Truth be told, Quincy Pondexter, a tireless, hard-working gym rat, would rather be playing with an NBA team, putting perhaps the final touches on a professional career cut short by injuries.
It’s an admission that most people wouldn’t make at the start of a life-changing venture that includes an embattled new employer and a suspecting fan base anxious for a return to better days after two downtrodden seasons.
However, Pondexter, the former Washington men’s basketball star who is a first-year assistant at UW, used the word honest five times to describe his burgeoning coaching style.
In keeping with his “I’m an open-book personality,” Pondexter said “I’m blessed” to convey his thoughts about his new gig. But, in the same sentence, the former Husky star selected No. 26 overall in the 2010 NBA draft expressed dismay about a seven-year NBA career with four different teams that never truly got going.
“Am I at peace with it?” said the 33-year-old Pondexter, who ranks fifth all-time in scoring at UW with 1,786 points. “A piece of me is like ‘damn, I was supposed to play 15 years.’ That was something that I’ve always had in my head. But to be able to be a part of the NBA for nine seasons (he sat out two years due to injuries), I don’t take that for granted.”
During a 30-minute interview last week, Pondexter talked publicly for the first time since his return to Montlake about the most pressing issues facing coach Mike Hopkins and the revamped Huskies, who brought in seven newcomers to replace eight players from a team that finished 5-21 and 11th in the Pac-12 at 4-16 last season.
(Why are you coaching?) “It was something I felt in my heart that it’s the best way to transition. I love the game so much. Being so injured at the end of my (NBA) career, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play for so long. In 2015 I started an AAU team. I was hurt and still in my career, but I found a way to give back to the game and be around the game. My first team, which was a bunch of 7th and 8th graders, I had Jalen Green. He was unranked. Nobody knew who he was. Took him from an unranked kid in Fresno to No. 1 in the country in two years. With a group of a lot of other talented players. … I felt like I was ready for a new career as a coach. Maybe it’ll be better than my playing career.”
(Who are your coaching mentors?) “Monty Williams is a huge coaching mentor and Lorenzo Romar for sure. (Williams) helped mold my career. He was very honest. He values hard work and dedication. At the end of the day, he holds his players accountable and himself accountable for everything.”
(And Romar?) “I can call him at any time and he’ll answer calls or texts. He’s someone that I did a lot for him on the court, but he’s been an even bigger person for me off the court. A role model that I can always look up to for the rest of my life. He’s a friend and father figure.”
(Do UW players know about your history?) “It’s crazy. Time flies so fast. I don’t think they ever got to see me or watch me or know too much about my college career. We give them little glimpses every once in awhile. I used to be pretty decent at this game, especially at UW. But you got to think, it was 11-12 years ago when I was on the court here. So most of those kids were probably 8-9 years old. … I feel ancient a lot of times.”
(Do you tell them about your late-night workouts?) “I tell them that they can’t out-work me. I tell them when they should be working harder in the gym. … But explaining that level of hard work and determination, they’re slowly getting it.”
(Some guys play basketball and some guys love the game. There’s a difference.) “It was something in me. The gym was always open. I found a way to know every janitor and anybody who could open the door if I needed it. I would be in there sometimes at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning. … Looking back at it, I was a psychopath.”
(That kind of passion is rare.) “I felt a lot of pressure from people in Seattle and I just wanted to prove them wrong or prove them right and make them proud and leave my mark on the program. Every day I go out whether it’s on campus or around the city, people still kind of remember and show me a lot of love. It’s literally priceless for me. I genuinely left it all out there for the purple and gold.”
(What’s your favorite UW memory?) “Senior night was one of my favorite days. It was a culmination of four years. A lot of times, I wasn’t the most loved, but by the end of it, I got a chance to be solidified as one of the greatest Huskies of all time. To feel the fans’ love and to see the way people cheered for me that day and see people brought to tears because it was my last game at Hec Ed, it was something that I’ll will cherish forever. It’s still a memory that almost brings me to tears to this day.”
(Do you think your No. 20 jersey will ever be retired?) “Wow. I pray to God that (UW athletic director Jen Cohen) gives me that call. I would love that. That’s something that would mean the world to me. But honestly, I think Jon Brockman probably deserves it before me.”
(Your last NBA season was 2018-19, but you never officially announced your retirement. So how did you end up back at UW?) “It just kind of happened. I was in a situation where I was working out every single day the last two years and it got to a point where I wasn’t getting any calls. But I still wanted to play. I was extremely healthy from my injuries and felt like I could help a team out. I called coach (Cameron) Dollar the day after he stepped down (on March 17, 2021). … He said, you should look into the UW job. I asked, who’s taking your spot and he said they have no idea because he kind of did it out of the blue. He said, you should call them. I got in touch with Coach Hop. He put me through a six-week rigorous interview process. There was about 10 times where I’m like I’m not getting this job. I’m still training every day and thinking I’m still going to play basketball again. But thank God he found it in his heart to give me this job. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially at a place I call home. I’m really thankful for Coach Hop.”
(What kind of influence can you and assistant Will Conroy have on a team that’s fallen on hard times?) “It takes time to instill your culture, your beliefs and your heart. This is my first 5-6 months at the job. It takes a little time. But at the same time, we’re here all the time. If I’m not in the office, then I’m on the court. Will is one of the best coaches in the country. We’re putting in our time. Be patient with us. We’re changing some things around. Just trust us. We’ll get it back. There’s no better hands to have it in then two former Huskies that probably bleed purple more than anyone else.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.