WILMINGTON, N.C. – It was his first time taking the floor in a regular-season college basketball game, his team wearing their blue road uniforms and taking refuge in the visitors’ locker room.
But freshman David Pellom was right at home in Sunday’s 76-71 win at UNC-Wilmington, playing in front of a vocal contingent of friends and family in his hometown.
“When I first started playing, I was a little nervous,” Pellom admitted after the game. “I’m not gonna lie about that.”
The beginning of his debut was, in fact, fairly nondescript, with the former local high school standout not scoring his first basket until the final 18 seconds of the first half. Then, he said, senior Damian Hollis took him aside and told him to just play his game and things became a bit simpler.
“I just went out there and played,” Pellom said. “When it came to me, it came to me. When it was my time, I just did what I had to do.”
The difference showed. After scoring that first basket in transition shortly before halftime, Pellom seemed much more comfortable after the break. He kissed a runner off the glass within the half’s first two minutes and added a trio of free throws over the next few minutes to give his supporters – of which there were “a lot,” he said with a laugh – something to cheer about.
Yet not everyone who recognized Pellom was there to offer him encouragement.
“I was hearing a few comments taking the ball out,” he said, adding that people were telling him, things like, “You should’ve stayed home and played” here and there throughout the game.
The 6-foot-8 forward, who earned all-conference honors as a senior at Wilmington’s New Hanover High School before attending prep school last year, finished with 11 points, five rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist in his first 25 minutes of collegiate action.
Head coach Karl Hobbs said Pellom “really, really stepped up” in the season-opening victory, especially considering the complicated demands placed on the power forward in his system.
“I thought he made terrific decisions on when to drive, when to hold up,” Hobbs said. “He showed a great deal of maturity out there. I was really, really proud of him.”
Hobbs has a plan for coaxing similarly inspired performances out of the freshman.
“We’re gonna try, for every game, to bus all his people in,” he joked.