In part two of my conversation with Scot Pollard we talk about his teammates who became great coaches, how he committed to Roy Williams at Kansas, and comparing some of the best NBA teams he played on.
If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.
Editor’s note: Some questions and responses were condensed for space.
KD: Your breakdown of the 96-97 team actually leads me to two questions, and you just teed it up for me. Because I was curious, who was the toughest guy to go up against in practice during your college career? I imagine those practices got intense at times.
SP: Greg Ostertag is the leading shot blocker, or was, when we graduated and I got second behind him. But the thing that people never really give credit to Greg for, because they got lost in his inconsistency, was that Greg could absolutely take over any game he really wanted to. Now, he didn’t always want to, and that’s why people had a problem with being fans of his, and recognizing his greatness when he was great. And he was great.
There was a playoff series in the NBA where he just absolutely just dominated. That’s why he got his big deal, he got a six-year deal because of that. He had such ability: he could dribble, he could shoot, he could pass, but he was only known for his shot blocking. The guy had a great touch around the rim and so, to answer your question, who was the toughest guy at practice? It was Greg.
I learned a lot from having to deal with a guy that not only had an incredible wing span and shot-blocking ability. And it’s not just about being tall. You can be tall and not be a very good shot blocker. And you can be short and be a pretty good shot blocker. It’s about timing, and Greg had both. He had the absolute ridiculous length and ridiculous timing. That’s why he blocked so many shots. And people, because of his size and his length and his given ability, people just kind of overlooked how great he was when he was great.
I learned a whole lot and it probably helped me as an NBA player because, while I was little and had brothers who were all bigger than me, I didn’t play a whole lot against them. So playing against Greg in practice for the first year—and then that was it. Because my sophomore year, Roy didn’t really want us playing against each other too much because I’d beat him up. Not like we’d get in fist fights, it’s just I played hard. Raef and I didn’t guard each other much in practice and Greg and I didn’t guard each other much in practice. Coach did his best to try and switch it up.
It helped my NBA career going against guys so much taller than me, so much longer than me, and also, again, with incredible timing. It was one of those things where I credit to my NBA longevity as having to play against Greg in college and getting used to that ability and timing and size.
KD: The other thing that you brought up is you look at this team and the success you had, I thought the other thing that’s interesting is you’ve seen both Jacque Vaughn and Jerod Hasse both climbing the coaching ranks and be really successful at it. Could you tell from those days they had characteristics to make them successful coaches?
SP: It’s like the yearbook—most-likely-to thing in your high school yearbook. Jacque and Jerod both would have won valedictorian and most likely to end up like coach Williams. It wasn’t a contest, it was between those two and maybe Ryan Robertson and C.B. McGrath, and C.B. McGrath is a coach at the collegiate level, too. Ryan I think could have been an incredible coach but I also know Ryan is so freaking smart and he wanted to be a businessman. And he’s incredible and a very successful businessman right now.
So, I think Ryan preferred the stability of being in one place where as Jacque and Jerod knew the game, loved the game way more, and are willing to put in that risk of I’m in Wilmington one year and Alabama another year and now I’m at Stanford, for Jerod. Jacque is bouncing around the NBA. He’s been a head coach, he’s been an assistant, he should be the head coach of the Nets right now but he got passed over for whatever reason for Steve Nash, who I think is finally getting his team wrapped around him a little bit.
It’s no surprise that all three of those guys, including C.B., are coaches because you could see it when we were teammates. You could see how they were students of the game, and I know that’s cliche, but I mean they were the guys that talked the most with coach Roy Williams and all the other assistant coaches, too. Some of us just played and just wanted to be coached, wanted to play. Paul Pierce stayed after practice and played with anybody. And if none of the players wanted to stay after he’d make the managers stick around and play 1-on-1 because he just wanted to always play. And there’s no way I could see Paul Pierce being a coach, but it’s no surprise at all that Jacque and Jerod and C.B. are coaches because it’s just the “most likely to.”
KD: Can you give us one of your favorite Roy Williams stories?
SP: There’s one that I can’t say, that one is just for us. I don’t know how little-known or well-known this story is but I’ll tell the story of how I committed and I think it was kind of endearing of Roy and why I chose Kansas, and sorry people, it wasn’t because of Kansas. It was because of Roy. Obviously, I think everybody knows that I have since fallen in love with Kansas and consider Lawrence home.
