No regrets for Pendergraph

His name is featured in the upper echelon of several ASU statistical categories, and in the last 20 years there are very few four-year players who were more successful in Tempe than senior Jeff Pendergraph. This is why it's hard to fathom that the forward was close to leaving ASU twice in his career. Thankfully for the maroon and gold he stayed put.

When Pendergraph first arrived in 2005, he thought that he had a lot of basketball ahead of him. "I'm gonna be here forever," he recalled thinking at that time.

And then his career took a potential devastating turn.

When getting ready for fall conditioning, Pendergraph experienced pain in his left leg. An exam revealed that it was a tumor, which following surgery was deemed benign. This medical episode caused him to miss five games in the 2005-06 campaign.

This was surely better than the alternative scenario that was going through his mind. He thought that his basketball career was over right then and there.

"It was kind of scary," said Pendergraph. "I felt it was some kind of type of movie, but it's not really a movie if you have something in your leg. As a young guy you feel invincible and you're like ‘cut me up and I'll go back to playing.'

"Next thing I know after surgery my leg hurt and they (the doctors) tell me that it's going to hurt for a while…"

His doctors were forthcoming saying that they tried to remove the entire tumor, but that some of it could come back. He would undergo subsequent X-Rays and tests during a period of time which he called "creepy."

It may seem absurd to describe this three-month experience as positive or constructive, yet this is exactly how Pendergraph describes it.

"It definitely made me appreciate the game more," he admitted. "Some guys get injured and take the game for granted. This happened to me before I could even start my college career, and it was one of the best things that could have happened to me.

"This was one of the worst times of my life, and I didn't want that to happen again. So I took advantage of every minute on the court and kept on working on my game. I realized how fast this could all be over. It definitely put things in perspective."

As if that event wasn't enough for Pendergraph to endure as a freshman, another major one took place at the end of that season. Rob Evans, the ASU coach who recruited him, was dismissed.

Pendergraph acknowledge his disappointment at the time, and thought that the season "wasn't that bad" and he was looking forward to turning things around with Evans at the helm. Now, he had to evaluate his college career.

"I don't know if I'm gonna be here," Pendergraph recalled his thoughts back then. "I don't know who they're gonna bring in. I don't want you waste a year…it was really hectic."

Pendergraph didn't contact any schools to explore transfer opportunities, but did have a list of possible destinations. He contemplated going to a junior college so he wouldn't have to redshirt before joining another Division I program.

However, Pendergraph was willing to "get a feel for the (new) coach", and he really had to go through a familiarization process since he truly didn't know who Herb Sendek was.

"I think that helped me when I met him," noted Pendergraph. "There was no bias or anything. Everything worked out well."

Pendergraph showed improvement in the first two years under the new ASU regime. Now he had another reason to possibly leaving – declaring eligible for the NBA draft. The forward didn't hire an agent, because even as he was testing the waters he was leaning towards coming back to don the maroon and gold one last year.

The senior listened to the advice of former NBA coach and valley resident Doug Collins, who frequents ASU's practices. Collins thought he could use another year of maturity that could potentially improve his stock.

"It was a good idea to stay," Pendergraph admitted. "Some guys can leave and come back (because they didn't hire an agent), and then they really have a bad year and they say ‘I should have left.' but I don't regret not going (to the NBA). Staying was the best decision I made, besides the decision to come here in the first place.

"It's kind of surreal that things are working out the way they are."

This maturity certainly helped his game. Following this weekend's contest, Pendergraph continues to lead the NCAA in field goal percentage at .665. With 1,465 points in 119 career games he's assured of being in ASU's top-10 all-time scorers.

The maturation process has helped him channel his emotions to become not only a more productive player, but also a respected leader.

This weekend, the curtain will close on Jeff Pendergraph's appearances on Arizona State's home court. Some fans may have been thinking about these moments for a while, but for the 6-9 240 forward, it only hit on a Monday evening.

And the setting was a unique one to say the least. Pendergraph was playing his favorite video game, ‘Call of Duty' and took a breather after struggling with that game.

"I was getting my butt kicked," he stated. "I sat in my chair, gathering my thoughts because I had to chill. Next thing you know, everything started to hit me. ‘I'm done. I'm a senior. College basketball is over.'

"Last night was crazy."

Exciting times indeed. Even though the Sun Devils aren't on the dreaded NCAA tournament bubble, as they were this time last year, there's still a sense of urgency for Pendergraph and his teammates to improve their post-season seeding.

"You want to play well enough to where you're not barely getting in," said Pendergraph, "and the first game you're playing North Carolina. You want enter with the best record you can and give yourself a chance to make the best run.

"We're not trying to go and get in there just to be happy. We want to get a run in there and play. The higher the seed we get, the better the chance we have doing it."

Pendergraph noted that his college experience was probably different than the typical ASU student. Nonetheless, what he has gained from his four years in Tempe sounds familiar to any person who can call himself a college graduate.

"I've grown definitely, physically and mentally," he explained. "I came here looking like a tooth pick and I'm not a tooth pick anymore. Mentally, it was definitely a growing up process, going through college, going through everything we went through. If I didn't come here I don't think I would be who I am today. It's all credit to college.

"I'm definitely happy that I came here. I got my degree early; I played very well basketball wise. Now I have an opportunity to do many things, make history for the school, trying to go to the NBA. There's a lot of stuff that's happening right now that I wouldn't think would be possible when I first got here."

When Pendergraph decided to come back for his senior year, he also had a sense of unfinished business, in terms of getting his degree from ASU and helping the team be a part of the NCAA tournament. Thus, he cannot but help a great sense of satisfaction of making the right decision, achieving those feats in his final year in Tempe, and overall leaving on top.

"I think that's going to be a big factor for senior night," said Pendergraph in anticipation for the team's match up with Cal on Saturday at Noon, a game where he will break Eddie House's record of 114 starts. "A lot of people I think will come and show their appreciation that I've been here the whole time, that I graduated early and that I helped the team go from the bottom to the top.

"It's gonna be a big night."

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