With the Coronavirus situation ending the NCAA Basketball season before postseason play commenced, there are a number of seniors throughout the country who did not get a proper send-off. One student-athlete who is likely to receive no outside recognition, is WSU forward Jeff Pollard. The scrappy big man is the definition of a hardworking, humble, leader, who epitomizes all the characteristics of a successful college athlete. The following is a recap of Pollard’s career in the Palouse, and an ode to the unofficial “Mayor of Pullman.”
Ugly but Effective
He is not a pretty basketball player, in fact, his game sometimes resembles a slow-moving offensive lineman.
But he has three things working in his advantage: excellent footwork, toughness, and heart.
His type of style can be considered roughneck, he is the exact type of guy that you love to have on your team and hate to play against. He’s always in the right spot on the court, a defensive pest, and willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the collective group.
Every championship squad needs a guy like him, see, Dennis Rodman, Bruce Bowen, and in more recent times, Draymond Green. This type of player is invaluable, and often don’t receive notoriety unless their teams are elite.
And while Pollard will never win a NCAA title or likely play a game in the NBA, his determination on the hardwood should be used a learning tool for all young hoopers.
His heart is the reason why he was universally loved by Coug faithful, and nicknamed the “Mayor of Pullman,” pretty impressive for a guy who didn’t average more than ten points throughout his career.
Many young players try and emulate Stephen Curry or James Harden’s 47-foot three-point bombs, but in reality, very few can make these shots on a consistent basis. But every kid can do their best, try on defense, and play with passion, these are the principles Pollard demonstrated on a consistent basis, and these same principles will probably take him far in life.
Hey, and plus, there’s nothing wrong with a slow two-step layup that goes through the hoop more times than not. It may not get you a girlfriend, but it will help your team win the game.
Freshman- Junior Seasons
In his first three seasons at WSU, the Cougs were coached by Ernie Kent who prefers a fast-break style offensive. And while this strategy can prove effective for many players, this approach usually does not benefit a player with Pollard’s skill-set.
This contradiction of styles made it difficult for him to find consistent minutes in Kent’s rotation.
Pollard’s freshman year he rarely played, and wasn’t an intricate part of the team, he averaged less than 10 minutes per game, and only 1.8 points per.
His sophomore year appeared like it had the potential to be his breakout campaign, but he still couldn’t quite find his footing in the up-tempo offense. He only scored 3.6 points and grabbed 1.7 rebounds per game.
Needless to say, his first two years at WSU were forgettable, but he stuck it out and continued to play with a high defensive energy. He could have chosen to transfer along with the likes of ex-Coug, and current San Diego State point guard Malachi Flynn, but he decided to return for his Junior year.
But … it was probably not what Pollard was expecting.
Even though his minutes upped to over 18-per-game, he still found himself with an inconsistent role in the rotation, and his numbers continued to underwhelm. His junior year stats read 4.8 points, and 2.6 rebounds per game.
And to the naked eye it was fairly obvious that he was getting the shaft, but he never disrespected any of the coaches on the team. Upon Kent’s firing after the year was complete, Pollard stated the following in a tweet, “I enjoyed my three years under Coach Kent and appreciate all he and his staff did for me in that time.”
Keep in mind he could’ve easily thrown him under the bus, as WSU’s basketball program was about as competitive as a drunk sloth. But he chose to respect his morals and displayed Mayoresque characteristics.
His final year in Pullman is where everything changed. The Cougs hired new coach Kyle Smith who brought a defensive-minded mentality to the team. Smith’s approach may have been the deciding factor as to why Pollard returned for his Senior season.
He always loved Pullman but he probably felt undervalued as a player in the previous tenure.
In a meeting with Smith, Pollard said, “I love this place, I want to stay here if I can, but I want to make sure I fit you, your system, and your program going forward.” He then asked, “I want to make sure you want me here.”
These statements were clearly answered at Smith’s introductory press conference on April 2.
The new coach said, “There is one guy that’s on an official visit right now and I’m going to try and reel him back in,” he then added, “I’m calling him out, it’s Jeff Pollard. He’s going to be mad, I know it, but you are welcome here, brother. You are a Coug.”
The rest is history, Pollard returned for his senior year and boosted his scoring and rebounding statistics to 8.7 and 4.1 per game.
But as always with him, his most impressive plays cannot be measured by statistics. Whether it was taking a charge in a key moment, guarding the opposing teams best big man, or just being the “Mayor of Pullman,” his presence and energy were always felt on the court. It was much needed on a team where he was consistently the only reliable front-court player.
His college career is over, but his influence will continue to be felt for years to come. Players like Tony Miller and Volodymyr Markovetskyy were his understudies, and Miller has quickly adopted his style of hustling after everything … and I mean everything.
Because sometimes life displays beautiful synchronicity, the rough and tumble Pollard played his final game with a broken finger, and still found a way to be effective. He helped the Cougs win their first Pac-12 Tournament game in over a decade, knocking off a talented Colorado team in the process.
There were even a couple two steps layups in his final showcase, the crowd probably didn’t notice.