Sooner Sports: Steven Pledger Flying Under the Radar

thebigabd

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Flying Under the Radar
Sharp-shooting freshman Steve Pledger participates in a summer Q&A.

July 8, 2009

NORMAN, Okla. - Oklahoma men's basketball fans know that you don't have to be a McDonald's High School All-American to excel on the collegiate level. Sooner standouts such as Tim McCalister, Darryl "Choo" Kennedy, Stacey King, Ryan Minor, Hollis Price and Eduardo Najera all rank among OU's career scoring leaders, but none of them played in the most prestigious of the annual high school All-America games.

Steve Pledger could be the next player to join that group of Sooner stars. An incoming freshman from Chesapeake, Va., Pledger was regarded as a borderline top-100 national prospect last year at Atlantic Shores Christian School and has flown under the recruiting radar for much of his life. The 6-4, 220-pound guard hopes he's a pleasant surprise this year to OU fans who don't know much about him.

Pledger, who earned first-team National Christian School Athletic Association All-American honors last year when he averaged 22.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for his 32-2 Seahawks, is a noted 3-point shooter. But he says he's recently added other elements to his game that have made him a more complete player and ready to contribute from the get go in 2009-10.

The does-a-little-bit-of-everything guard talked with SoonerSports.com this week about a variety of topics, including summer school, music, his hoops ability and why he picked Oklahoma.

Q: How are you adapting to Norman and OU?
A: "The adaptation process is getting better. I'm getting used to waking up early and lifting weights and things like that. It's a cool place, a little quiet right now. I'm adapting fine."

Q: What do you like the most about Oklahoma so far?
A: "The players. We're all tight. Everybody's cool and nobody goes and does their own thing. Everybody stays together. I really like the camaraderie."

Q: What summer school classes are you taking?
A: "I took History of Jazz and right now am taking Leadership, which is a military class in the Armory."

Q: Wayman Tisdale is regarded as the best basketball player in OU history and he was also a noted jazz musician. Did you learn about him?
A: "No, we learned more about the history of it -- going back, nothing really recent. But we did have listening assignments every day where we had to listen to at least four songs by an artist and one day I did Wayman Tisdale. It was good. I already knew about him a little. My dad listens to jazz back home and a couple times I was listening to XM and Wayman came on. I had to listen because I was going to OU."

Q: Have you picked a major yet?
A: "Either criminal justice or human relations."

Q: Have you mapped out any plans for life after basketball or is it too early for that?
A: "When basketball is over for me -- and I know that time will come -- if I'm not doing something within my major I'll probably become a coach somewhere. Start out and work my way up."

Q: What do you like to do away from the classroom and the gym?
A: "Listen to music, talk on the phone to my girlfriend, just chill and hang out -- regular things like that."

Q: What music do you listen to?
A: "Rap and R&B. A lot of R&B. (On game days) I'll listen to rap almost all the way up to the game, and then right before we go out it'll be some R&B to cool me down."

Q: How would you describe yourself as a basketball player?
A: "Most of the time when you hear my name, it goes with 'shooter.' That's what I started out doing and I'll always do that. But now I can also take people off the dribble, dribble up court, get the team started. I'm a scorer, that's what I do. But I can also rebound and play D. If I'm going to compare my game to anyone it would be to Brandon Roy (Portland Trail Blazers) or Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks) -- calm, cool, score when you have to."

Q: What's your favorite aspect of the game of basketball? Is it shooting?
A: "No, it's not shooting. It's getting teammates in the game and making everybody around me better. If that means assists, it means assists. If that means rebounding and defending, it means rebounding and defending. Just getting everybody in the game -- that's what I like to do."

Q: Have you always been a good shooter or is it something that started to develop the past few years?
A: "I used to be a short, chubby shooter and that's it. As I got older I started to get to the basket a little bit. When I started playing AAU, though, it was shoot, shoot, shoot. I got on Boo Williams' younger (AAU) team and I was the shooter. I started at the two and we had a play called 'Wet Bird,' because 'Bird' was my nickname. I used to stand in the middle of the lane and there'd be a screen on one side and two screens on the other. I'd pick a side and just run off screens and shoot. I think it was when I was playing 12-and-under that I led the (AAU) national tournament in scoring with 31.5 points a game."

