Jan 13, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Saluki freshman guard Jalen Pendleton was one of those rare high school athletes who could pick his sport in college.
At Evansville Bosse High School he starred in football and basketball and was the Evansville Courier & Press Metro Player of the Year in both sports. As the school's starting quarterback, he ran the option and totaled 1,191 yards rushing and 1,378 passing his senior year.
Indiana State, Morehead State and even Southern Illinois recruited Pendleton to play quarterback, while Houston looked at him as a defensive back candidate. They all backed off when it became clear the 6-foot-2, 201-pound athlete preferred basketball.
"I love both football and basketball," Pendleton said. "But I feel more comfortable playing basketball."
On the court, Pendleton averaged 21.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the Bulldogs last season. He played forward, but was the team's second-best ball-handler and often brought the ball up the court. The team's point guard was five-star recruit Jaquan Lyle, who is a junior in high school this year and is the No. 3 point guard prospect in the nation.
"If Jaquan didn't want to bring the ball up, he'd just tell me to bring it up and we alternated back and forth," Pendleton said.
Indiana State, Murray State, Western Kentucky and MTSU were all interested in Pendleton as a basketball player, but he ultimately signed with Southern during the spring signing period.
"I chose SIU because when I came for my visit, Coach (Barry) Hinson was straight to it," Pendleton explained. "He didn't blow smoke, he just told me how it was going to be. He said he really wanted me here. He was a lot like my high school coach, and as soon as I met him, I felt comfortable around him."
Playing both sports in high school has resulted in plusses and minuses for Pendleton's college career.
On the down side, Pendleton split his training time between the sports instead of pouring all of his energies into just one.
"Most people at the college level didn't play two sports in high school," he said. "I know I'm a step behind them and I have to work that much harder to catch up."
Pendleton's career got off to a slow start at Southern, as he scored just four points in the team's first seven games. Then New Orleans came to town, and he had a break-out performance with 14 points in 27 minutes. He had another big game in late December, making three 3-point shots at Missouri State. Then last night, he scored nine points in SIU's upset win over Indiana State.
With only one true point guard on the roster, Pendleton has been asked to run the team on occasion, and he has 13 assists and 16 turnovers on the year. He knows his game still needs work.
"If I have to run point guard, I'm comfortable with the ball in my hands and that I can step up and run the show," he said. "Still, I need to control the ball better and my jump shot needs to develop more. I've been working on my jump shot a lot and it has made a major improvement."
As you might expect, going from high school star to college freshman is a big adjustment.
"The pace and the size of players -- everybody in college was probably the best player on their high school team, so you're playing against the best of the best," he said. "You can't get away with many mistakes."
Although the Salukis have two double-digit scorers in their back court between Desmar Jackson and Anthony Beane, Pendleton admits the team's guard play is a work in progress, especially on the defensive end.
"We need to do a better job of containing players and keeping them in front of us," he said. "We're also a quiet group of people, and we have to make sure we talk and communicate with each other better."
His teams were always winners in high school and Pendleton sees no reason why that can't continue at SIU.
"My expectation is to win and to come out and play with energy every game," he said.