Football, by nature, is a demanding sport. The tremendous mental trials are equal to the intense physical aspect of the game. However, for Saluki freshman Jalen Pendleton, it isn’t as challenging as basketball.
Pendleton, guard for the SIU men’s basketball team, was a two-sport star in high school. He said he started playing football much earlier than basketball, because his father was the coach of a youth football team in his hometown Evansville, Ind.
“My pops was tough on me when I played under him,” the first year Saluki said. “I had three older brothers who played football and I wanted to be the best so I could make my dad proud.”
Growing up on the rough south side of Evansville, it would have been easy for Pendleton to succumb to his environment. It was through his father’s discipline that he was able to stick to the right path. Teammate senior guard T.J. Lindsay said he is one the most well-behaved freshmen he has seen.
“At times you can tell that he is a coach’s son,” Lindsay said. “He can take any type of criticism, and he is very coachable.”
It wasn’t until high school that Pendleton became invested in his second sport, basketball. As a senior at Bosse High School, he averaged 21.2 points and eight rebounds per game and led his team to a 23-5 record. His accolades in high school football was equally impressive as he accumulated more than 1,300 passing yards and rushed for almost 1,200 yards on the ground his senior season. He was awarded the Evansville Courier Player of the Year in both sports his senior year for his accomplishments.
Although he was more successful and more dominant in football, he said his heart was in shooting hoops.
“Not too many athletes play football in Evansville.” “It’s really a basketball town,” he said. “It was easier for me to excel in football, but I wasn’t always the best in basketball. It was a challenge for me.”
Pendleton was recruited by several Division I schools like Missouri State, Western Kentucky and Indiana State. He said his final decision was between the Salukis and the Indiana State Sycamores.
The deciding factor separating the two schools came down to familiarity.
“SIU’s coaching staff reminded me of my high school staff,” he said. “They expected you to be your best at all times, and that’s how I have been coached my entire life. It felt a lot like home.”
Pendleton said SIU basketball coach Barry Hinson cares more about his performance in the classroom than his actions on the court.
“Hinson (and staff) care about us not just as players but as individuals. They are all father figures to me since I’m away from home,” he said.
Lindsay said Pendleton is already part of the SIU basketball family.
“He is like everyone’s little brother,” he said. “Whenever he wants something from someone (on the team) or makes a mistake, he calls you ‘big bro.’”
Despite his lack of experience at the collegiate level, Pendleton has been able to provide both offensive and defensive production for the Salukis’ reserve squad. The freshman has the second highest free-throw and 3-point field goal percentage on the team. He has also functioned as the Salukis shut-down defender in situations this year.
Senior guard Jeff Early said Pendleton is a star on defense and plays with a lot of heart.
“JP has no fear,” he said. “It seems that out of nowhere he has really turned his game up and he has consistently been one of our best defenders.”
Fellow senior Lindsay said Pendleton reminds him of a young Early.
“He (Pendleton) plays with a lot of heart and a lot of intensity. Matter of fact, he’s a lot like Jeff with that,” he said. “Both guys had some football experience and they both give every play their all.”
Pendleton’s effort was on full display when he tossed up what would be the game winning shot against Wichita State Feb. 5. Less than a week later, he almost hit another game winner on Indiana State in Terre Haute as he hustled to grab the ball and hit the front of the rim on the last shot.
Pendleton was awarded the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week for his extraordinary play against top-tier teams. He said he was pleased to get the award, but he isn’t done yet.
“I have to give credit to my teammates and my coaches,” he said. “It is a great accomplishment, and hopefully there are more to come.”