Pendergraph fills toughness niche

The venues, schedule and opponents' level of play have changed, but Jeff Pendergraph's skills from his college days at Arizona State are still translating well to the NBA's Portland Trailblazers. The former Sun Devil forward came back to the valley for the first time as a professional player, and put on display the skills that made him so successful in his maroon and gold tenure.

"He's done a good job," said Portland Trailblazers' Head Coach Nate McMillan. "Fundamentally he's sound. For us we need him to defend, screen and rebound the ball and he's very capable of doing that."

"I'm doing the same thing I did over here," stated Pendergraph, "except I don't have to score as many points (laughs). But I'm still a hustle guy and (Arizona State's) Coach Sendek that's his bread and butter. Hustle and be a sewer rat."

On Wednesday night, Pendergraph played ten minutes and was the first player to come off eth bench in a 108-101 win over the Phoenix Suns. The forward was 2-2 from the field, collected five points and two rebounds.

The start of his professional career didn't exactly start as planned. First there was draft day, and a general disappointment over getting drafted with the first pick of the second round.

"Draft day was weird," recalled Pendergraph who was initially selected by the Sacramento Kings. "I'm sitting there watching the whole first round go by and my name doesn't get called and I'm getting mad. I'm like ‘what the heck is this?' And the next pick comes and I'm not even paying attention I'm so mad.

"Everybody around me is freaking out and they're pointing to the screen saying ‘this is you!' Three minutes later I get traded (to Portland) and I'm thinking ‘holy cow this is nuts!' but it was cool."

"Both guys we drafted, him and Dante (Cunningham) have done a good job and we really didn't know if they would be playing for us," acknowledged McMillan. "They have had to step in (due to injuries to other front court players) and play. Jeff has seen some time at the center position and has done a real nice job starting in the summer league and showed us he could play there."

The forward did suffer a setback following his aforementioned fine pre-season play, when it was determined that he had to undergo hip surgery. He was expected to miss the first three or more months of the season, but was eventually activated on December 19th and played in his first NBA game four days later.

"The hip surgery kind of messed me up a little bit," commented Pendergraph. "It was a good thing to get it done because it could have gotten progressively worse. It also put things in perspective for me and kind of restructured how I approach things. It made me appreciate everything and not take anything for granted. It amped up my work ethic little bit."

McMillan agrees.

"He's worked hard to come back from his injury and give us good play," he said.

Dealing with a health impediment is nothing new for Pendergraph. As a freshman at ASU, he missed all of fall conditioning and most of the first month of the season after surgery to remove a benign tumor in his left leg.

"I've been there before," said Pendergraph. "Just get in rehab time and work hard at it and I'll be back in no time doing what I'm used to do."

Pendergraph had an illustrious Sun Devil career, as he established himself as one of the most efficient and productive players in school history. He set school records for games played (126) and started (120) while his 1,588 career points (12.6 per game) is good for sixth on the school career list. His 942 career rebounds (7.5 per game) is second on the career list and he led nation in field goal percentage (.660) and set school record in his senior year (2008-09).

McMillan pointed out that he didn't need any prodding from his son and current junior ASU guard Jamelle McMillan, to realize how Pendergraph had the potential to benefit the Trailblazers.

"I had seen him enough to know that fundamentally he's sound," remarked McMillan. "Having that opportunity after working him out, having an interview with him and getting to know him before the draft, we felt it was a good move (to draft Pendergraph). He was a four-year player who can bring some toughness, scrappy type of play to our team. That's what we were looking for and he was available. We are happy with him."

"They have seen me more than other teams," admitted Pendergraph, "but I think every team does its due diligence with this kind of stuff. They go through everything and make sure that you are what they want.

"They believed I was a good fit here."

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