Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

December 9, 2012

Ponder breaks out

HUNTINGTON — UNC-Wilmington freshman and former Bluefield standout Craig Ponder personally delivered a message to his West Virginia family, friends and fans last Saturday; he's still got it.

“I'm definitely 100 percent now,” Ponder said after putting up a career-high 26 points in UNC-Wilmington's 61-58 loss to the Marshall Thundering Herd at the Cam Henderson Center last Saturday..

The game was his first in the state of West Virginia since the 2010 Region III shootout between the ninth-ranked Bluefield and the number-one Wyoming East Warriors in New Richmond, in which Ponder put up 56 points in the Beavers' 85-83 losing effort.

Ponder averaged 19.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game in his high school career at Bluefield.

Ponder said playing in front of the same people who cheered him on throughout high school put more pressure on him and motivated him to come out strong.

“It definitely helps my confidence knowing that people are supporting me along with my teammates,” Ponder said. “It felt like high school all over again, so I'm glad I could play well today.”

Ponder had 23 points on the season in the six games leading up to the Skyhawks' game against Marshall. He shot 11-of-16 from the field against the Herd and tacked on two steals, two rebounds and two assists.

His performance helped him earn Colonial Athletic Association's Men's Basketball Rookie-of-the-Week honors.

“Ponder did a nice job coming back,” said UNC Wilmington head coach Buzz Peterson. “This young man, I've seen it in him in practice. I knew he could do it, it was just a matter of time and I'm glad he picked today to do it. I wish we could have gotten the win for him.”

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Ponder went to Hargrave Military Academy after graduating from Bluefield High School in 2010. Ponder said he was able to learn from head coach Kevin Keatts and other Division I athletes as he prepared for collegiate basketball.

“(At) Hargrave, those guys pushed me every day,” Ponder said. “They just kept pushing me, the coach kept pushing me, and that just helped my confidence going into UNC-Wilmington my freshman year.”

Ponder put up 20 points in four appearances during his freshman year with the Skyhawks in the 2011-2012 season, but his season came to a screeching halt on Nov. 26 with a season-ending foot injury in a game against Davidson.

Ponder was redshirted by Peterson two days later, and he started on the long road to recovery.

“It was tough at first,” Ponder said. “The first couple of months when I got back, it would hurt a lot. I feel like June and July was my turning point, I started dunking the ball again and being explosive and everything.

“These past games I had a few bad games,” Ponder said Saturday after his team's loss to Marshall. “I'm just getting back from surgery and everything and my confidence is getting higher and higher. I'm finally getting my game back.

“I got hurt, came back, my coaches kept saying we've got confidence in you, you know what you can do, just go out and do it, and today I feel like I went out there and did what they all expected me to do.”

• • •

Ponder and his older brother, Concord senior football player Ansel Ponder, shared a special relationship on the court at Bluefield. The Ponder duo led the Beavers to state tournament berths in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Ponder said the Beavers had a unique chemistry, but he is fitting right in with his teammates with the Seahawks.

“At Bluefield, those were my childhood friends,” Ponder said. “We grew up together. Nothing will replace that. But these guys here, it feels like the same way. These past few years, we've really became a family, especially this year.

“Everybody on the team is close. We all hang out together, and that really helps our chemistry on the court.”

Ponder said he did not have Marshall circled on his calendar any more than any other game, but being able to play in front his hometown supporters and some former Bluefield teammates changed the dynamics of the game.

“It definitely helps my confidence knowing that people are supporting me along with my teammates,” Ponder said. “It felt like high school all over again, so I'm glad I could play well today.”

During football and basketball seasons, Ansel and Craig stay busy with athletics. Craig said he still talks to some high school friends, but does not get to go home much.

Ansel said he still makes sure he keeps in touch with his younger brother.

“We communicate on a weekly basis, check up and see how we are doing, just to see how school and football is going,” Ansel said. “Everybody has ups and downs, just trying to make sure he gets through the lows pretty well.”

Ansel, and Craig's younger brother and current Beaver basketball player, Jordan, were among the crowd of Craig's supporters at Marshall. It was the first time Ansel got to see his younger brother play collegiate basketball.

“It means the world, man, seeing your younger brother excel in academics and basketball,” Ansel said of Craig, who has a 3.0 GPA at UNC Wilmington. “It means the world to me seeing my younger brothers do good.

“I'm very proud to see him being able to come up here and play and do even better than I did the freshman year of my collegiate career.”

—Marcus Constantino is the photo editor at The Parthenon, Marshall University's student newspaper. Constantino can be contacted at constantino2@marshall.edu.

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