On January 29, 2020, the San Diego State descended into the depths of ‘The Pit’ to take on the New Mexico Lobos. Though the Aztecs came into the contest undefeated, some predicted this game, in this atmosphere, against this rival would end in a loss for the Red and Black. By the first media timeout, any thoughts of an upset were dashed. The Aztecs opened the game on a 17-0 run. Fourteen points was the closest UNM got the rest of the way in SDSU’s 85-57 razing of the Pit.
The only emotion greater than the embarrassment felt by the Lobo faithful as they streamed out of the arena was the anger of Aztecs’ guard KJ Feagin.
“KJ Feagin … is livid that he didn’t think New Mexico was fighting as hard as they could after we got a lead,” JD Pollock recalled on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Basketball Podcast. “In the timeout going, ‘Man, we came here for a fight. We came here for a dog fight.’ He was mad that he didn’t think they were going toe-to-toe with him. I’m sitting there in the timeout. I’ve got chills. This is incredible. Listen to this guy. He wants it harder. He wanted these guys to go bucket-for-bucket with him.”
Pollock’s fondness for this game extends beyond Feagin’s drive. Following their charter flight and bus ride back to campus, the team arrived home after one in the morning. Star guards Malachi Flynn, and Jordan Schakel were unhappy with how they shot the ball in New Mexico. (They finished a combined 8-15 from the field and 4-9 from deep.)
They could not sleep until their shooting stroke felt right. For thirty minutes, they put up shots in the JAM Center to shake off their disappointment. Less than six hours later, the duo was back at it for their daily 8 am workout.
“What planet are you from?” JD Pollock remembers thinking. “I played ball. I wasn’t you clearly, but that would have been so far from my mindset. I’m in awe of these guys. They’re not joking. They’re not laughing. They swiped in (to the JAM Center). They shot for 30 minutes. They fell asleep, and they started their day. It’s just (an) example of how great that season was.”
He is too modest to admit it or, perhaps, too unassuming to see it, but Pollock is just as driven and hard-working as the players that impressed him two and a half years ago.
Pollock’s first three years of marriage, he did not live with his wife. She was a professional beach volleyball player traveling all over the world to pursue her dream. He was a basketball coach, traveling domestically, chasing his own.
Most newlyweds want to start their life together. Those who want to focus on their careers stay single, or one person in the marriage sacrifices their ambitions. It takes extraordinary people and a lot of hard work to do both well.
This unconventional path to success is what makes Pollock special. At nearly every step of his career, he has excelled in ways few could have predicted. Following a good prep career at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia, he played college basketball at an NAIA school, Berry College. He was third among all NAIA schools in steals in his final season at Berry.
A relatively late growth spurt propelled him to fulfill his goal of playing division one college basketball. After his redshirt sophomore season, he transferred to Kennesaw State, sat out a year, and played every game as a junior before suffering a career-ending knee injury seven games into his senior season.
Rather than sulk in his misfortune, he went to work. Pollock graduated from Kennesaw with a degree in Sports Management in 2009. A few months later, he enrolled in a Master’s program at Texas Christian University and took a position as a graduate assistant with the Horn Frogs.
Success followed by setbacks. Setbacks faced with hard work, dedication, and skill, eventually leading to greater opportunity. This is the formula of Pollock’s career.
After graduating from TCU and with no prospects for a future in coaching, he took a job at a community college in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. His work was so terrific, the school did not even interview other candidates when the head coaching job opened up. Pollock leveraged this job for a role with Cal State Bakersfield as the Men’s Basketball Director of Operation. 13 months later, he was promoted to assistant coach.
Following three seasons on the bench, he applied for the position he currently holds with the Aztecs but was turned down. Only after Jay Morris vacated the job a month later for an assistant coach’s job with San Jose State did Pollock have the chance to join Brian Dutcher’s staff.
“I say it jokingly all the time,” Pollock said. “I think I’m the luckiest man in the world with somehow coaching at San Diego State from Atlanta, Georgia, when I started at an NAIA, walked on to Kennesaw State, and somehow earned a scholarship. I’m coaching at San Diego State. That doesn’t link in my head, yet it’s happened.”
Hired in September of 2017, Pollock has been an essential part of the program’s transition under Dutcher. Last summer, Jay Morris left for a position at USC, opening up an assistant coaches spot at SDSU. Pollock was one of the favorites for the job. Instead, Dutcher hired JayDee Luster.
Following this latest setback, Pollock posted a message on his social media account describing his thoughts about getting passed over for a promotion he felt he deserved. In the stale smell of clichés, Pollock’s prose was a breath of fresh air.
Young coaches, keep perspective! pic.twitter.com/P2X7TQQCa2
— JD Pollock (@JD_Pollock) August 22, 2021
“I heard both ends of it,” Pollock explained about his decision to go public. “I had mentors. They thought it was an awful idea. I had guys tell me … ‘dude, that’s incredible. You’re going to help a lot of people with that.’ I think I was ok with it. It wasn’t the easiest thing to write or anything like that. I am a coach through and through, so I felt I was coaching while writing that. Coaching people, I don’t know. I had NAIA coaches in random states DMing me, saying, ‘Man, I am going to work because of that. I really appreciate that.”
“Obviously, on my end, there was no ill will towards anybody. I’m fortunate to be here from Coach Dutcher hiring me from the jump. … I was passed over for jobs at Cal State Bakersfield. I was the ops guy and wanted to move up there. I get that part of this job. I’m at a level where I expect it to be competitive, not a handout. (The social media post) was from the heart. When you don’t get things you want, you have to grind and keep going. This is not a basketball thing. Yeah, I was passed up. That’s ok. The coaches that we’ve hired are freaking incredible. … JayDee Luster is unbelievable. Chris Acker is unbelievable. I’m ok with that. I don’t lose sleep over that. I’m going head to head and doing my best with the best coaches on the West Coast and in the nation really, for that matter.”
Pollock’s receipt for overcoming disappointment is simple yet profound. Embrace the pain. Give yourself a couple of days to truly feel it. Then, take inventory of everything positive in your life. Get over the disappointment and keep working.
This mindset that has brought him from Atlanta to San Diego is what makes him like the players he admires from the 2019-2020 Aztecs. Like Feagin, Pollock relishes the competition coaching at the highest level of college basketball entails. He sacrifices to improve at every opportunity, just like Flynn and Schakel.
His character shines through with how he accepts the challenge of failure. As he has shown repeatedly, continued success is just around the corner precisely because of how he responds to setbacks.
His students would be wise to learn to lose like JD Pollock.