Commentary

Pohlen gets to point for Stanford

Originally Published: March 26, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

STANFORD, Calif. -- Jeanette Pohlen once might have imagined herself a Golden Domer, despite being a Southern California girl. She had a family history at Notre Dame, where her uncle, Pat Pohlen, played on the 1973 Irish football team that won the Sugar Bowl and was voted national champion.

[+] EnlargeJeanette Pohlen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireJeanette Pohlen is averaging 9.5 points with 151 assists to 75 turnovers. She leads the Cardinal in 3-pointers (65) and steals (39).

But when she heard during her sophomore year of high school at Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) that Stanford was looking at her, well … she knew that's exactly where she wanted to go.

"I don't think when I was younger I even thought they would be interested," Pohlen, a 6-foot junior, said of the Cardinal. "I had a lot of relatives who went to Notre Dame, so I was raised to be a Notre Dame fan. Then my club coach told me Stanford had seen me and was interested. It was like, 'Whoa!' That surpassed anything."

Pohlen loves everything about Stanford, particularly the Dish, the nickname for the scenic area for runners, hikers and joggers in the foothills around campus. The moniker comes from the giant radio telescope built there in the 1960s.

Of course, there's another kind of "dish" that Pohlen likes at Stanford, and that's delivering the ball to her teammates as a point guard, a role she didn't expect to play in college.

While Pohlen was at the point a lot when she was growing up, she figured those days were over once she joined the Cardinal squad. It hasn't really worked out that way, though.

JJ Hones was the Cardinal's point guard in 2006-07 (until she suffered a torn left ACL in February) and also in 2007-08, when Stanford made the NCAA title game in Pohlen's freshman year. But in November 2008, Hones suffered another left ACL tear and had to miss the rest of that season.

"We all got thrown a curveball last year when JJ went down, because I was pretty much set at the 2 spot," Pohlen said. "JJ was doing a good job leading the team but then we had to adjust. The coaches made the decision to put me in the point guard position for the rest of the season.

"I had played it sophomore to senior year of high school, and I'd been playing it since a young age, too, even though I was tall. It gave me an advantage when I would get mismatches. In high school, you could do pretty much whatever. But I definitely didn't expect I'd be doing it here."

However, Pohlen has adjusted well. Last season, she averaged 10.7 points -- hitting 83 3-pointers -- and had 146 assists to 85 turnovers as Stanford made its second consecutive trip to the Final Four. Still, the thought was that Hones would pick up the reins at point guard this season. But she has been limited by knee pain, playing in 31 games and averaging 18.4 minutes.

Which means Pohlen has had to carry much of the load running the Stanford show again as the Cardinal hope to make it to San Antonio for another shot at the national title. Sacramento Regional top seed Stanford, 33-1 with its lone loss to UConn, faces No. 5 seed Georgia in the regional semifinals Saturday (ESPN/ESPN360.com, 9 p.m. ET).

With Pac-10 Player of the Year Nneka Ogwumike, and fellow All-American candidates Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen on the team, Pohlen's impact might be underestimated by some observers. Which is a big mistake.

"She is not necessarily a born point guard, like when I think of coaching someone like Dawn Staley or other guards out there," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "But she really makes our team go."

This season, Pohlen is averaging 9.5 points with 151 assists to 75 turnovers. She leads the Cardinal in 3-pointers (65) and steals (39). But Pohlen says Hones deserves credit, too.

"JJ still helps in a lot of ways that people don't realize," Pohlen said. "JJ's one of the most encouraging people. I don't know what it must be like dealing with what she's dealt with. She was the starting point guard here, and now is coming in off the bench. But if I do something wrong, she's right there to help me. And if I do something good, she exaggerates it to make me look better. She's been behind me 100 percent."

[+] EnlargeNnemkadi Ogwumike
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireNnemkadi Ogwumike leads Stanford with 18.5 ppg and has scored 42 points in two NCAA tournament games.

Pohlen said it took awhile to adjust to being the player VanDerveer was toughest on because she needed her to be in charge of things.

"You have to lock down and really focus on what needs to be done to make the team successful," Pohlen said. "When I'm making stupid mistakes, I do need to make some changes and eliminate them.

"It was a tough transition at first. But once I started getting more comfortable and people had more confidence in me, I could go out there almost carefree and just play. All the coaches helped a lot."

Especially assistant Kate Paye, who formerly played point guard herself for Stanford.

"She's very smart at that position," Pohlen said. "We've watched a lot of video, going over what passes were good decisions and which ones I shouldn't have made.

"Everybody comes in here having a pretty high basketball IQ. But then again, the people who are on the court with me are very open to what I'm saying, just as I am to them."

You often think of point guards as being fiery or, frankly, bossy. But Pohlen isn't really like that. She's more of a diplomat, one equally adept at the wry quip or the completely goofball remark.

And that really counts for something on a Stanford team that has all-stars not just on the court and in the classroom, but also in the comedy department. Check out Stanford's short-video series, "The Super Hoopsters" on YouTube, in which the Cardinal players portray "superheroes with ineffective powers" and battle Dr. Evil and his evil crew, who have kidnapped Stanford, um, "super fan" Woodina.

In her episode, Pohlen tries to save the little doll -- yes, Woodina is a doll -- but is thwarted when the villains place Woodina too high in a tree for Pohlen to reach. That's because Pohlen is … the "altitude-impaired flying girl." (She's in Episode 5; watch all six, they are hilarious.)

"I would say I'm pretty outgoing and kind of goofy sometimes," Pohlen said. "On the court, I try to be poised and keep everybody else poised. If I see something that's going to get us out of control, I'll try to calm us down."

Pohlen did learn how to hold her own in just about everything, though, at a very early age.

"We have so many athletes in our family. If you're a Pohlen, you're going to be pretty competitive," she said. "Our family reunions are ridiculous. People are playing spades or something, and they're out for blood."

Pohlen has two older brothers who played basketball, but actually they usually didn't try to clobber her. They were more prone to mentor her.

"They wanted to help bring her along instead of trying to beat up on their little sister," father John Pohlen said. "She really just wanted to grow in her game. They're all three still very close.

"Her temperament is so even. She wins graciously and loses graciously. I wondered, 'How would that work at this level?' And it's seemed to work out pretty good so far."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.