It starts with awe.
Junior forward David Pellom watches a teammate cut deftly around an opponent, making a perfect play, and he’s momentarily stunned, appreciating the skill unfolding before him. Before he knows it, he’s moving too – racing – his heart pounding, the sounds of the game fading away until it’s just him and the ball.
Pellom gathers himself, leaps, and in a split second connects with the perfect long pass, palming the ball before slamming it through the net, a resounding yell ripping from his lungs.
“It just feels amazing,” Pellom said. “It’s a whole lot of momentum that just built up inside of me and I just let it out on a run.”
This season alone, he’s tallied 31 dunks, so far past the rest of the Colonials – the next-highest GW player has six – that it seems like a category created for Pellom alone.
Those plays, that continual tendency to be in the right place at the right time, show Pellom’s most valuable attribute, head coach Mike Lonergan said: his high basketball IQ.
“Those are things that you can’t teach, and that’s nice that he has that. The basketball IQ, not everyone has that on our team,” Lonergan said. “Dave knows the game, and even in practice, he asks things, he tells his teammates, when some of those guys struggle with having the feel for the game, Dave really helps them that way.”
A deep understanding of the game is often billed as a you-have-it-or-you-don’t quality, and Pellom, Lonergan said, has it. The forward showed it at Richmond, when he dished a crucial assist to senior forward Aaron Ware for a layup that gave GW the lead.
Pellom’s ability to be in the right place at the right time was evident last season. He led the team in field goal percentage, mainly off his fast-breaks or highlight-reel finishes.
This season, Pellom again paces the Colonials in field goal percentage, but this time it’s with an expanded game. Armed with Lonergan’s defense-first, post-heavy game plan, the forward’s worked to develop his back-to-the-basket play, furthering his performance as one of GW’s crucial presences in the paint. The additional effort has paid off: Pellom’s first in the Atlantic 10 in field goal percentage, and ESPN currently ranks Pellom fourth among all NCAA Division 1 players in that category. His shooting percentage, currently at 67.7 percent, is on track to break the GW single-season record.
“When my time comes, I give my all to help us win. Every night is my time," Pellom said. "The Richmond game, I stepped up to the plate and finished some big plays, and we came out with the W."
Pellom’s enhanced performance hasn’t made for a perfect season. Like many of his teammates, he’s struggled to adjust to the defense-heavy strategy Lonergan brings to the court. The junior is still adjusting to the new play style from an athletic, offense-first mindset. Against Harvard Jan. 14, Pellom grabbed just one rebound, a sharp contrast from the game against Richmond Feb. 11, where he paced the Colonials with 16 points, pulling down five boards and adding a steal.
Plaguing the forward, too, are off-the-court issues that have kept Pellom from the game. A left knee injury sidelined the junior in early February, and earlier in the season, he was benched for disciplinary reasons. Those setbacks are signs of a player maturing and growing into his own, Lonergan said. But when Pellom is on, he’s a valuable offensive force for GW.
“He’s a talented player, he’s very talented. He just hasn’t always been focused,” Lonergan said. “He’s come a long ways, and he’s got a ways to go, but he’s always been able to score. He’s got good hands, and he’s always in the right place to get a dunk or finish a play.”
Each time he’s been relegated to the bench, though, Pellom’s been determined to underline his commitment to the game – and to his team – upon his return. High-flying dunks and command of the post aside, his most important contribution isn’t easily found on the box score, but it’s clearly visible in practice.
There, as the Colonials stretch out, or run through drills, or take ending sprints, one voice rises above the rest. The loudest player in a GW uniform is Pellom, cheering his teammates on. Perhaps Pellom’s most important role is to be a catalyst for his team, and that’s one he delights in.
“I’m a high energy guy, coming off the bench and giving the team momentum. The dunks, the blocks,” Pellom said. “Basically, when I come on the court, I talk and get everyone going.”
This article was updated on Feb. 16, 2012 to reflect the following:
It was unclear in an early draft of this article that The Hatchet was referring to David Pellom’s ESPN ranking for shooting percentage. We updated the sentence to make the ranking clear.