The two Division-I bound guards (Ponds, a St. John’s commit, and Dunn, a St. Francis commit) helped lead the Orange Wave (25-9, 13-1 PSAL) to their first ever state championship this past season, along with their first PSAL city title since 1954.
The tandem also previously brought home a city title at the junior varsity level as freshmen.
“The kind of kids that you want all your kids to be like,” Jefferson head coach Lawrence “Bud” Pollard said. “Humble beginnings, not real heralded coming into high school, played J.V., winning the J.V. championship then leaving out as state champs.
They did it the right way,” he added. “Worked hard, got their scholarships, moving on to college.”
Ponds, viewed by many as the best player in New York, and Dunn, perhaps the most underrated player in the state, were named co-MVP’s for their respective showings against Lincoln in the PSAL “AA” title game at Madison Square Garden.
After being subbed out in the fourth quarter, the dynamic duo erupted with tears of joy as they sat beside one another on the bench with the game in hand. Moments later, the two embraced after being presented with their co-MVP hardware.
“If you see me you see him, it’s always like that,” Ponds said of his brotherly bond with Dunn. “I’m very proud of him because he really came from nothing. A lot of his family wasn’t into basketball, they were into the street life. It was important that he chose the path that he’s on.”
Teammates at Eagle Academy during their middle school days, which culminated in an eighth-grade championship, Dunn says Ponds has always provided good leadership and a positive attitude.
“He’s very caring, loving, always happy, he’s a person you want on your team,” Dunn said. “Even if you’re not shooting a good percentage and not having a good game, he’ll push you to do more. We’ve been playing together for eight or ten years, we have a lot of chemistry together.”
One week after dismantling Lincoln at MSG, the Orange Wave won the Federation Championship, which (for now) marks the last meaningful game together for Dunn and Ponds. Dunn, who poured in 21 points in the “AA” final, was named to the All-Tournament Team while Ponds took home Tournament MVP honors.
“We were in a daze looking at each other like ‘this is really our last time playing together,’” Dunn said of the aftermath. “Now that we’re not playing with each other anymore, it kind of feels weird.”
“After winning it all I felt like ‘it’s over,’” added Ponds, who is scheduled to play in April 15’s Jordan Brand Classic at Barclays Center. “I kind of want to do high school over again, but I can’t. It didn’t really hit me until the next day. I woke up like ‘we’re really champions.’”
Even though it had been 62 years since Jefferson took home a city title, and considering that they’ve never won a state ‘chip before, one wouldn’t surmise that their 2015-16 would be deemed a failure if they didn’t accomplish these feats.
However, both Ponds and Dunn agreed that their final go-around with the Orange Wave would’ve been a disappointment if they fell short of anything less than championship glory.
“We’d get in there, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” Ponds said, alluding to Jefferson’s previous shortcomings at winning it all. “I think it was important that we win this year in me and Rah’s last year. For us coming together, winning one as freshmen, we had to go out with one.”
Dunn also says that part of the motivation for ending the season as champions was living up to what he felt like became a responsibility.
“Us being the captains and the leaders of the team, being who we are in the school, a lot of people look up to us,” he said. “A lot of people wanted us to do it and I feel like if we didn’t do it, we would let them down. In fact, we wanted to break a record and make coach happy.”
While knowing that his star guards had the ability to play at the D1 level, Coach Pollard said that his expectations have been exceeded, especially with Ponds in particular.
“I didn’t think Shamorie would become one of the top-20 players in the country,” Pollard said. “Rasheem had the physical physique when he was younger, you could see that he was definitely going to be a superior athlete. Shamorie was a little short fat kid, he slimmed up,” coach said with a laugh.
“I still try to push them a little more because everybody could be a lot better, especially those two, because I still think they haven’t reached their potential,” he added.
Coach Pollard also added that he may need to give the boys the nod as the best backcourt he’s ever coached because of the level of success the two reached over the years.
“Over the last four years they did a lot of winning,” Pollard said. “Over 100 games on the J.V. and varsity levels, and they’ve been to the championship every year they’ve been here except for last year.”
They really did it all.
They kick-started Jefferson to a hot 10-2 start before losing five straight. Overcoming their worst skid of the season, they won each of their next six contests, defeating a rival school by 29 points after losing to them twice in the previous month, both by double digits.
More importantly, they’re going out as champs with D1 scholarships to continue playing in NYC.
“It’s close to home and we’ve got a hall of famer for a coach,” Ponds said of his future home at St. John’s. “I know the competition is going to be top notch because you’re basically playing against grown men. I’m just going to have to get in the gym, get stronger, do basically everything quicker for the next level.”
Dunn, who will be joining a loaded backcourt in Brooklyn Heights, was also supportive of his future coaching staff, citing them as one of the main reasons for electing to attend St. Francis-Brooklyn.
“Clive [Bentick], coach Ronnie [Ganulin], coach [Jamaal] Womack and head coach [Glenn] Braica, they’re all good coaches,” Dunn said. “They play my style of play. It’s right at home too, I’m a Brooklyn kid so I’d rather stay home and play. I’m expecting a lot of defense.
“[I have to be] in the gym shooting everyday,” he added. “Be the first one in and the last one leaving.”
Their closing thoughts are equally as heartfelt and sincere as they end the final chapter of two storybook high school careers.
“I know that I’m not going to ever fall out of touch with my teammates,” Dunn said. “Just playing on the court, pushing them and them looking up to me and asking what to do next. I’m just going to miss those guys.”
“I’m going to miss all the attention that was here, I’m going to miss the players, the coaches,” Ponds added. “I’m just going to miss Jeff, period.”
In terms of what he expects out of his boys moving forward, Coach Pollard says that Ponds and Dunn should excel and get bigger, faster and stronger because they’re both only 17 years old.
“They both come from good households and good parents,” Pollard said. “It was a collaborative effort to get those guys to where they’re at now. I think a lot of people played a role in that, and more so, they wanted it. When you got kids that want it, and you help them get there, that’s a good thing to see.”
Follow Bryan Fonseca on Twitter at @BryanFonsecaNY.