Pendergraph Puts Early Injury Behind Him

The word tumor is enough to send a chill down even the most unflappable person's spine. Thus, imagine how true freshman Jeff Pendergraph, barely a few weeks on campus, felt when he learned that a tumor was discovered on his knee. A successful operation and rehab have now translated into a young player showing early promise. Devils Digest talked to the forward about his season thus far, as well as the big game against Minnesota. Coach Evans comments on this match-up as well in this article.

"I've done OK, but I can do a lot better," said the 6-10 210 Jeff Pendergraph when asked to assess his performance in his three games played. "There's a lot I need to work on. My leg isn't strong as I wanted to be, but it's getting there. Basketball wise I'm starting to catch up more."

The freshman admitted that the operation to remove the tumor, which ultimately proved to be benign, was the biggest injury he ever suffered. "I was here for summer school, and when we took physicals I told the doctor that sometimes my knee hurts," he recalled. "They went and took X-Rays and something small showed up on my bone. After I got an MRI and a bone scan, they were able to determine that I had a tumor." Only a month after this diagnosis did he have surgery, due to the fact that he elected to have it back home in Etiwanda, Calif.

In only three games, where he played 11 minutes per contest, Pendergraph has averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 boards a game. During that stretch he also has four blocks and is shooting at a 50% clip from the field. "Everyone told me that after the tumor will be removed, I'll be able to play," he stated. "I already know I'm a hard worker, so I knew what I had to do to get back into shape. I believe that good things can happen from bad situations. This has helped me work harder and become the player the coaches know I can be."

At Etiwanda High School, the forward had much success. His team was ranked second in the nation last season, and he lost only five games during his junior and senior seasons. "I definitely bring a winning attitude," he commented, "and I try to pass that on to my teammates. I hate losing and I don't want us to go through a loss. Any loss is devastating." While he was quite dominant during his prep career, he found rather quickly that the college circuit will present a stiffer challenge. "The size and quickness at this level is different than high school," he admitted. "In high school there was a lot of things I got get away with because I was the tallest person anybody played against. Here everyone is my height and sometimes bigger, so I had to adjust my game accordingly."

Head Coach Rob Evans has been singing the praises of Pendergraph ever since his first game back. It seems to be just a matter of time before the freshman can claim a starting role. Is that what he aspires to? "Definitely," he replied. "I'm not even upset about coming off the bench, because I know I'm behind. I'm not in the best shape and I don't have much experience. But I have no worries, it will come when it comes."

And coming into town on Monday night are the Minnesota Golden Gophers, which are by far the toughest non-conference team the Sun Devils have faced in this campaign. Pendergraph realizes what a win can do not only for the squad's confidence, but also for the perception it caries. "We have to step up our game, especially on defense to win," he said. "We do need to be consistent, and have a chip on our shoulder not only in games, but in practice too. If we don't play well, we'll end up proving everyone right. It would almost be a flop."

Coach Evans projects the Gophers to provide somewhat of a preview for Pac-10 play. "They're gonna be physical," he remarked. "They're gonna hit us when we go through the lane, when we try to rebound the basketball, they're gonna come after us when we get it on the floor…that's what we need. Our players, especially the young guys, need to understand that this is how it's gonna be all year long, and we need to respond to it.

The Sun Devil skipper is pleased, yet realistic with his team's 4-0 start to the season. "We have done what we're suppose to do, and that's win our first four home games," he said. "We played against not great competition, but pretty good competition. Now we're stepping it up a notch which will force us to raise our level to be successful. That's what I'm anxious to see, if we can we raise it to the next level - the level that we need to be successful in conference."

"We want to make the identity of this team to be a defensive club, that makes stops when it needs to," Evans continued. "We want to be a team that has mental and physical toughness. These are things I'd like to establish and the identity of this team is still evolving."

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