Steamboat basketball player commits to Colorado Mesa
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Eric Pollert, a 6-foot-7 senior for the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team, literally played a large role for the Sailors. His height on offense and discipline on defense helped the team to an elite eight appearance this past winter. Next year, he’s taking his talents to the next level, committing to play at Colorado Mesa University.
When Pollert didn’t get into his first choice of Colorado School of Mines, the idea of playing basketball in college took the backseat. However, one of his coaches, Jim Bronner, reached out to Mesa and asked if they would be interested in Pollert. Mesa head coach Mike DeGeorge then invited Pollert to a tryout.
A few weeks ago, Pollert attended a workout at Mesa. Former Steamboat coach Kelly Meek, who has been working with Pollert for more than two years, offered him some advice before going.
“You go in there and walk in there like you belong,” Meek told him. “He was always questioning himself. I always tell him, ’You’re gonna be what you think. If you think that way, you’ll hold yourself. If you think you can, there’s a good chance you will.”’
So, alongside current Mesa players, including former Sailor Mac Riniker, Pollert showed DeGeorge what he could do.
“We’re so proud of him, and we’re so happy for him,” said Eric’s mom, Kari Pollert. “He is so excited. We went down for a tryout, and he said it was the hardest workout he’s ever had.”
Even Riniker noted how hard the coaches worked Pollert. Still, the Sailor kept up, the Mesa staff liked what they saw, and they offered Pollert a spot on next year’s team.
Mesa is a Division II program and won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship two years in a row.
“We saw everything we saw on film and his coaches talked about,” DeGeorge said. “He’s just a big, strong, athletic, tough kid who plays really hard. We certainly have a need for that.”
Pollert, who is quick to point out his faults and doesn’t credit himself enough, was happy with how the workout went. He spoke with Meek afterwards, and the former coach was pleasantly surprised by how positive Pollert was about his performance.
“When he tells me he’s done something good, it has happened. He’s self-deprecating all the time,” Meek said. “He called me and he said, ‘I did great ball screens, I rim ran, I posted up hard, I finished on big guys.’ Seldom does he give you that assessment. It’s always, ’I could have done this, I could have done that.’ To hear him be like that is a big stepping stone. Now he sees the power in that.”
“Real religious about it”
Pollert’s rise in confidence has been a major factor in his evolution over the past few years from a potentially good player to one of the best in the state. When high school head coach Michael Vandahl and Meek saw Pollert play for the first time, he was awkward but fast and athletic. He just needed someone to provide the skills and time to refine him. Meek took on that responsibility.
The pair soon developed a relationship similar to that between Meek and Vandahl when Meek was coaching the Sailors prodigy. Like Vandahl, Pollert would call at all hours of the day and night asking if Meek was in town and if they could meet at the high school gym or the court in Meek’s yard.
Since he’s so big, Pollert’s opponents hack away at him during a game to try and slow him down. With their best effort in his face, Pollert has no fear of contact, according to Meek. He’s also astonishingly fast for an athlete of his size.
That relationship proved even more beneficial when Vandahl wasn’t allowed to host practices during the height of the pandemic. He was barely allowed to have contact with his athletes, so Meek’s involvement with the team was crucial to keeping Pollert and his teammates in tip-top shape.
“This last year, with all this junk that went on, kids couldn’t get in the gym, so he along with other high school kids spent a lot of time in our backyard,” Meek said. “Eric was real religious about it.”
Last summer when there were no camps and few leagues, Pollert and some Sailors sought out an outdoor league. They went on to dominate the league, and Pollert was named MVP. It was his work in the off-season that put him over the top of everyone else, not just his height.
“I think it’s his work ethic,” said Vandahl of what makes Pollert special. “His ability to show up when most people don’t want to. This summer, for example, there was a lot taken away from not just him but every kid his age. He didn’t let that stop him. He got to outdoor courts, and he found a way to keep working. He’s one of those guys I have to tell to take a break sometimes. He’d drive himself into the ground.”
With improvement and his teammates encouraging him, Pollert soon became more sure of himself and played with more conviction in games.
“It’d be the people around me, my coaches and teammates having that confidence in me that I could then have for myself,” Pollert said. “My teammates and coaches, they like me as a person, they were happy to push me and want me to develop myself so that I could be the best of myself.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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