The Panthers best 3-point shooter Makeba Ponder is back at practice after suffering a season-ending injury last season. Going into her junior year, Ponder is already on everybody’s watch list after being named to the 2016-17 Preseason All-Sun Belt team. It makes sense considering Ponder has lead the Sun Belt Conference in most 3-point baskets made per game in the past two seasons.
“Last couple of years in the Sun Belt, I think Makeba has been one of the best 3-point shooters in the league,” Head Coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. “I think everyone is aware when she is out on the floor and are making sure they get to her.”
Ponder’s shot from beyond the arc is something special, but even she still thinks there are still things to work on when it comes to that jumper.
“I’ve been shooting ever since I was five-years-old,” Ponder said. “It’s just something I know how to do and I always work on it. There’s always something wrong with my jump shot that I can fix.”
Ponder has a lot more elements to her game that get ignored because of her 3-point shooting, but Coach Baldwin-Tener notices all of her attributes.
“She can do a lot of other things as well,” Coach Baldwin-Tener said. “She’s a good passer and she has a good basketball IQ.”
Soon the world will learn that with Ponder, she is never satisfied and always working on something to improve her game.
“I’ve been trying to work on driving and finishing,” Ponder said. “The number one thing I’ve been working on is my defense.”
Coming into her junior season, Ponder has progressed a lot since entering the program her freshman year.
“I think her all-around game is better,” Coach Baldwin-Tener said. “She’s playing with a little more confidence and I think her defense is better than it has been the last couple of years as well. She might be a little bit quicker than she was last year.”
With Ponder’s speed increasing and more depth on the team at the guard position, the Panthers plan to really push the floor this season.
“I think that there will be a lot of times where we will be playing four guards at the same time and really be pushing the ball,” Coach Baldwin-Tener said.
Ponder loves the new fast pace approach that coach Baldwin-Tener plans to use and thinks it will help the team be successful.
“That’s an awesome decision because we actually run and push the ball,” Ponder said. “We can also get our shooters open while we push the ball.”
Speaking of getting teammates open, the Panthers have been coming together chemistry wise according to Ponder.
“I have awesome teammates,” Ponder said. “We love each other and we work hard and we all look out for each other. I really think we can win with that type of team.”
After suffering her injury last season, Ponder has been working hard on her return and to say it’s been hard for her is an understatement.
“It’s very hard, I gotta learn how to push through and be on top of my rehab,” Ponder said. “I’ve been going through rehab for over nine months now, so I’m just trying to keep it going so I can strengthen my foot back.”
Although she’s back at practice, her return for the season opener is still undecided as the team wants to take it slow and make sure she makes a full recovery.
“She’s finally getting back into basketball shape again,” coach Baldwin-Tener said. “She’s progressing but not back to 100 percent yet. I’m really looking for her to do big things this year when she returns.”
When Ponder does return she has two goals in mind.
“Win games and win the championship,” Ponder said.
Ponder’s passion for the game goes off the court
Ponder is born and raised in Georgia and has been playing the game of basketball all her life. She sees WNBA star and former Connecticut Player, Maya Moore as an influence on her game because Ponder liked Moore’s determination, emotional level and how Moore lived up to the hype of a star and a leader.
“I grew up in Molutrie, Georgia and I grew up playing basketball around a lot of boys and that’s all I ever did was play basketball,” Ponder said. “I’m dedicated to the game and I just love basketball. It’s like a relief to me, if I’m going through something I can go to the gym and shoot. It’s like a stress reliever.”
Not only is her passion for the game on the court but it’s also off the court as well. Ponder’s best friend Xavier Terry was killed in an auto accident in 2014. After losing her best friend, Ponder changed her number from 10 to 24 in loving memory of Terry.
“I changed my number because that was his number in high school,” Ponder said. He was going to college to wear that number and I figured if he couldn’t wear that number maybe I could wear it.”
Since changing her number for her sophomore season, Ponder had her best season yet before getting hurt. In just 23 games, only started 14 of them, she made 53 3-point field goals and shot 82 percent from the free throw line. She had 61 rebounds on the season has a guard and 41 steals. She averaged 12 points a game and had a new career high of 26 points in a win against Stetson. In fact, at the Stetson Hatter Classic Ponder was named the MVP after her big performance.
It’s as if Terry is watching over her every shot that she takes from that 3-point line.
- 594 points in just 51 games
- 31 Career double-figure scoring games, (7 with 20 or more points)
- 2015-16 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference 2nd team
- 2016-17 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference 1st team
- Led Sun Belt in 3-Point baskets made per game (2015 and 2016)
- 122 3-Point Baskets, No. 5 in school history
- Named MVP of Stetson Hatter Classic
- Averaged 12 points per game last season (Lead Team)