But, Roy told me during the recruiting process—and I don’t know if this is true or not—but he told me he hadn’t eaten dessert and he wasn’t going to eat dessert until I chose my school, whether it be Kansas or anywhere else. And so he would mention it every once in a while. “Hey son, I still haven’t had dessert yet. I’m waiting for your decision.”
And when I went there for Late Night, which back then was at midnight. Not quite as produced as it is now. Snoop Dogg wasn’t there. And so we were sitting there and I had already verbally committed to the University of Arizona. It was closer to home. I wanted to be there. I liked Lute (Olson). And they took me to a party and there was a reason why I wanted to be at the University of Arizona [laughs].
And so, I saw 17,000 people indoors for the first time in my life. Because being from San Diego, nobody goes indoors and I had never seen that many people at a basketball game before and it wasn’t even a basketball game, it was practice. So that really impressed me. I was like, there’s no way, oh my god, there’s 17,000 people there. And some were chanting my name, as they do. It’s a great recruiting tool. I think they should continue that [laughs].
And so, I asked one of the ball boys, “Hey, what’s coach’s favorite dessert?” And they said German chocolate cake. Actually, I think I knew that already, because I kind of planned this in advance. And I was like, “Hey, can I give you some money and maybe somebody run out and get a German chocolate cake?” And they’re like “Yeah.” So somebody went out and got a German chocolate cake for me and I handed it to coach. And I said “Hey, coach, here’s some dessert for you.” And he said “Well, you know, son, I’m not going to eat this dessert until I know what school you’re going to.” And I said, “Well, coach, that’s what this means. I’m coming to the University of Kansas.” And he said, “Well, son, you just made me a happy man. That’s exciting. You know what, I’ve gotta go in the other room, I’m going to eat this cake real quick.”
And that was a very endearing Roy Williams story. And if it was true, great. And if it wasn’t true that he didn’t skip dessert, I wouldn’t be hurt. But it was a cool story and it’s not the only reason I went to the University of Kansas, but I went to the University of Kansas because of Roy Williams. And Late Night wouldn’t hurt.
KD: I’ll end with a few rapid-fire questions. First, which of the NBA cities did you most look forward to traveling to each year? Was there one you always circled that you particularly loved?
SP: Well, when I was a King, we always played the Lakers in Vegas in the preseason [laughs]. So, that one, certainly. And then when I was a King, we got familiar with the Mavericks because we’d play them a lot. And I loved Dallas. There just always seems to be another restaurant or place to go to to not be in the limelight. And I hated LA for the same reason I don’t like LA now. I don’t like the see and be seen. Where people walk into a restaurant and look around and see if there’s anybody there and make sure everybody sees them before they take their table. That’s not me.
So, they were really close to getting me to sign with them when I was a free agent but it was just, I had a better deal with Sacramento than Dallas. But I loved playing in Dallas. The fans were great at that time. Dirk Nowitzki’s early part of his career. They were great, they were really good, so it was fun because, it doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but back then scoring 60 points in the first half was a big deal. And that happened pretty regularly between the two of us, whether it was them or us. We really went at each other and games were always 115, 100-and-some points.
Other than that, there were certain cities; I loved going to Seattle. Vancouver. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful, beautiful city. When they left and went to Memphis and became the apropo Memphis Grizzlies, because there’s so many grizzlies in Memphis just like there’s so much Jazz in Utah... It was sad because Vancouver was not only a spectacular hotel we stayed in—the Pan Pacific that overlooked a beautiful lake where seaplanes took off. It was just a beautiful city and wonderful people. I definitely think that needs to be the next city once they open it up again. That or Seattle.
KD: Do we as basketball fans need to better appreciate how good that 2001-02 Sacramento Kings team was?
SP: In general, basketball fans? Yes. But Sacramento fans don’t. They know. I’m still kind of a big deal when I go to Sacramento. That’s how crazy—it’s been almost 20 years since I played on that 01-02 team and I got traded after the 02-03 season. I’m still kind of a big deal, so that’s how much the Sacramento Kings fans are aware because they haven’t touched the playoffs really since.
In general, I think if I were to go to Turkey I’d be a big deal because of Hedo Turkoglu, who was the Turkish Michael Jordan, we called him TMJ. He was on that team and he made us famous in cities that had large Turkish populations, which was mostly New Jersey back when we played in the old Meadowlands...The entire upper deck would be all Turkish flags or Serbian flags because of Vlade and Peja. Nothing was like playing in Chicago because we were big in Sacramento, but playing in Chicago, they weren’t that good and Jordan was gone, so their team had been dismantled.
