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NBA AM: Austin Pope Making a Name for Himself

Austin Pope of Chaminade is working hard to make the leap from a Division II program to the NBA.

Cody Taylor

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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?

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Jarrett Allen Comes Along Quicker Than Planned

Many thought Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen would spend a good chunk of this season in the G-League. Instead, he ends the year a starter.

Joel Brigham

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Only five players in the entire NBA are older than Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen, a player who was projected to enter the season as one of the league’s biggest projects. He was a first-round pick, but his youth and inexperience had people believing he would take a while to adjust.

By the end of his first season, though, Allen found himself injected into the starting lineup. In other words, he came along a lot quicker than anybody expected.

“I defied some people’s expectations,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of people thought I was going to be a G-League guy, and that they were going to have to develop me before I’d be ready to play at the NBA level, but I came in and played well enough to be a starter. I’m playing starter’s minutes now and putting up pretty good numbers. I think I’m doing pretty well.”

He’s grateful to have made such big strides in his first year, but even he stepped into this season believing it might have been a slog getting meaningful minutes.

“I definitely thought that I was going to have to through the process,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to spend time in the G-League, improve from there and then hopefully get into the lineup. So, I decided I was going to be a defensive-minded person really early on. I opened myself up to doing all of the dirty work, and I think that helped make me a bigger part of this team earlier than some people thought.”

Allen actually started the season hurt, which meant he couldn’t participate in Summer League and cut his teeth on less-than-stellar transitional talent. Instead, he put on his NBA jersey and bodied up a real professional player for the first time during training camp.

“The first person I had to guard was Timofey Mozgov,” Allen said, laughing at the memory. “I’m 19, just coming into the league, and that’s my first experience of having to guard someone. I thought to myself, ‘Man, it’s going to be like this the whole year?’ That really is what it’s been like going up against guys like Dwight Howard and Joel Embiid. I’ve spent all year playing against really strong guys, so I guess getting inducted by Mozgov was good for me.”

His whole season has been a nonstop introduction, matching up against star players frequently.

“In Mexico, we played the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I went up to block Carmelo Anthony’s shot. I grew up watching Carmelo forever, so getting to play against him and even blocking his shot, that was that moment when it hit me I was really in the NBA.”

Especially when Allen got into the starting lineup, his defensive assignments got much more difficult.

“The first start was against Kristaps Porzingis, and that was a tough matchup for me. I honestly was nervous that first time, getting my first start against one of the best basketball players in the world. I went in and took the challenge.”

Those challenge are only going to get more challenging, so strength training is going to be his main focus this summer, among other things.

“This offseason definitely is going to be when I add a lot of muscle. I want to add strength, shooting, and offensive game stuff. [Defensively], I think I’ve done pretty well, and I know I’ll get even better with time, but I need to work on offensive skills, dribbling, shooting, and post work.”

Allen self-assesses his first season in the league as a success, but it’s over now, and he can look forward to a sophomore season in which he knows the ropes from Day One.

“I’ve been the little brother of the team this year. Everybody has helped me out, and everybody has bossed me around a little. I had to carry around a pink backpack for a little bit, but after that I’ve just had to carry water for the guys and bring it onto the bus. It hasn’t been too bad, but every rookie looks forward to the day when they aren’t a rookie anymore.”

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NBA Daily: The All-Star Game’s Scandalous Past

The first All-Star Game was birthed of an infamous point-shaving scandal that rocked the basketball world.

Joel Brigham

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College basketball’s point-shaving scandal of the early 1950s remains one of the biggest black eyes in the sport’s history, but without it, there may never have been an NBA All-Star Game.

Known more famously as the CCNY (City College of New York) Point-Shaving Scandal, this public relations nightmare occurred in 1951 when several players from the CCNY Beavers, one of the most innovative teams in college hoops that played their home games at Madison Square Garden and won the national title the year before, took money in exchange for shaving points to help nail down easy wins for bettors.

The story is a lot more complicated that; it starts in the Catskills in New York in the 1940s and slowly works its way into the college game, but the end result is that several players from seven different colleges, most of whom attended CCNY, took money in exchange for impacting the outcomes of meaningful collegiate sports competitions.

Obviously the aftermath of this was significant. CCNY, just a year removed from being national champions, deemphasized their athletics programs and dropped down to Division III, never to return to Division I. Any player found to have been part of the scandal was permanently banned from playing in the NBA, and CCNY head coach Nat Holman, who completely modernized the game of basketball, was cleared of any wrongdoing officially but saw his legacy tarnished because of the whispers that predictably followed the scandal.

The whole thing was awful for basketball in general, so while the NBA was not directly impacted outside of having a few top-rated players be made unavailable in that year’s draft pool, the sports-ingesting public at large soured on the sport somewhat in the wake of these dishonorable actions.

