With some help from the outside, Chaminade University point guard Austin Pope is trying to achieve his goal of one day playing in the NBA.
Of course, it also helps his chances of making it to the next level that he’s had a very successful first season with Chaminade in Hawaii and has impressed some people along the way. He spent his first two years collegiately split between Cerritos College and North Idaho College before transferring to Chaminade in Division II last year.
Pope was rated by 247Sports.com as the fourth-best point guard in the nation at North Idaho College and the No. 24 prospect overall during the 2014-15 season. He averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game that season and helped North Idaho College to the NJCAA Region Championship game.
He really began to turn heads this past year at Chaminade. Pope is listed at 6-foot-5, weighs 180 pounds and is the lead guard for the Swords. He averaged 12.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and one block in 29 total games played. He was named the PacWest Newcomer of the Year and was on the All-PacWest Third Team.
“My coaches sat me down at the beginning of the season and they had been having a couple of years where they didn’t have the best years,” Pope told Basketball Insiders. “They said if we want to have a good year, you need to have a Newcomer of the Year type of season for us. I took that to heart and I got to work. I put in a lot of work for it and it obviously paid off this year.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is his rebounding ability. His 9.8 rebounds per game in conference play led all players in the PacWest Conference. He grabbed double-digit rebounds in 13 games and pulled down a career-high 16 against Notre Dame de Namur.
Pope’s most impressive stretch of the season came when he tied a school record with five straight double-doubles. He averaged 17.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 blocks per game during that stretch. The hype began to build as he attempted to break the school record.
“For me, it’s an effort thing,” Pope said. “You see a ball, you go and get it. There are guys that could get those rebounds, but at the end of the day, they don’t give that same effort. I think people around school and around the internet were like, ‘You got four double-doubles, you got to get another one!’ I think that kind of played into it, too. It was really cool, though.”
Pope was born in Burbank, California. He often returns to his hometown whenever he gets an opportunity to do so. His parents and other family members still live in the area and he often credits them for an uptick in his play.
For instance, he joked that it was perhaps his mother’s home cooking that allowed him to play so well during his streak of five straight double-doubles. Of course, he was also able to see his grandmother and friends in town as well. Seeing his loved ones gave him an opportunity to clear his mind and play distraction free.
He was thrilled to know that his family back home would get a chance to watch him play on ESPN. Chaminade regularly participates in the Maui Invitational Tournament in which seven Division I schools are invited to play. Schools like North Carolina, Oregon, UConn, Tennessee and Georgetown among others played in this season’s tournament.
Chaminade faced North Carolina, UConn and Tennessee this year in the tournament with each game broadcast on an ESPN network. Those three games gave Pope and his teammates a chance to see how they stacked up against some of the top prospects in Division I. He averaged 10.7 points, five rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in those three games.
“The following I had throughout that tournament was ridiculous,” Pope said. “After the UNC game, I probably had like a million SnapChats and texts and pictures and everything of what I did that night. That whole thing followed throughout that tournament.”
While he’s back home in Burbank, Pope is also afforded an opportunity to workout with one of the most decorated players in NBA history: Robert Horry.
The two met at a gym in Glendale where Pope frequents. He would work out there and run pick-up games and noticed Horry would also come in from time to time. They’ll occasionally play on the same team together and he’s given an opportunity to see what it’s like to be on the same court as a seven-time NBA champion.
“He comes in and works with his wife and trains,” Pope said. “When he’s on the basketball court, I look at how he works and how he still takes it seriously even though he’s not in the NBA anymore. I could just imagine him being in the NBA at the peak of his career and how serious he was. I just talk with him about those kinds of things and it definitely makes me work harder.”
Pope will often pick his brain and try to absorb as much information as he can. It’s not every day that a college player has an opportunity to talk to a player as accomplished as Horry. The biggest advice that Horry gives him is to keep it simple and just continue to work hard and respect others. Horry even congratulated him on his double-double streak.
Even though it’s been nearly nine years since Horry retired, his “Big Shot Bob” nickname still lives on.
“We’re at the gym and we were down a couple of points,” Pope recalled. “We were losing. He was missing shots; I was missing shots. We’re down two and we have a chance to win the game and I drive to the basket and he’s open at the top of the key for a three. I give it to him and he hasn’t hit many shots all game and of course he hits the game-winning shot. He looked at the people around and goes, ‘You guys should have covered me because that’s kind of what I do.’ He’s definitely still ‘Big Shot Bob.’”
Now that Chaminade’s season is over, Pope will finish up his classes on campus and eventually return back home. He plans on continuing to work out and improve his game before his senior year. He wants to get stronger this offseason and fill out his long frame. In past summers, Pope has played at The Drew League in Compton.
He has played against NBA players like Nick Young and Gilbert Arenas at The Drew and was teammates with Brandon Jennings. The Drew attracts many hoop fans each summer and is wild because current NBA players have been known to just randomly show up and play. Guys like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Jordan Clarkson among others have all shown up and played before.
Pope played in a few games last year and had a great showing in one game in particular. He racked up 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds and caught the eye of one former NBA player.
“We played right before Baron Davis’ team played and he saw my game and he definitely was like, ‘You’re a great player,’” Pope said. “He added me on Twitter that night and he knew my name. He DM’d me and was like, ‘I see you grinding. Keep working and stay humble and hungry.’ … You never know who you’ll run into at the Drew.”
Several players from Division II schools have made the jump to have successful careers in the NBA. Players like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace among others came from Division II schools and made a name for themselves in the NBA. Pope is hoping he can add his name to that list.
Robert Horry and Baron Davis have already noticed his game. Who will be next?
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