Jeanette Pohlen: No Regrets

Guard Jeanette Pohlen, who has assumed a central role in the Stanford perimeter rotation this season, is exhibiting classic signs of the phenomenon sometimes dubbed the "Sophomore Surge."

The season may be young but it is already abundantly clear that sophomore Jeanette Pohlen has become one of the driving forces for the Cardinal at guard. If nature really does abhor a vacuum, Pohlen is doing her part to fill the void at guard by creating her own tornado with effort and intensity. The Bootleg caught Pohlen for a chat midway through a busy week of finals.

How did Pohlen enjoy the team's Thanksgiving tournament trip to Hawaii, where the Card beat then #23 Purdue (November 24 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll), #22 Iowa State, and host Hawaii on three successive days?

"It was very nice, nice weather, very different than this environment. It was fun being all together, just bonding with the team and getting to know everybody a little bit better. I roomed with Nneka (Ogwumike), so that was fun, getting to know her better. As far as basketball goes, I think we fought hard. We played two really great teams, Top-25 teams, and came out with three wins, which was our goal for that tournament."

With all that basketball, did Pohlen get much time at the beach?

"No, I actually only got to the beach once, on the last day. I mean it was really pretty and I could see it from my balcony so it wasn't like I couldn't see the beach. I did get to go on the last day and just take it all in."

What did the team take from the experience of winning those games on the road?

"I think the biggest thing we took away was that we didn't give up. We kept fighting even though things weren't really going our way the whole time, like the first game that went into overtime when [Jillian Harmon's] shot didn't count. I think that kind of fueled us even more when we went into overtime. We really stuck together in that game along with the Iowa State game where we had a really good game plan. I think just that we didn't give up and stayed together was probably the biggest thing."

Pohlen played the "2" or the "3" last season as a reserve. This fall she opened as the starter at the "2" but spent a lot of time filling in at point guard for injured junior JJ Hones. Though she was much praised for her performance at point guard, Pohlen's role has shifted once again. She primarily played the "2" in Hawaii. What is the current plan for her position?

"At the beginning I was playing the "1" a lot. Now they want me to move to the "2" more so that I can get out and run and then look for my shot more, come off screens and stuff. At this point I'm more of a "2" guard. Ros (Gold-Onwude) and Mel (Murphy) have been doing a great job (at the "1"), Ros starting and Mel coming in when Ros needs a break. A lot of people are contributing in different ways."

So she won't be switching back to the "1" very often?

"Probably not. I think now I do have it in my pocket if they do need me to play the "1" a little bit at any point. They want me to be able to come off screens more and contribute with my shooting now."

Pohlen quickly cracked the rotation as a freshman and contributed in Stanford's biggest games, but she has taken a giant leap in responsibility as one of the main cogs at guard in her second season.

"Coming in you have expectations but you never know what's going to happen. You have injuries like what just happened here (with Hones injuring her knee) and you just have to be ready to step up. I felt like I had a really good opportunity this year, this season, with Candice (Wiggins) gone. The guards and the guard play were where we really needed people to step up. I felt I could do a good job and hopefully contribute as much as possible."

Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer recently paid Pohlen a very high compliment when she said the sophomore was one of the hardest workers ever in the program. Does Pohlen recognize that in herself? Does she perceive any extra pressure to always keep pushing herself?

"I don't really think about [working hard] when I'm out there practicing or even in games. It's just always been in me I think – just wanting to do my best, wanting to work hard, not getting outworked by teammates or other people, just because at the end of a practice you want to be able to say, ‘I gave it my all today. I didn't slack off. I don't have any regrets. I couldn't have given more.' That was the biggest thing through high school growing up; I just really liked to go hard."

So it just comes naturally? She doesn't have to make a conscious effort to work extra hard?

"I think so. I don't really do anything extra, I don't think."

To flip the equation a little, which coach would Pohlen deem the hardest working?

"I don't know because they all work hard. It's hard to tell. They all have different things that they do. I think the team would agree on Kate (Paye). She's pretty intense. We always see her working. She runs an amazing amount. She runs up by The Dish (a large radio telescope near Stanford with running trails all around it) and she'll come in before practice sweating. But Amy (Tucker) is in there lifting. Tara works out. And they work hard coaching as well. They all really care about us and have our best interests at heart."

Flipping things in yet another direction, we asked Pohlen for instances when she was not hardworking and responsible.

"One of my biggest flaws probably is that I'm a very good procrastinator. I like to do things at the last minute, as far as schoolwork goes. It is unlike me to get something done a week in advance, like a paper or studying. I'm always doing it at the last minute, even for finals. But I feel like if I do it last minute I remember it better because it is fresh in my mind. That's my thinking when I'm studying or writing papers."

Could this be one of those newfangled time management skills that keep getting mentioned in these interviews? Our chat with Pohlen took place smack in the middle of finals week. But finals pale in comparison to a unique award bestowed upon Pohlen at the Team Awards Banquet last April. She was the proud recipient of the Lizard Lung Award, given to the most gullible freshman. What did Pohlen do to earn the honor?

"I can't even explain it! I'm not the most gullible! I don't know. There were definitely people in the running. I don't know why I got picked!"

But if not her…

"I think Hannah (Donaghe) should have gotten picked. Even now, she's more gullible than I am."

Though Donaghe was not around to defend herself, we had to ask Pohlen to enumerate Donaghe's qualifications.

"I can't explain. She's funny. She definitely believes a lot of things that people say or she'll hear things differently and think that's the truth. We all think she's pretty funny. I won't say anything else!"

Perhaps that's best. But until the next Lizard Lung Award winner is named, Pohlen still must be considered the most gullible.

"No, it's not me anymore! We have four freshmen in the running and they don't really know about it, so we're keeping it on the down low."

Well, you were. With luck the freshmen will not get a subscription to The Bootleg for Christmas. Moving on to a safer topic, what would Pohlen do if she could take over Tara VanDerveer's job? What might she change?

"As far as coaching?"

She could change anything at all about the basketball program. She has carte blanche.

"I'd probably make practices…I don't know."

We momentarily fear she might say "longer" in keeping with her reputation as a hard worker.

"No, no, no! Less running for the team. More scrimmaging. This is my world but it's never going to happen obviously. A lot of shooting drills. I like to shoot. But I don't know. I think Tara works on a lot of things that we need to work on. So it's not all fun and games I guess. You've got to do stuff you don't necessarily want to do to get where you want to be. I think she does a great job."

Stanford is heading into a difficult stretch of games. Fresno State (6-2) at home is up next and then the team heads off on a three-game road trip against #12 Duke, South Carolina, and #10 Tennessee (December 8 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll). How has preparation been going over the two-week break for finals?

"All week and last week we've been working on different things that are going to be coming up against Fresno State, Duke, Tennessee, and South Carolina, kind of incorporating things in our drills, like different things they're going to do against us as far as defense, pressuring, sagging, how they're going to play our posts. Our coaches are doing a really good job explaining to us what is going to come up against us when we are on that trip and this Saturday against Fresno State. It's kind of all intertwined right now until probably tomorrow (Thursday) when we really focus on Fresno State."

The Cardinal will need all their focus and energy to come out on top in this next series of games, and Pohlen will be counted on to bring her customary intensity to the challenge. Many talented, hardworking players have come through Tara VanDerveer's program over the past 20-odd years. We feel safe to say that Jeanette Pohlen will not be one to leave with any regrets that she did not maximize her talents on the basketball court. Just don't call her "Lizard Lung."

To view a slide show of Don Anderson's photos taken during this interview with Jeanette Pohlen, click HERE.

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