19 January 2010
When I first started writing a Portland Trail Blazers column for the Portland Sentinel back in December, the agreement was to produce a quick hitting 500 word story for the monthly newspaper.
The word count can be done. It just depends on the story you want to tell. But in the case of February’s upcoming column on Jeff Pendegraph – or feature piece as it were – the story needed time and space to unfold (all 909 words of it).
The final product - "For Blazers' rookie Pendergraph, friendship hits close to home" - is running now online over at the Sentinel, with a street print edition hitting newstands in North/Northeast Portland the first week in February.
Early last month while researching story ideas for the column, I learned Pendergraph was raised in a single-parent home by his mother, LaDona Orcutt. Such a far cry from my upbringing alongside 6 brothers and 4 sisters, my curiosity was sparked to the point where when I pitched the story idea to Jeff and asked, “how did your mom do it?”, he told me I’d have to ask her.
So I did.
For fans and media alike, we’ve come to know this bruiting Blazers’ rookie in the shades of a Maurice Lucas type of enforcer – a guy who’d rather push cats around instead of make nice on the court. Respect due. But that's one side of Pendergraph.
It didn’t take me long to find out Jeff’s genuine likeable personality was obviously inherited from his mom.
“She’s like the proudest mom there is,” Pendergraph said, recounting their good times and bad growing up outside of Los Angeles.
In a half-hour conversation with LaDona, I not only learned about their bonded friendship and how nothing is off limits in their conversations, but also the frustrations felt by a kid who didn’t know his dad growing up, and who has also endured a major setback on the way to fulfilling his dream.
It makes Pendergraph’s story even more interesting.
“He’s a kid who has had some type of adversity every step of the way,” LaDona started.
“He knows every chance he gets to step on the court, he’s very fortunate and thankful he’s able to do that. Because he didn’t know. In many ways, he’s mature for his age. But one of the things I love most about him, is that he still has that inner kid in him that comes out. He’s not afraid to let that show. He loves being goofy and having fun. For me, that makes him that much more of a wonderful young man. He’s not afraid to let both sides of his personality show.”
Back in early January, LaDona got the chance to see her son play professionally for the first time since returning from hip surgery when Portland faced the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
She controlled her emotions sitting in the stands. He went for his on the floor.
Jeff played 30 minutes in the 105-95 loss, and finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds and a blocked shot.
“It was awesome to be able to see him on the court and live his dream, something he’s worked so hard to accomplish,” LaDona continued.
“He has a lot to smile about.”
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