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Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | The odds of a San Diegan winning an NBA title are slim and none. After all, only two — Luke Walton and Scot Pollard — played in the league in the 2006-07 season from a city better known for turning out pro football and baseball players.
But Pollard, for all his quirkiness and punk-rock hairstyles early in an NBA career that now spans 10 NBA seasons, played the odds well this year. The Torrey Pines High alumnus turned down opportunities for more money or more playing time to sign a one-year deal this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I had already signed my big contract earlier in my career with Sacramento, so it wasn’t about money,” Pollard said. “This is my 10th year in the NBA, and I want to win a title before I die. I’m willing to take a backseat to be part of a championship team.”
The 6-foot-11, 265-pounder came as close as possible without winning an NBA title, assuming the Eastern Conference champion Cavs and LeBron James don’t come back for their two-games-to-none deficit they dug to open the best-of-seven series against the San Antonio Spurs..
His backseat on the roster explains his low statistics: He played in only 24 regular-season games and averaged less than a shot per game. But he hasn’t been known as a scorer since his high school days and has been long valued as a defensive player and rebounder.
“No, I haven’t been hurt,” said Pollard, the CIF San Diego Section Player of the Year in 1992 at Torrey Pines. “You could say I’m the backup to the backup.”
But the 32-year-old Pollard’s limited playing time belies his standing in San Diego basketball. After Basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton of Helix (1970 CIF Player of the Year), Pollard has to be considered the best big man to come out San Diego.
Other San Diego big men such as Grossmont’s Ralph Drollinger (1972 CIF Player of the Year), San Pasqual’s Erik Meek (1991 CIF Player of the Year) and St. Augustine’s Jelani McCoy (1995 CIF Player of the Year) have had their moments in high school or college.
Drollinger (UCLA) and McCoy (UCLA) played briefly in the NBA but Meek (Duke) was never the same after injuries sustained while jogging and hit by a car before college freshman season. And now Horizon 7-footer Jeff Withey, one of the most highly recruited big men in the country, is gaining notice entering his senior year in 2007-08.
But besides Walton, no San Diegan with high school and college success can match Pollard’s longevity in the NBA.
Pollard played his sophomore and junior seasons at Torrey Pines before finishing his career at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash. As a junior he led he led the Falcons to the CIF San Diego Section Division II title and the CIF Southern California Division II semifinals.
In college, he played at storied Kansas (1994-1997), where he finished his playing days at the school fourth in career rebounding and second in career block shots.
He was the 19th pick of the first round by the Detroit Pistons in 1997, but he bounced around the league before establishing himself with the Sacramento Kings (1999-2003). He was a backup to Vlade Divac and sometimes started at power forward or when Chris Webber was hurt during what became a run of playoff seasons for the Kings.
A trade that took him to Indiana Pacers (2004-2006) is another reason he ended up with Cleveland and head coach Mike Brown, a University of San Diego alumnus.
Brown, a Pacers assistant before landing the Cavs job, and Pollard first met in the early 1990s when Pollard was a skinny high school kid who ventured down to USD to play pickup games against college-aged players. Brown was a guard for the Toreros under head coach Hank Egan, who is now an assistant to Brown with the Cavaliers.
“We made the connection that we played in those pickup games, and we got along at Indiana,” Pollard said. “The (Cavs’) new owner, Dan Gilbert, wants to win. He takes care of his employees, and this seemed like a good fit for me.”
It’s also provided him a front-row seat for the emergence of King James, who made the leap from high school to the NBA and in his fourth season led his team to the NBA finals at the age of 22.
“It’s a unique situation for him to be 22 and relied upon to lead the team,” Pollard said. “He’s very mature and handles the pressure. We joke that he looks 32, but behind closed doors, he’s just a kid. We tease him about playing video games and things like that.”
Imagine that: the kid with the Mohawk haircut early in his NBA career is now a mature veteran amused by a 22-year-old kid who plays video games and dominates the NBA at the same time.
That’s another comparison that places Pollard in the company of Bill Walton, the NBA hippie turned NBA elder statesmen and commentator.