a corrections officer at Corcoran State Prison, he became an active participant in the prisoner abuse that went on for years at the central California facility. The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder with the deep voice had even earned the nickname "Bonecrusher" from fellow officers for the violence he inflicted on inmates.

"That's a term of honor," Roscoe said. "You do the dirty work. The weak ones are scared to. That was the culture."

Roscoe gave court testimony in 1999 against his former co-workers in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but was left struggling to make ends meet after losing his job.

It was Tarkanian who eventually brought Roscoe on as an assistant to the athletic director at Fresno State, where Roscoe completed his degree. The career change allowed him the flexibility to spend more time helping his wife Doris and children Jason and Myisha support Quincy, the baby of the family who buried himself in basketball and learned to stay focused.

"I always tell him he's better than me," said Roscoe, now 57. "Make better choices than I did because I want you to be better than I was, than I am. You can go further than me not only as a basketball player, but as a person and a man.

"He had the work ethic. He had the moral ethic."

Known as "Little Roscoe" to his father's prison-guard buddies growing up, the tyke who occasionally joined in their pickup games developed into one of the nation's most highly recruited forwards.

Playing alongside Brook and Robin Lopez at San Joaquin Memorial High in Fresno, Calif., where Roscoe had set the state's career scoring record, the 6-foot-6 Quincy wanted the ball in his hands and could score in a variety of ways.

He entered Washington with much fanfare as part of a four-player 2006 recruiting class that was widely considered to be one of the best in the program's history.

But Spencer Hawes left for the NBA after his freshman year, and Phil Nelson announced he was transferring the following week. By December 2007, the class had broken up completely.

Pondexter woke up to that realization one morning when he went into his living room and tried turning on the television. His roommate and teammate, Adrian Oliver, had packed up and left for San Jose State as a midseason transfer, leaving Pondexter with the rent and without even batteries in the remote control.

"I tried to tell them to stay, but their minds were already made up," Pondexter said. "If you aren't giving your heart to our program, then you have to go. You have to. It's not a one foot in, one foot out thing. It's all or nothing.

Quincy Pondexter/Lorenzo Romar
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has dished out his share of tough love to Pondexter.

"All of them leaving hurt."

Pondexter stuck around, knowing he had much to learn after two tough seasons of mistake-laden play and zero NCAA tournament appearances.

UW coach Lorenzo Romar demanded improved defense and shot selection, relegating Pondexter to a reserve role midway through his freshman year and most of his sophomore season.

Heart-to-heart conversations between the two soothed the frustration Pondexter felt.

"He's someone that looked inside himself and did a very honest self-evaluation and worked really hard in areas that he needed to improve on," Romar said.

"He needed to be held accountable, that's for sure. I think to his credit, deep down he knew that, and deep down that's what he wanted."

Pondexter enjoyed a breakout junior season alongside new roommate Jon Brockman, helping lead Washington to its first outright conference title since 1953. He averaged 15.4 points over the final 14 games, setting a career high with 23 points in a first-round NCAA tournament win against Mississippi State.

This season, Pondexter's averages of 20.3 points and 8.1 rebounds each rank third in the conference. The lone senior on a 14-7 Huskies team not only is carrying his team offensively but also is among the league leaders in steals and blocks.

"I really want to go out on top," Pondexter said. "I really want to go out the right way. I'm going to make sure that happens.

"When I have a chance to play in the NBA, I'll be ready. I think I'm more than ready now."

Senior Night arrives in two weeks against UCLA, and Roscoe gets emotional just thinking about what it'll be like when he attends the game, along with about 20 of Quincy's family members and friends from back home in Fresno, Calif.

Roscoe works two jobs these days to fund trips to Seattle, where he's proud to have gained a new identity as "Quincy's dad" at his hangout spot -- Tully's Coffee near campus.

His bitter-tasting cup of coffee in the NBA is a story that hasn't gone stale in his son's mind.

"The fact that he didn't make it, it really stuck with me," Quincy said. "Everywhere I go, they say how talented and how good he was.

"I wanted to have a career my kids could look at and say, 'He made it.'"

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.