ANAHEIM, Calif. — The father has memories.
Of playing for a great basketball coach. Of producing on the court as a freshman. Of a style of play he loved.
“My mom got sick, and it was important for me to be closer to home so she could see me play more, but I loved my time at UNLV,” Dwayne Polee Sr. said. “I loved Jerry Tarkanian.
“I also really liked Lon Kruger. Liked his style. Liked the type of person he was. Thought it would be a good fit. For a while there, I thought Dwayne would go to UNLV.”
The son has persevered.
Dwayne Polee II thought about signing with the Rebels out of high school, about competing for the program for which his father averaged 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds during the 1981-82 season before transferring to Pepperdine.
The son instead chose St. John’s.
He then thought about transferring to the Rebels when leaving the Red Storm after starting 26 games as a freshman.
He instead found himself at a rival Mountain West school.
Tonight, he finds himself in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Polee is his league’s Sixth Man of the Year and the sort of athletic junior wing San Diego State will need to play well if it is to upset top-seeded Arizona in the second of two West Regional semifinals at the Honda Center.
Kruger recruited Polee II out of Westchester High in Los Angeles before departing to coach Oklahoma; Dave Rice then tried to coax the player to Las Vegas.
“We tried hard,” Rice said at the conference tournament. “I thought his athleticism and his background, the fact that his dad was a terrific player, he comes from a basketball family, I just thought that he had a huge future in basketball.
“I just believe that’s what championship teams do, is that guys develop. It’s a huge deal and a credit to guys like Polee, who was a starter at St. John’s, potential Big East all‑conference player. He comes and is willing to become a guy who comes off the bench. That’s what championship teams are all about.”
This is what Polee’s journey has been about: He averaged just 9.4 minutes at San Diego State last season, 2.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in the 26 games in which he saw action. He began this year on the bench, as in the second game of the season, at home to this same Arizona team, he never removed his warmups.
Never saw the floor.
That will change tonight, given Polee has averaged 15.5 points and 5.0 rebounds and has made 9-of-16 3-pointers in the past four games. He has become a desperately needed second scoring option to point guard Xavier Thames, the Mountain West Player of the Year.
There is a lesson in all of this for players whose path includes speed bumps of adversity:
“It’s not about ability, but rather opportunity,” said Brian Dutcher, associate head coach of the Aztecs. “Dwayne stuck with it, and when his time came, he took advantage and is now shining on the biggest stage in college basketball.
“He has gotten better as a player. You have to get better. The value in his story is, when you don’t get what you think you have earned or deserve, you don’t quit. You keep working through the tough times. He is benefiting from that work and, better yet, we’re benefiting as a team from it.”
The talk of coaches is that Polee could emerge in a similar manner as former San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin, meaning to have a key but supporting role one season and challenge for conference Player of the Year the next. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said Polee “has a chance to make this a launch pad for all of next season and be a gangbuster player, which is what he and we would hope for.”
The son is grateful.
When his playing time was limited to begin this season, when he sat and watched every second of Arizona’s 69-60 win at Viejas Arena in November, never once told to report to the scorer’s table and check in, he sought the advice of his coaching father, director of player development for the University of San Francisco.
The message from Polee Sr.: Do not sulk. Do not pout.
Get to work.
“I love the game,” Polee II said. “I’m a competitor. It was a hard time, but I just kept bringing energy to practice every day. Score. Rebound. Guard the best player. Whatever it took to get me on the floor. I came to San Diego State to play for a legend in Coach Fisher. No one knows how to deal with the egos of big-time players and get them all to play as one better than him. It’s one of the main reasons I came to San Diego State. Now, we’re in the Sweet 16.”
The father is incredibly proud.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.