CALIFORNIA – Brent Pegram is the kind of basketball player who is so good that coaches will go all-out to recruit him.
Pegram, a junior point guard for California University, plays basketball in a manner that belies his age and experience. That fact is particulary pleasing to California coach Danny Sancomb, whose victory on the recruiting trails twice landed Pegram’s services.
Sancomb successfully recruited Pegram out of Upper Marlboro, Md., when the former was the head coach at Wheeling Jesuit. Shortly after Sancomb became Cal’s head coach prior to last season, Pegram decided to transfer. After making an official visit to Cal, Pegram knew he wanted to rejoin his former coach.
The decision has been paying dividends for Cal ever since.
Pegram scored 30 points, including his 1,000th career point, Saturday afternoon to power California to a 108-71 victory over Edinboro in a PSAC West Division game at the Convocation Center.
“I was 100 percent sure Brent was a guy we could build a program around,” Sancomb said. “He symbolizes what we want our program to be. He’s tough, he plays with a lot of fight, he’s very skilled and he’s a winner. Having a guy like him elevates the others around him.”
Pegram and Cal have elevated their status in the PSAC this season. The Vulcans are in third place in the West at 6-3 and 10-5 overall. They have won three in a row.
“When Brent said he was going to Cal, I was excited as a coach can be to get a recruit,” Sancomb admitted.
Against Edinboro, Pegram was everywhere. He was 7 of 10 from three-point range, made seven of eight free throws, grabbed six rebounds and had five assists. At one point in the second half, he even grabbed a mop and removed puddles of sweat from the court.
“He does a little of everything for us,” Sancomb said.
Pegram is a calming force for the Vulcans. That was nedeed when Edinboro (2-7, 6-9) came out hot and built a stunning 13-0 lead in the game’s first two minutes.
“Our guys didn’t panic but I was a little panicked,” Sancomb admitted.
“Basketball,” Pegram said, “is a game of runs. When we called that first timeout, I don’t remember what the score was but I know we had zero. I just told the guys we have to grind it out.”
Cal eventually proved Pegram’s theory to be true. The Vulcans immediately embarked on a 15-3 run, capped by a three-pointer from the top of the key by Pegram, to cut Edinboro’s lead to 16-15. Later in the first half, Cal put together a pivotal 18-0 run that netted a 42-26 lead for the Vulcans and took the spunk out of the Fighting Scots. That key stretch was sparked by Cal reserves Babatunde Ajike and Tyler Berry, who combined for 12 of the 18 points.
Just having players on the bench to turn to this season is something new for Cal, which at times during Sancomb’s first season had as few as six players in uniform.
When asked what is the biggest difference between this season and last, when Cal went 8-19, Pegram said, “More people.”
Cal led 50-39 at halftime and outscored Edinboro 30-10 during a stretch of the second half that opened an 84-56 lead. Pegram made three three-point baskets that made it 96-63 and Sancomb cleared the bench – something he couldn’t do last year – shortly thereafter.
Pegram led five Vulcans in double figures. Zyan Collins had 17 points, Ajike finished with 15, Jermaine Hall had 13 and Tim Smith 12. The only starter who didn’t score in double figures was Luke House, and all he did was score eight points to go with seven rebounds and eight assists.
Daylon Harris led Edinboro with 18 points.
Pegram said scoring 1,000 points in 2 1/2 college seasons means much to him, especially after not being a 1,000-point scorer in high school.
“I was a distributor in high school,” he said. “I set the school record for assists.”
“When he came to college,” Sancomb recalled, “Brent wasn’t a good three-point shooter. But he put the work in and became a good three-point shooter. Now, you have to guard him when he’s five feet from the three-point line.
“And it’s good when your best player buys into what you’re doing on both ends of the court. It makes coaching fun and easier.”