And that’s where the idea for the NBA All-Star Game came together. A handful of NBA bigwigs held a meeting to discuss bettering the league’s perception among fans, and it was there that the idea of an All-Star Game involving the league’s best players surfaced as one possible solution.

The idea was pitched by the NBA’s publicity director Haskell Cohen, who took the idea from Major League Baseball, which had seen the midseason event grow increasingly popular every year. The first one of those took place in 1933 as an attraction at the World’s Fair in Chicago as the invention of a Chicago Tribune journalist named Arch Ward. If it could work for baseball, Cohen argued, maybe it could work for basketball, too.

Boston Celtics owner Walter A. Brown immediately jumped on board, growing so enthralled with the concept that he offered not only to host the event but to take on full financial responsibility for it. If the event was a behemoth failure, Brown himself would incur those losses.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as the first All-Star Game in 1951 drew over 10,000 fans to Boston Garden. That doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but average attendance at the Garden that season was only around 3,500 people per game. This star-studded exhibition nearly tripled that.

Today, of course, the NBA All-Star Game is an entirely more complicated and dazzling spectacle, with internet votes and slam dunk contests further encouraging fan interest. It’s fascinating to think that it all exists because the league felt the need to do something following a deeply embarrassing scandal for the sport. CCNY’s basketball program certainly isn’t better because of it, but it’s hard to imagine a world without the NBA All-Star Game.

Thank goodness for the rainbows that follow storms.

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NBA Daily: Quincy Pondexter Has Grown With New Orleans

Quincy Pondexter did two stints with New Orleans four years apart, both of which changed his life forever.

Joel Brigham

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By the time the New Orleans Hornets traded for the draft rights to Quincy Pondexter in the summer of 2010, the city was just starting to see some real progress in the reconstruction efforts that followed the half decade after Hurricane Katrina.

In February of that year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, a victory that the city badly needed, and Pondexter found himself dropped into the sports culture of the league’s most unique city.

Now with the Chicago Bulls, Pondexter would only play in New Orleans for his rookie year before getting dealt to Memphis and signing a multi-year extension, but in late 2014 he was traded back to New Orleans, who had rechristened themselves the Pelicans by that point. He couldn’t believe how much had changed in just four short years.

“You stopped seeing the spray paint on the houses, and the prices start going up on real estate. It was definitely a lot different coming back,” Pondexter told Basketball Insiders. “I remember I had a house there, when I first got there as a rookie, and it was very, very cheap. But when I came back, I had a place probably twice as small for almost double the price. The city had just grown and developed a lot more, especially the downtown areas where you could start seeing buildings being built. You’d start to see the city come back to form, come back to life, and I really, really got to enjoy it my second time.”

That sort of progress was slow to come by 2010, however. Despite five years having passed since the initial devastation of Katrina, New Orleans was finding slow progress toward physical and emotional healing. The team had just moved back to the city full-time a couple of seasons prior after having played a good number of games in Oklahoma City during Louisiana’s recovery, but Pondexter remembers the Hornets giving the people of the city something to root for, too.

“The Saints, when you win a championship, when you’ve been there for years, of course you’re going to be the favorite, but, when the Hornets were part of that, too,” he said. “When you win games, and I had the chance to go to the playoffs with two different stints with them, I think it’s embracing how much the city comes together once you make an achievement like that, and whether you’re at the grocery store, gas station, whatever, people are always going to talk to you about the game of basketball. They don’t talk to you like a fan in New Orleans; they talk to you like a family member. It was really cool to be in a city like that.”

He also admitted that it was exciting to play even a small role in helping New Orleans continue to heal.

“It was a unique experience because the city was rebuilding, and being able to be a part of helping put it back together, it was really special,” he said. “We had an unbelievable star in Chris Paul, and you just don’t realize how much people lean on sports to get through tough times. We bridged that gap, and it was a real unique community to help refurbish the city of New Orleans.”

Coming back four years later, Pondexter had grown up a lot, and while a lot of his next few years with the Pelicans would be plagued by a torrent of medical problems ranging from knee issues to a staph infection, he did get to spend a lot more time in the city after having been there for only a year as a rookie in 2010-2011. That’s when he really fell in love with New Orleans.

“The culture, the melting pot culture, the rich history, it’s so much different from anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I grew up in Fresno, California, went to school at the University of Washington, and New Orleans is just something unique, and I could always say I learned so much from a city like that, about our country, about life, about so many things. About music, about food, about everything in that city, you just really learn so much. It’s a city where you get to put your hair down, and just enjoy being alive.”

Time passes quickly in any NBA career, but playing two times for one team several years apart can’t help but give a person some perspective, which is what it has done for Quincy Pondexter.

“You grow up, you learn the game of basketball, you learn a lot about yourself, and you see what you want in life more,” he said. “I think that was a really big pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never ever forget.”

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