Jan. 20, 2014
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - The term "hybrid forward" is typically used to describe a tall, lean, athletic player, whose height (though not necessarily his weight) makes him suitable to play in the front court.
Meet Saluki sophomore Jalen Pendleton, who is redefining the term hybrid forward. He's not tall (only 6-foot-2), he's anything but lean (generously listed at 205 pounds), and he's not the most gifted athlete (dunking is not part of his repertoire).
Yet Pendleton has an amazing knack for making plays, and simply excels at getting results. He's the team's second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, he ranks seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference in field goal percentage (.500) and 10th in offensive rebounding (1.6).
His style isn't textbook. He likes to slither along the baseline and lean into a defender with his powerful lower body. Of his 82 baskets on the season, you can count on one hand the number of jump shots he's made. The vast majority of his buckets come from five feet and in. He has a knack for drawing fouls and is second on the team only to Desmar Jackson with 82 free throw attempts.
"I just try to get bodies on guys, because I know how to finish through contact," he said. "I think it's my competitiveness. Playing against those big guys, I always feel like I have something to prove, so I just play with a chip on my shoulder."
Saluki fans were first introduced to the term hybrid forward when Jeff Early played the front court position last year. A guard throughout most of his college career, Early was a high-flying athlete who led the nation in rebounding among players 6-foot-1 and under a year ago.
"Jeff was very athletic and could jump out of the gym," Pendleton said. "I talked to him a lot about playing the position -- different techniques to use playing against bigger guys. He told me mainly to use my speed and play as hard as I can. Those big guys get tired easily and take a break, and you have to have that motor to take advantage of your quickness."
"I like being the spark to the team, the high-energy guy that comes in," he said. "For the first couple minutes I get to see how the game is being called and how the flow of the game is going, and when I come in I know right where to pick up from Sean."
In practice, Pendleton primarily works with the front-court players, so he takes time on his own to make sure his guard skills don't slip.
"On my off days when it's just me in the gym, I'll work on my guard moves to make sure they stay polished," he said.
Playing the hybrid forward was not the original plan for Pendleton, and a return to guard remains an option down the road.
"Coach first told me in the summer that he was going to try a couple of us at the hybrid, and I didn't really pay much attention to it, but once the season actually started he saw I was really good at it," the Evansville native explained. "Somewhere down the line, I'd like to go back to playing the perimeter but whatever it takes for this team to win, if I have to play inside, it's fine with me."
Hinson recently made a plea to the team for leaders to step forward. Pendleton feels his on-court play demonstrates leadership ability, and he's trying to be more vocal as well.
"I play my heart out, so they know they can listen to me and trust me to play hard," he said. "I need to step up and use my voice more than I have been doing and get these guys going."