Gonzaga coach Mark Few recently sat in David Pendergraft’s Airway Heights office, each exchanging anecdotes from their mid-2000s teams.
Before the Bulldogs were earning No. 1 seeds, signing top-flight recruits and producing NBA-level forwards at a steady clip, they were America’s college basketball darling on the sweat of figures such as Pendergraft, whose hustle was as apparent as his flaming red hair.
Pendergraft, now the general manager of the auto auction business DAA Northwest, was a 6-foot-6 guard who hailed from the tiny, Apple-producing town of Brewster, Washington, leveraging his sterling small basketball career into a solid four years with an NCAA Tournament regular.
By the time Pendergraft – a Swiss Army knife-like talent popularly known as “Pendo” – ended his college career in 2008, he’d earned first-team, All-West Coast Conference distinction, was a team captain and earned 36 starts dating back to his true freshman season.
The 33-year-old smiles when thinking of the level of across-the-board talent Few is able to attract to Gonzaga on an annual basis.
“The talent just keeps getting better and better,” said Pendergraft, who will share his favorite Zags memories on Thursday night along with Kelly Olynyk, Steven Gray and Heather Bowman at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox as part of “Gonzaga Legends,” a kickoff to Hoopfest weekend.
“I take a lot pride in that,” he added. “I’m good just sitting back and watching these guys play. I was telling Few when he was in my office that I thought this past season’s (top-seeded, Elite Eight) team was the most exciting Gonzaga team he’s had.”
They weren’t bad when Pendergraft was there, either.
Pendergraft enjoyed four NCAA Tournament appearances, but he made it out of the opening weekend just once, in 2006, evoking the most painful memory of his basketball career.
Gonzaga was on the cusp of reaching the Elite Eight when it led talent-stocked UCLA by 17 points down the stretch, but a late-game meltdown vaulted the Bruins in the Bulldogs’ shocking defeat.
“We knew that was our chance. That was a Final Four-caliber team,” Pendergraft said. “Unfortunately, that’s ending everyone remembers.
“That was a crazy season. Adam Morrison and (Duke’s) J.J. Reddick were the top players in the country, so everywhere we went we had cameras in our face.”
Pendergraft didn’t go onto have a fruitful professional basketball career like many of his ex-Gonzaga cohorts, but he found success in the workforce, earning his MBA at Gonzaga and becoming a family man.
He married former Gonzaga soccer standout Lauren Zuckerman, and they have three young children, two girls and a boy.
Soccer is what ultimately derailed Pendergraft’s return to Hoopfest this weekend.
After winning five Hoopfest elite titles on teams that included ex-Zags standout Josh Heytvelt, he took a break for a couple of years, hinting at 3-on-3 basketball retirement.
Pendergraft got the itch to return to Nike Center Court in recent months, though, but tore his hamstring in a pick-up soccer game.
“It’s such a great event, and I still have that competitive spirit,” Pendergraft said. “(Heytvelt) and I touched base recently and talked about teaming up again in the future.”
Pendergraft said he’s looking forward to reflecting on his time at Gonzaga on Thursday night.
“When you get a little older and reflect, you realize how blessed you were,” he said. “Being able to stay in Eastern Washington and play at a national-caliber level, and with a great group of guys from such different backgrounds.”