Q: How'd you get the nickname "Bird?"
A: "It started off as a joke when I was playing 12-and-under. We were on our way to Memphis for nationals and a teammate and I were joking in the back of the bus. He said I looked like a bird and everybody started laughing. It was one of those things that just stuck."

Q: What's your career high for 3-pointers in a game?
A: "During my last two years of high school, I probably only shot two or three 3's a game. I was 6-foot-4 and at a Christian school so I had to play down low. My coach was smart enough to know, though, that when it counted to give me the ball and let me bring it up the floor. But most 3's in a game? I think I might have hit seven 3's in the state playoffs my junior year when I scored 40 against Roanoke Catholic. That was the most points I ever scored in high school."

Q: Besides your shooting, in what do you pride yourself?
A: "I pride myself in trying to be a stronger defender. When I was in ninth and 10th grade, I didn't really play much defense -- I just tried to stay in front of my man. My thought process was mostly about how I was going to shoot it (on the other end of the floor). When I got to 11th grade at Atlantic Shores I tried to switch it up a little bit. I wanted to guard the best player on the other team. My father and I started working out and doing lateral footwork (drills). The season came, I told my coach to put me on the best player and I'd try to lock him down. I did that. I pride myself in my defense."

Q: What attracted you to OU?
A: "Coach Capel. He used to be at VCU. He and (assistant) coach (Mark) Cline were recruiting me back then. We started from there. They ended up going to Oklahoma and they kept talking to me. That was really the only big school that was talking to me at the time. Then I did really well in an AAU tournament and everybody started offering. But Oklahoma was the consistent one. They were there when I wasn't anybody. That's why I made my choice."

Q: What do you like about Coach Capel?
A: "He's down to earth. He could be sitting around you and you wouldn't even know it was (the head coach). He'll talk to you about rap, he'll talk to you about basketball or whatever. He's a cool guy, a cool coach -- a players' coach."

Q: What are your impressions of some of the other players from workouts and playing pickup games?
A: "I love the makeup of the team. Last September when I came on my official visit, Ray Willis was different from what he is now. Now's he's really laid back, cool, more confident -- does his own thing on the court. Tony Crocker's real cool, too. Everybody is."
 
Q: What do you like about Coach Capel?
A: "He's down to earth. He could be sitting around you and you wouldn't even know it was (the head coach). He'll talk to you about rap, he'll talk to you about basketball or whatever. He's a cool guy, a cool coach -- a players' coach."

This is why I love Capel.
 
Great interview! Thanks for posting, bigabd.

I have already gone on record with my thoughts on Steven's prowess as a three point shooter. But, his versatility as a player is why I believe he will push the veterans for minutes by the midway point of the season:

Q: What's your favorite aspect of the game of basketball? Is it shooting?
A: "No, it's not shooting. It's getting teammates in the game and making everybody around me better. If that means assists, it means assists. If that means rebounding and defending, it means rebounding and defending. Just getting everybody in the game -- that's what I like to do."

The only question I've had all along is his ability to defend at the college level. If this next part turns out to be true, my confidence in his ability to compete for playing time and maybe even start will only go up. At 6' 4" 220, he has the body to hold his own against anyone. As a point of reference, David Godbold was listed at 6' 5" 221 his senior year. If Steven can defend as well as DG, I'll be one happy OU fan:

Q: Besides your shooting, in what do you pride yourself?
A: "I pride myself in trying to be a stronger defender. When I was in ninth and 10th grade, I didn't really play much defense -- I just tried to stay in front of my man. My thought process was mostly about how I was going to shoot it (on the other end of the floor). When I got to 11th grade at Atlantic Shores I tried to switch it up a little bit. I wanted to guard the best player on the other team. My father and I started working out and doing lateral footwork (drills). The season came, I told my coach to put me on the best player and I'd try to lock him down. I did that. I pride myself in my defense."
 
This kid has improved so much since I first saw him. Steven is just that type of guy. He will do anything to help his team win. BOOMER SOONER BABY!!!
 
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