Class-busting parents motivate WSU's Pavlopoulou

PULLMAN -- Each shot Pinelopi Pavlopoulou feathered up from the free-throw line sank through the hoop and into the machine that passed the ball back to her. It seemed automatic. On and on without a miss. So it's probably no surprise that of the players on the Cougar women's basketball team averaging double-digit playing minutes, Pavlopoulou has the best free throw percentage (.875).

That's 14.5 percentage points better than the team average of .730, a mark which itself is the second-best in the Pac-12..

Pavlopoulou's excellence at the line speaks to the dedication this 5-8 true freshman import from Athens, Greece, brings to the court.

In short, she sweats the small stuff. The result is that the rookie guard is playing an average of 14 minutes a game for a 9-2 Cougar team full of juniors and seniors and loaded at guard with the likes of Tia Presley, Lia Galdeira, Dawnyelle Awa and Taylor Edmondson.

Working hard and overcoming odds, though, are part of the Pavlopoulou family way.

Her parents, Anastasios and Nefali, each grew up in humble farm families, but both went on to become doctors. Such upward mobility is difficult to achieve in Greece, says Pavlopoulou, and a tribute to her parents' grit and determination. They are her role models, she told CF.C in a recent interview, and she strives to work just as hard.

"Growing up, I used to be a tomboy, so I played with boys, and I realized I was talented in basketball, like I could beat them whenever I wanted," Pavlopoulou says. "Growing up, I really liked the sport. It's a team sport, you have to play for your teammates, the coaches, the fans. The feeling whenever you win, and you play good, the feeling is priceless."

In 2013, Pavlopoulou played on a club team that went undefeated and captured the Greek Cup championship.

"I got used to it. I don't like losing. It was hard, every game was different, and we had to be very focused (in our preparations)," Pavlopoulou said.

She has incorporated those preparation habits into her routine in the U.S.

"I think Pinelopi is a kid that has a very high IQ, both academically and basketball-wise. I think Pinelopi is a type of kid that is extremely dedicated. She is watching her iPad, she is watching the film and all her breakdowns are on the iPads, she's watching the opponents she's got to play. She's really into that. She understands the value of it," says Cougar head coach June Daugherty.

It's not just Daugherty who is noticing her work ethic. Teammates are too.

"We were just in the gym last night until like 11 o'clock. That's my girl. She works her butt off, and just seeing how much she's grown in the short amount of time that she's been here, it's amazing," says starting junior forward Mariah Cooks. "I'm so proud of her, and she knows I'm her biggest fan, and we push each other. She gives me pointers and I give her pointers. We're very cohesive in that way, so she's great, gotta love her."

Daugherty said the Cougars' defensive scheme requires a huge rotation for the point guards, and that is an area of the game where Pavlopoulou is still adjusting. The young point guard still thinks too much on the court, Daugherty said, and that makes her slower than she wants to be because the cerebral processes hinder her from just playing.

Veteran Cougar point guard Awa has played an important role in helping Pavlopoulou develop early in her career. Awa, a junior, has played in the Cougars' system long enough to know where to go on the court without thinking. Pavlopoulou is still trying to develop that natural movement on the court, as well as an instinct for where her teammates want to receive the basketball via a pass, Daugherty said.

"Every time she steps on the court, she is my role model. Whatever she does, I have to do it, because I know she is doing it right," Pavlopoulou said of Awa. The respect is mutual as Awa has found a trait in Pavlopoulou that she, Awa, doesn't have.

"She brings something different to the team, like a scoring mentality. That's what I don't have. I'm pass-first, but she's score-first, so when she goes in, she puts up points for us," Awa said. Pavlopoulou is averaging 3.4 points per game for the Cougars and is fourth on the team in assists with 14. The only other freshman who has averaged more points than her is forward Louise Brown (4.0 ppg), who leads all freshmen in minutes played this season.

In America, Pavlopoulou has been able to break out of her shell, and that has allowed her to show her scoring mentality a little more than she might have in Greece.

"Back home we play smarter, but in some cases, it's not really effective. Now, we can run in the fastbreak and make an easy shot, but if I knew I wasn't the scorer on my club team in Greece, I would be scared to take that shot because everyone would yell at me," Pavlopoulou said. "Here, I can more aggressive and more confident because of that."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • The CouGals open Pac-12 play Saturday at Arizona (11 a.m. PT) and Monday at Arizona State (7:00 p.m. PT). Both games will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
  • For the sixth-straight week, Washington State appeared in the receiving votes category of a top-25 national poll. They received 12 votes in the latest Associated Press poll, which equates to them being ranked No. 34. Three Pac-12 teams are in the AP top 25: Oregon State 13th, Stanford 15th and Arizona State 23rd. Late last season, the CouGals received votes in a top 25 poll for the first time since midway through the 1991-92 season.
  • The Cougars enter the week leading the Pac-12 in turnover margin (+6.2) and ranking 21st in the country. They have forced 20-plus turnovers eight times this season, and rank second in the Pac-12 in steals (10.9).
  • Galdeira entered this week tied for second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.1 ppg, second in steals (37) and ninth in the country with 3.4 steals-per-game. Presley comes into the week at third in the conference in scoring at 18.6 ppg and tied for the sixth-most 3-point makes (24). Dheensaw continues her strong start to her senior season with 17 blocks, tied for third-most in the Pac-12.

  • Cougfan Top Stories