Ponds has to dominate in the Big East Tourney if he wants to solidify his NBA draft status.
Entering the 2011 Big East Tournament, UConn’s Kemba Walker and his 9th-seeded Huskies were in a similar position to the one point guard Shamorie Ponds and his seventh-seeded St. John’s Red Storm find themselves in. A magical tournament run is needed to get a March Madness selection.
Both players are 6’1 super guards from New York City who stayed home in the Big East conference — once a haven for talented and diminutive backcourt controllers — and performed at an All-American level.
Both players carried the offensive load for squads who are solid, but far from favorites entering the conference tournament. Like Ponds, Walker was good for 20 pts a game and had an uncanny knack for finding the rim. What they lack in height, they make up for with freakish execution, court savvy, and pure talent.
Ponds led the Big East in steals (2.6), was second in assists (5.2) and third in scoring (19.8), and was named to the conference’s first team for the second straight year on Sunday. His shooting percentages also improved across the board.
CBS college hoops analyst Steve Lavin coached St. John’s University from 2010-2015 and he understands the intangibles that define a true blue NYC hoops phenomenon.
“Ponds is as dynamic and electrifying a player as there is in the country when it comes to shotmaking and playmaking,” said Lavin, who was on hand for CBS and Turner Sports NCAA Tournament Media Day at the Hilton in Manhattan on Monday.
“… and being a lefty and the shiftiness of his game in terms of handles and being able to cross people over and score in a variety of ways sets him apart from most.”
Ponds declared himself eligible for the draft last season, but too many questions lingered so he decided to return to St. John’s to polish up. Despite being in the Big East POTY mix, questions remain as he enters conference tournament play.
Updated Big East Player of the Year Race:
4. Jessie Govan
T5. Phil Booth
Race is all but over.
— Yelley (@yelbeeez) February 11, 2019
If this is going to be the Brooklyn-born guard’s last college rodeo, then he has to go out with a bang. For all that Ponds has accomplished playing for the once-legendary school in Queens, the way the conference has been devalued over the years doesn’t help his chances of being a first-round draft pick.
His “Inside the NBA on TNT” colleague, Kenny Smith, didn’t know enough about Ponds to comment either way — and Smith is from Queens.
Listening to these guys is an indication that Ponds needs to light it up crazy during this tournament to make a real name for himself. He also needs to change the opinion of scouts who believe his stock has fallen to the point where a best-case scenario would be going in the middle of the second round. On the other hand, Lavin dismissed any knocks on Ponds’ height and provides a more positive and well-informed description of Ponds as a player.
“He’s like a jazz musician in terms of being able to riff and create music on the court with the ball in his hands,” Lavin added. “His nickname is ‘Slick’ and that’s apropos… It’s a gift that he has called an intuition. There are some players who are more mechanical and then there are players who have a gift to feel the game and can improvise under duress.”
Ponds’ college coach, Chris Mullin, is the greatest NBA hooper St. John’s has ever produced. He thinks Ponds has done more than enough to get drafted and, most significantly, was instrumental in the resurgence of the program.
“Look, I watch enough NBA games,” Mullin said on the CBS Sports Radio show “Tiki & Tierney” when asked about Ponds. “He’s better than a lot of guys that are playing in the league now.”
With so much up in the air, Ponds must channel his inner Kemba and be gritty, clutch, sensational and unstoppable all at once. His NBA future is not secure and he’s playing for his basketball life in this Big East tourney.
We all know Walker’s story. Despite a junior season for the ages, scouts and NBA execs weren’t that high on him and questioned his physical frame, shooting abilities and worthiness as a first-round draft selection.
Then the Big East Tournament hit and Kemba took a tote of that March Madness funk that turns unknowns into legends. He rode that basketball high all the way to becoming a three-time NBA All-Star after he was selected by the Charlotte Hornets, with the No. 9 overall pick of the 2011 Draft. Walker scored 130 points in five games and then led UConn to a mythical national championship.
It’s highly improbable that Ponds will lead 7th-seed St. John’s to the Big East Championship, which begins on today with No. 8 Providence meeting No. 9 Butler at 7 pm at Madison Square Garden. The Johnnies started strong, but have faded, going 8-10 in league play and sitting on the wrong side of the March Madness bubble.
But if they can recapture some of that early season spunk, it’s not inconceivable that they defeat No. 10 DePaul today at 9:30 pm and then ride Ponds’ hot hand to a run of upsets similar to Kemba’s.
Ponds’ NBA future depends on it.