Pondexter, Hayward became Team USA pals
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Strangers at home in the United States, Quincy Pondexter and Lazar Hayward became fast friends in Belgrade, Serbia.
Isolation will do that.
“When you’re stuck with guys for an entire month in dorms and in a different country with no cell phones or television, you have to be friends with each other,” Pondexter said.
“He’s a good friend.”
The former teammates on the USA squad that captured a bronze medal at the World University Games last July are opponents today when 11th-seeded Washington plays No. 6 seed Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all they’ve led their teams to this point,” said University of Miami coach Frank Haith, a Team USA assistant last summer. “We had a great team. Evan Turner. Those two guys. Robbie Hummel and Trevor Booker.
“We had a great group of guys and those two guys (Pondexter and Hayward) were outstanding. Not only are they outstanding players, they’re outstanding people.”
Haith remembers Pondexter and Hayward being the “little-thing type of guys,” who distinguished themselves from the other members of the 12-player team during the two-week training camp at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“They both are stars on their team, but going into this event they both accepted the role of we’re going to do whatever we need to do to help us win,” Haith said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “And they both fell into that. That shows you a little bit about those two kids’ character.
“They worked well together. Lazar was kind of a combo player. He played the 3-4. Quincy was more of a perimeter player. He played the 2-3. You saw their character come out on the basketball court. They were very committed. They did the little things.”
Pondexter often reflects on his time with Team USA as a turning point in his career. The experience overseas gave him the confidence to mature into a star for the Huskies.
Pondexter leads Washington (24-9) in scoring (19.8) and rebounding. (7.5).
“He’s 6-6 (and) very athletic,” Hayward told reporters in Milwaukee. “He can dribble, shoot, pretty much do it all.
“He’s their leading scorer, he’s their leader. He’s a real good dude, too.”
Pondexter shares a mutual admiration for Hayward, who leads Marquette (22-11) at 18.1 ppg.
“Lazar is a great person,” Pondexter said. “We really got along because we had the same mindset. We both work really hard. He’s an underrated player. He’s a really good player.
“We’re going to have our hands full with him because he comes out and competes as hard as he possibly can every day. He’s a tough matchup to play against.”
Pondexter and Hayward are both 6-6 seniors, but they play different roles for their teams.
“Quincy is an all-around player,” Haith said. “I think Quincy is a tremendous defender. He was our best perimeter defender. He can lock people up. He was long. He was athletic. He could rebound. He was an opportunity scorer. He could score if you need him, but he was just a really good all-around player.
“With Lazar he’s a strong, physical guy, but he could post you up and he could shoot the three ball. And he could guard bigger guys because of his strength and he’s just smart. He’s a very intelligent player. They were different in terms of that.”
Hayward said his relationship with Pondexter may help the Golden Eagles.
“I think so,” Hayward said. “I can kind of tell those guys what he likes to do, some of his tendencies and stuff. I kind of got the sneak peek on him. Hopefully, it’ll help us. I don’t know how much, but hopefully I can help out the coaches with that.”
Pondexter laughed while telling a story of Hayward and his reluctance to eat the cafeteria food while they were in Serbia.
“He’s a big guy and he was losing weight by the day,” Pondexter said. “I made fun of him for that. When he first got there, he looked like Iron Man. Then you started seeing his body dwindle down a little bit. He couldn’t wait to get back so he could start eating real food.”
Despite their friendship, Pondexter doesn’t plan on talking with Hayward any time soon.
“I know I won’t talk to him until after the game,” he said. “That’s how I’ve been with all of my friends I’ve played with.”