Growing up in Bountiful, Utah, hardly a day went by that Nate Pollard didn't pick up a basketball. Whether it was a rec-league game as a five-year old or finding an empty court to shoot around with his father, Neal, the Rice University freshman center remembers basketball being a centerpiece of his childhood.
All that practice growing up came in handy when Pollard and his family realized that he would inherit his father's height.
"It became apparent around sixth grade," Nate said. "I was six feet tall by then and that's above average. It's also when most kids who don't get freakishly tall stop growing. They will sprout up quick but then they don't grow anymore. I kept growing, so my parents knew at that point that I was going to be huge."
Pollard continued to grow regularly throughout his youth until he reached his current mark of 7-1. He likes to brag that even passed his father's height by a tad.
"I have him by about an inch or maybe more. He claims he's still seven feet, but he has some extra weight pulling him down now," Pollard joked.
The Pollard family history with the game of basketball goes back at least two generations to when his grandfather, Pearl Pollard, starred at the University of Utah in the 1950s. Pearl was even featured in a national magazine alongside Wilt Chamberlain in a story about the tallest men across the country.
The tradition carried onto the next generation, as all five of Pearl's sons played collegiate basketball. That group could combine to put together a formidable squad, highlighted by an 11-year NBA veteran.
Nate's uncle, Scot Pollard, played collegiately at Kansas, was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons in 1997 and enjoyed an 11-season career in the NBA that culminated with a title. Nate recalls watching his uncle play at the highest level several times, though Scot's professional career began in 1997, when Nate was still a toddler.
"Growing up, he was in the NBA for most of my childhood, so I didn't get to hang out with him an awful lot. Every once in a while my family would take trips to see some of his games. Some of my best memories are when he could come to town to play in Salt Lake City, we would go to the games and he would buy us a luxury box. From there, we could watch the game and eat and have a good time in the nice suite instead of the usual seats. It was a great experience, but it spoiled me when I'd go to other games and sit in the normal seats."
"We were very intense fans anytime we went to his games and we felt like we were the loudest fans in the gym when watching him play. I know we watched him play in Sacramento and years later in Cleveland and we would go crazy anytime something would happen for him or the team."
Nate enjoys reflecting on his uncle's final season in the league, when he won the NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
"I was 13 or 14 when he won the NBA championship. I watched those Finals games on TV and it was awesome. When the next family reunion came around, I got to put his championship ring on and that thing was huge. It weighed about a pound and a half. It fit loosely on my thumb at the time."
The basketball genes have carried down evenly to the current generation of Pollard boys. In addition to Nate, 6-9 forward Jeff Pollard is a high school senior and has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Washington State. Nate believes his little brother has the potential to become a great player, thanks in large part to their upbringing.
"Back in fifth and sixth grades, my dad coached a team with me and my brother and a lot of neighborhood kids," Nate remembers. "My brother, Jeff, was a lot shorter than me at the time because we were two years apart. At that age, two years makes a big difference."
"I'll admit he might have more potential than me, and I think that's because he was playing sixth-grade ball as a fourth grader. He struggled a little at the beginning but really got into the flow of it and became a big staple of our team." Nate also has a brother that is a sophomore in high school that is beginning to come into his own on the basketball court, and a sister who broke from the family tradition and plays volleyball.
Since joining the Owls this fall, Nate has seen action in 13 games, including one start in non-conference play, as he continues to develop and adjust to the college game. In limited action, he has already shown off his defensive prowess with a number of blocks, as well as an ability to get to the free throw line and knock down foul shots.
With the work ethic and basketball tradition instilled at a young age, Nate has a chance to write the next chapter for the Pollard family basketball history books with the Owls.
Men's Basketball Drops Close Battle Against Houston
Rice University men's basketball and crosstown rival Houston played yet another close contest in the teams' recent history of nail-biters with the Cougars claiming a narrow 54-52 victory in the Dickies Shootout at Toyota Center.