“It’s a huge day for me,” Jeff Pendergraph told Devils Digest Monday afternoon. “I thought a lot about it. Even though after the season I was leaning on coming back I gave it a lot of thought because it was such a big decision.”
At the conclusion of the season, the 6-9 230 Pendergraph sought out the advice of his head coach Herb Sendek, TNT NBA analyst and valley resident Doug Collins and obviously his family. “Coach had feedback from (NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations) Stu Jackson who told him that if I came out I would be picked in the second round,” said Pendergraph. “So my family and I talked about it back home this past weekend and I made the decision to come back for my last year.”
Chemistry and camaraderie are adjectives that are sometimes thrown out loosely when describing a team’s culture. In the Sun Devils’ case, Pendergraph knows that those adjectives are a true reflection of his peers and is a significant aspect in his latest career decision.
“We pretty much have everybody back next year and that helps because you’re staying in a familiar situation. It’s better than going to a new situation, trying to get to know new people all over again,” he admitted. With Pendergraph’s return ASU will have its top seven scorers (94.6 percent of points scored) from last season. Pendergraph averaged 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.65 blocks in the 2007-08 campaign.
In his three years donning the maroon and gold Pendergraph has scored over a 1,000 career points, and was a third-team All-Pac-10 selection this past season. Even if he left, he certainly wouldn’t go down in the school’s history as an insignificant or underachieving player. Nonetheless, the forward feels differently on this topic.
“I feel that there’s unfinished business,” he explained. “This year we wondering ‘oh, maybe we get in as the 8th seed into the tournament.’ Next year I want to go in as the 1st seed, and win the conference which I think we’re capable of doing. We definitely have a chance this year.”
Some of the league’s big men that Pendergraph battled with this past season, like Kevin Love and Brook Lopez, have already declared their eligibility before the deadline of April 27. This ultimately was another factor that guided the junior’s decision.
“It shows you that if there’s so much talent going to the draft, it just makes it a better business decision for me to come back and not go into the draft,” stated Pendergraph who’s on track to receive his economics degree in December of this year. “Those guys clearing out definitely gives me a chance to be one of the better players in the Pac-10, and gives our team a chance to contend for the Pac-10 championship.”
While this day was a joyful one for ASU fans learning of Pendergraph’s decision, it’s also a day that has mixed-in gloom with the departure of assistant head coach Mark Phelps who was announced Monday as the head coach at Drake University. Phelps worked closely with Pendergraph and the team’s other big men the last couple of seasons, and naturally the two had a close relationship.
“He had a major influence on me and definitely helped me develop my game,” said Pendergraph. “It’s one of those deals where I’m happy for him but also I hate to see him go. You can’t be selfish because it’s a great opportunity for him, but I wished he stayed.”
Pendergraph is arguably the most emotional player of the Sun Devil squad, one who feeds off the crowd’s energy and has repeatedly praised the support of the student section and the fans in general. The maroon and gold faithful never forgot that and in the last few weeks have strongly expressed their desires to see the forward stay in Tempe for all four years.
“Oh man, those people were stopping me everyday (laughing). On campus, at the grocery store, asking me to stay and saying how much they need me,” Pendergraph recalled. “It’s really cool to have all those fans show how much they care. It was crazy. And they weren’t selfish or anything like that, they said the team needed me back so we can win more games. Those fans had an effect on me too.”
“I really think this can be a special year for us. I don’t see us falling down after making giant strides and with everyone coming back. I don’t see us missing a beat.”