I'm saying it right now: Quincy Pondexter isn't one of the best players in the Pac-10. He's one of the best players in the nation.
The kid with all the hype coming onto the campus of the University of Washington is living up to it. And then some. As a role player his first three years, Quincy struggled to find his identity. He bounced around, playing the perimeter, manning the post and slashing to the basket. But toward the end of his junior year, something clicked. Once the NCAA tournament rolled around, Pondexter morphed into what every follower of the program imagined he could be. He led the Huskies, averaging 21.5 points and 9 rebounds. He was finally playing to his potential, but the questions lingered: could he sustain it, or could he improve on it?
The loss of Jon Brockman, a four year star who left the program as perhaps its most decorated individual ever, prompted many to ask the question: who is going to lead the Huskies in his absence? As the lone senior on the roster, the burden naturally fell on the shoulders of Pondexter. Some might have taken the pressure and shrunk from the spotlight. Not Quincy. He relished it from the moment Purdue ended the Huskies' 2009 tournament run. He shared a team with the Boilermaker's Robbie Hummel on the United States World University Team, and every time he saw Robbie, Quincy was reminded of his team's failures and the question popped into his head "Why not us?" Staring his failures in the face day in and day, out he dedicated himself to improving and being a leader, and he did exactly that.
Pondexter worked his tail off in the offseason, seemingly taking it upon himself to make people forget that Jon Brockman ever wore the purple and gold. After the Huskies' exhibition game against Central Washington, Pondexter was asked about if there was anything the team could improve on. Quincy responded with his million dollar smile and told the reporters that he had missed from the free throw line, and would be back on the court later that night to work on his shortcomings. He even challenged Isaiah Thomas to join him. Thomas declined, but that leadership and work ethic showed the following weekend, when Pondexter hit his first 20 shots from the charity stripe.
Against Wright State in UW's opener, Pondexter struggled. He scored just 12 points and added 9 rebounds. That's right, struggling for Q-Pon is nearly a double-double. Chalk it up to opening game jitters. Since then Pondexter has improved every game, following that performance with a career high tying 25 points with 11 rebounds. Then a new career high 29 points to go with a career high tying 13 rebounds. His encore to the best statistical game he'd ever played? The new best statistical game he'd ever played: a career high career high 30 points coupled with a career high 15 rebounds. Q-Pon has taken the team onto his shoulders, and become a leader both vocally and through his play.
Want some statistics? Pondexter's O Rating thus far is an unreal 147.9. His eFG% and TS% are at 61.1 and 68.4 respectively, both of which are astounding especially considering he doesn't shoot 3's. He's asserting himself into the UW's offense more than ever before, with a shot percent of 27.8. His OR% puts even Jon Brockman's best to shame, coming in at 18.4%. Against SJSU, Pondexter shot 10/13 from the free throw line, which for him can only be described as atrocious. He's hitting 88.2% for the year, and posting an other-worldly free throw rate of 62.9. He has scored more points than anybody in the nation and is 9th nationally in points per game.
How much of this is him reaching his potential? How much of it is him finally being "the man" in UW's offense? It's impossible to ever know, but one thing is for certain: Quincy Pondexter is flourishing this year. Are his stats and performance going to regress some when the Huskies start to play stronger opponents and Pac-10 play begins? Sure. But regardless, right now he's playing better basketball than anybody in the Pac-10. And there's reason to believe that he will continue to be among the nation's best players, and that his performance thus far is indicative of giants steps forward. In a down year for the Pac-10, where there's no clear cut favorite for Player of the Year, if Q-Pon continues his torrid play he'll be a shoo-in for that award. He might be playing his way onto the the All American team. Unless you're one of a very select few teams, Quincy Pondexter is playing better than your team's best player.
The scary thing for opponents about Pondexter's play (besides, you know, his play) this season? He still might not be the best player on his own team.