Little-known fact, unless you know, the second-largest Serbian population in the entire world outside of Serbia is Chicago. So when you go there with two Serbian basketball players and one of them is an absolute legend in Vlade Divac, yeah, it was kind of a home game for us. It was a big deal.
The reason I mention those things is basketball fans around the world knew that team. It wasn’t like we just appealed to the Sacramento Kings fans. We appealed to Serbian fans, Turkish fans, regional fans here in America, and then on top of that the US players and their regional fans.
We built up a reputation because we were good and we were playing a brand of basketball that, it brings me back to the beginning of our conversation about how basketball is jazz music. Well, I think that team created the Golden State Warriors of the early 2010s and teens. Because everybody passed the ball. Nobody cared who got the points. It didn’t matter who got the points, it was just we won. And that was an exciting brand of basketball, that yeah, I think that team, when you think back over the last 20 years, we absolutely belong in the conversation of one of the best teams over the last 20 years for sure. Maybe 25.
KD: You might have already given me the answer, but if the 01-02 Kings played a seven-game series against the 07-08 Celtics, who you were on at the end of your career, who wins and in how many games?
SP: Kings win in six and here’s why. The Celtics bench—I think the big 3 of the Celtics were better. I don’t think Chris could mess with KG. Vlade couldn’t mess with KG. I bothered KG and I frustrated him to the point where actually one time when I was a King and he was on the Timberwolves we were in Tokyo playing each other and there may or may not have been some sort of altercation in the hallway at halftime.
But Paul Pierce and Peja, Paul’s not going to guard Peja because Peja’s just going to get open because we’re just going to set screens to get Peja open so Paul’s going to keep getting hit by me, a lot. And I wasn’t on the playoff team with Boston, I’d been replaced by P.J. Brown and had career-ending surgery on both of my ankles. So I was out, and I take myself off the roster for playoff Boston Celtics that year and I only count on the Kings. So if I’m on the Celtics then it’s a little more even and it will go seven games. It’s my story, right? [laughs]
But when you’ve got Hedo Turkoglou coming off the bench, Scot Pollard coming off the bench for the Kings in his prime. You’ve got Doug Christie’s defensive ability on Ray Allen. Ray’s an incredible shooter and shot-getter, so is Mike Bibby. And Rondo is not touching Mike Bibby at that stage. Rondo is two years in that year, maybe three, and Rondo could not have messed with prime Mike Bibby. Forget about it. Ray is a big shot-getter. Paul probably would have hit a big shot and won a home game for them or two, but I think that with the bench, again I’ve gotta go with the bench, you’ve got an incredible balance there with the 01-02 team that the Boston Celtics didn’t really have.
KD: I asked Russell Robinson this, too. If you had to pick one KU player that came after you to be your teammate in your college prime and his college prime, who are you taking?
SP: Uhh, there’s a long list. I’ve been out of college longer than Russell. Actually, Russell is on the list. I love playing pickup games with Russell. I thought he was going to have a better pro career just from seeing him play and his basketball intelligence was off the charts. I was very impressed with his game overall.
You know what, because it has to be after me and because of my relationship with Jacque Vaughn, I’m going Frank Mason. Prime Frank Mason was a beast. I love—I hated Frank for the first couple of years of his college career. I’m being honest and fair. That dude drove me nuts when he would always go right. And man he turned it up and turned it on and he was unstoppable his senior year. So yeah, I can’t think of anybody in college—Devonte’s having a much better pro career and it’s looking like it’s going to stay that way—but we’re talking college. I’m going with BIFM.
KD: I like it. A Mason-Pollard two-on-two duo would be a great thing to see.
SP: We’d be killer.
KD: OK, last one. If you were given an extra year of eligibility after that 96-97 year—like Mitch or Chris Teahan—would you take it?
SP: Am I still a first-round pick? [laughs]. Neither one of those guys are going to be so I’d stay if I’m them, but me? When that last ball bounced out and we were losers and Arizona was moving on to the next round, I immediately started thinking, OK, I’m late first round, early second round, and that’s a whole different story and process of how I got to be picked 19 but that was still a realistic possibility. But if it wasn’t? Hell yeah I would have stayed in college for 10 years.
Editor’s Note: Many, many, MANY thanks go out to Scot for his time and his candid thoughts. You can follow Scot on Twitter @ScotPollard31 or Instagram @scotp31