Pendleton Puts Usc `Failure' Behind Him

LACEY - Anthony Pendleton. Everybody knew the name.

Anthony Pendleton. A name that dripped sweet as honey off the lips of college basketball coaches.

Anthony Pendleton. Quick as a hummingbird. Jump shot soft as a snowflake. They all wanted him. Bill Frieder at Michigan. Jud Heathcote at Michigan State. George Raveling at Iowa.

Here was a bona fide winner. His Flint, Mich., high-school team won 63 straight games. Here was an genuine All-America. He played with Derrick Coleman, Terry Mills, J.R. Reid, Rex Chapman, Dwayne Schintzius, Stevie Thompson and Brian Oliver in the McDonald's all-star games.

Every day people told him how wonderful he was. Pendleton was on the fast track, following on the heals of another great from Flint, Glen Rice.

Failure? It was a foreign word from some country he never expected to visit. Anthony Pendleton a failure? He didn't think it could happen to him.

But it did.

Pendleton followed Raveling from Iowa to USC. He started for two seasons, averaged 15 points in 1988-89, but his grade-point average dropped to 1.98.

He flunked out of USC in the spring of 1989. For the first time in his life, he went back to Flint, feeling like a failure.

``It was really embarrassing for me,'' Pendleton said last week sitting in Coach Bob Grisham's office at St. Martin's College, his new hoop home. ``I never flunked out of anything for me. And here I flunked out of USC and it got into the papers, so all my friends knew about it.

``When I got home, I stayed in the house for two straight weeks. I didn't go out because I was totally embarrassed. My friends look upon me as a failure. I can understand why they did that, but they didn't really know the reasons.''

Reasons? It probably had a lot to do with the lack of success of USC's basketball program. Pendleton was used to success. His high-school team had been ranked fourth in the nation. He was used to crowds and applause and adulation.

But basketball at USC was an afterthought. The team finished near the bottom of the Pac-10. It played in front of 10,000 empty seats at the Sports Arena. The losses, the attitude got to Pendleton.

``My high-school team was like a family,'' Pendleton said. ``We did just about everything together. At SC, we really didn't have that. And SC isn't really known for being a basketball school. It's a football-oriented school.

``I had high expectations of myself and trying to make a basketball school out of SC, but it didn't happen. We really didn't get anything going. I wasn't used to losing as much as we did. It sort of got to me academically.

``In high school, when we did so well, it sort of motivated you to do well in school, too. At SC, I went to class and everything, but I found it hard sometimes to concentrate. I just felt real depressed.''

He flunked out. He tried summer school at Pasadena City College, but it was a 30-minute commute to school and Pendleton didn't have a car. He played summer league basketball in Los Angeles, then returned home feeling as if he let down everyone who ever believed in him.

He wasn't sure he wanted to return to college. He knew he still wanted to play basketball, but he wasn't sure where. His future had gone from an exclamation point to a question mark.

``When I was growing up, my mom always told me never to give up,'' Pendleton said. ``When I got back from SC, my mom saw that in my face a lot. You know, the heck with it. But she wouldn't let me. I think if it wasn't for her, I'd be back home working an 8-to-5 of some kind and just playing basketball in some city league.

``I was so down on myself. I really didn't want to deal with basketball and college any more. The heck with it. I didn't want to go through the process of recruiting for a second time.

``But my mom told me she wouldn't let me stay around and get fat. She told me I was somebody.''

At the end of his funk, in August 1989, Pendleton got a call from Grisham. Two of Pendleton's friends - Lafayette Dorsey and Michael Courtney - were playing at St. Martin's.

Grisham offered him a second chance at an education and a basketball future. Pendleton didn't answer another call.

``I couldn't believe it,'' Grisham said. ``A prep All-American and he was coming here.''

Pendleton, a 6-foot-4 guard, redshirted last season and, going into last night's home game with Whitworth, he was averaging 19 points a game this year. The Saints, an NAIA team, were 5-4.

``I figured it this way, it really doesn't matter what type of school, or who you're playing for, you still have to go and do your best,'' Pendleton said. ``Whether there's 20,000 people in the stands, or 20, you still have to go out there and perform.

``The competition here in this league may not be as stiff as the Pac-10. But there are a lot of players here who can flat-out play. I'm surprised at how good the level of play here is because you don't hear too much about NAIA schools.

``But a lot of the players I've played against could play Division I and start for a lot of teams. Why they are here, I don't know.''

Pendleton, now 22, looked out his coach's window, to the empty parking lot. He still seems a little surprised that his path has led to this school of 700 students. Surprised, but appreciative. In Lacey, his future is alive.

``I'm not going to limit myself. I'm not that type of person,'' Pendleton said. ``I've learned that you never really know how far you can go in life until you do it.

``I'm looking forward to some day playing with the best and against the best. And I think the best is in the NBA. That's where you find out just how good a player you are.''

Anthony Pendleton. He wants people to remember the name.