Sometimes in life you get the opportunity to do or experience something that you walk away from that leaves an impression. I often tell my own children that life isn’t about having the latest “thing”, it’s about experiencing a moment in life that you never forget. During the Pac-12 Tournament I had one of those life experiences as a sports fan that won’t be forgotten.
During an afternoon in Las Vegas I was fortunate enough to be invited to meet and talk with the 2017 Pac-12 Hall of Honor Basketball Inductees.
The Pac-12 Hall of Honor Basketball Inductees were:
· Bob Elliot-Arizona
· Tarence Wheeler-Arizona State
· Jerome Randle-California
· Chauncey Billups-Colorado
· Stu Jackson-Oregon
· Mike Montgomery-Stanford
· David Greenwood-UCLA
· Ralph Vaughn-USC
· Quincy Pondexter-Washington
· Carlos Daniel-Washington State
If you are an historian of Pac-12 basketball you undoubtedly recognize most, if not, all of those names on that list. After seeing the list I was once again reminded of how much phenomenal basketball talent has made its way through the Pac-12 Conference. Some of these players or coaches could not attend the ceremony and were represented by family members or by their respective schools for various reasons.
However, for the players who could attend it certainly was another highlight in their career as a basketball player and they certainly appreciated the honor that was being bestowed to them.
The first player I had the opportunity to sit down with was former Washington Husky, Quincy Pondexter.
Question: What does this Hall of Honor recognition mean to you?
“It means the world to me. Never thought that people thought that highly of my game to be put into this Hall of Honor. I am truly blessed to have this happen to me. It’s a huge accomplishment that I’ll never, ever forget.” Pondexter said.
Quincy, like many people in this position spoke in a humble manner. He was quick to point out that it just wasn’t him that helped him get to where he is at.
Question: What was the most memorable thing about being at the University of Washington?
“I remember the struggles of trying to become good rather than the successes. The journey of becoming a man on and off the court. Coach Romar helped set me up for life, the NBA, and just being a good person. The coaches pushed me. They forced me to accept criticism and learn what hard work really is. The coaches also forced me to accept my flaws as a person and player.” Pondexter explained.
He spoke in reverence of Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar the entire time I was talking with him. Quincy is certainly a player that realizes that he isn’t the only person that is responsible for his success and it was quite refreshing to hear.
Question: Who was the toughest player you ever played against?
“I was actually thinking about that earlier today. The toughest players I ever went up against were Nick Young (Arizona), and James Harden (Arizona State). I couldn’t really figure out how to guard them. I face Nick Young when I was a freshman, he was the older guy, and he kind of gave me the business a couple of times. James Harden, even back then, was a tremendously talented player. He could shoot from anywhere. He made life tough on me.” Pondexter said with a slight grin on his face.
Next up was a childhood hero of mine, Ray Blume of Oregon State.
As a kid growing up in the great state of Oregon, I was fortunate enough to watch Ray Blume and his Beaver teams play at a phenomenal level. One of the things that I remember about Ray Blume was that he could shoot as well as anybody I ever saw growing up. Getting the chance to have a conversation with this great Beaver player was a honor.
Question: What does this Hall of Honor accomplishment mean to you?
“It is right at the top for me. Getting into the Hall of Honor is a great honor. It’s one of those things I can look back on and feel a sense of pride out.” Blume explained.
Question: Playing for head coach Ralph Miller was tough correct?
“Yes, it was. He was extremely tough on the players, especially the first couple of years. Ralph got on you when you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. I don’t see that so much anymore out of the current coaches. He mellowed out after a couple of years because we knew the system and what we were supposed to be doing. When the young recruits would come in we would take them under our wing to show them the ropes and help them be successful for Coach Miller.” Blume said.
Question: What are your thoughts on the current coaching staff and players at Oregon State?
“Well, it’s been a rough year for everybody who roots for the Beavers. I know it’s been rough on the staff and players, but when you have the injuries that they have had to deal with I’m not sure anybody would have much success. I really like Coach Tinkle and his staff. The program was in need of a rebuild and I believe he is the guy to do it. The players coming into the program are good, solid players and that is good to see as well.” Blume explained.
Question: Who impresses you now out of the current crop of Pac-12 players?
“Right now, I think Dillon Brooks is pretty tough. I got to watch him in person and I think he is the real deal. I didn’t realize he was as big as he was. I thought he was 6’3”, 6’4”, not what he actually is.” Blume said.
When I pressed him on who he wanted to win the Pac-12 Tourney he said he wanted the Ducks.
“I am Beaver, but I want the title to be in the Northwest. It helps with recognition for the area and I think it brings attention to both state schools in Oregon. We lose so many good players in Oregon to the schools in California or Arizona that having the title up there would be a great thing to help keep those players in the area.” Blume explained.
I enjoyed Ray Blume’s honesty and just matter-of-fact tone about the Pac-12 and his memories about Corvallis. Hopefully, Ray Blume and I can have another conversation down the line.
Next up was Andre Miller, who played for the Utah Utes, and had a lengthy NBA career. Like Ray Blume, Andre Miller had an upfront manner to him when you asked him questions about his career. However, he spoke in a calm, low-key tone that made the conversation I had with him very easy.
Question: Give me a word to express how you feel getting into the Hall of Honor for the Pac-12.
“Unexpected.” Miller said without hesitation.
“Coming from the background I did and the area getting an honor like this would be considered unexpected. I have so many people to thank it’s hard to mention them all. I realized a long time ago that it just wasn’t me who got me to the highest levels of basketball. My mom played a big roll, my coaches from when I first started playing helped develop my game, to my high school coaches, and finally to my college coach Rick Majerus who showed me the mental part of the game as well as what it took to be dedicated to your craft.” Miller stated.
Question: What did Rick Majerus mean to you?
“Coach Majerus was a father-figure type to me. He taught me how to be a man, showed me how to play the game fundamentally, and taught me how to take criticism from coaches. If it wasn’t for him, none of this Hall of Honor stuff happens. Period. There are not a lot of people like Coach Majerus. He cared about his players, he cared about me, he cared about everybody associated with the basketball program. When I saw how he acted and behaved toward everybody, it made myself and the rest of the players want to run through a wall for him.” Miller said.
We talked about what needs to be changed in college basketball and when I mentioned that the great Kevin Garnett stated that the decline in basketball skill among college and even NBA players was due to the inefficient coaching at the AAU level, Miller agreed wholeheartedly.
“These kids that come into a big division one programs are so unsound fundamentally that it makes me question the coaching. Many of these coaches seem to be in it for the personally glory that may come their way. That’s not what it should be about. It’s about developing players and trying to make them into the best players possible. KG and I have talked about this a time or two and it upsets us. I had a much more rounded game when I came out of college and went into the pro’s than most of these kids do now. I just hope it changes at some point.” Miller stated.
The game of basketball needs to evolve and get better and having players like Quincy Pondexter, Ray Blume, and Andre Miller share their experiences and knowledge with the younger generation would be something that college basketball should take a look at.