When Scott Pohlman showed up one afternoon for a pickup game with Auburn basketball players for the first time as a freshman, Bryant Smith figured that the scrawny kid who looked like he was about 12 was "a manager or something."
Pohlman wasn't a manager.
But he is something.
Now a sophomore, the 6-foot-2, 160-pound shooting guard saved the top-seeded Tigers from elimination last weekend in the NCAA tournament's South Regional in Indianapolis.
Against ninth-seeded Oklahoma State, Pohlman scored a career-high 28 points in an 81-74 victory that put Auburn (29-3) into tomorrow night's Sweet 16 game against Ohio State (25-8).
"We had an answer to everyone but Pohlman," said Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton.
Not bad for a player who was pretty much an afterthought among college coaches coming out of Roswell, Ga. His high school coach, a former Division I assistant, had tried to drum up interest in Pohlman.
"Everyone had their evaluation," Rorie Pugliese said yesterday. "I told them, 'He can play at your level. Get over what he looks like.' We played in a tournament in Las Vegas over Christmas, and he made all-tournament. When we got home, nobody called. I couldn't figure it out."
The only scholarship offer the senior received was to Pepperdine. Pohlman seemed headed to its Malibu, Calif., campus.
"Beaches and girls," Pohlman recalled. "I thought I was going to have a hard time studying. I wanted to go closer to home, but most of the schools that were interested were Division II."
Things changed when Pohlman scored 32 points in a state playoff game. The opposing coach called Cliff Ellis at Auburn to tell him about Pohlman.
Ellis figured that after a couple of years in the weight room, Pohlman might be able to make a contribution. But the coach learned, as did his players, that the kid they now call "Opie" had been seriously underrated.
"The first scrimmage we had, he took over," Ellis said Saturday at the RCA Dome. "I thought, 'Let's see what he does in the second one.' And he took that one over, too. He's been there since Day One."
His new teammates realized quickly that Pohlman's ability was of a different degree from his unassuming persona.
"Size doesn't measure someone's heart," said junior point guard Doc Robinson.
Said Smith: "He showed a lot of tenacity. From the first time he played with us, he was taking it inside to our big guys. Teams will leave him alone at the beginning of the game, and that allows him to get into a rhythm."
That appeared to be Oklahoma State's strategy. The Cowboys did a good job of containing All-American Chris Porter inside, and held Auburn to four fast-break points.
By the middle of the first half, Pohlman had become the focal point of Auburn's offense, scoring 11 straight points in one stretch on his way to an 11-for-17 shooting performance. When he wasn't spotting up for threes outside, he was beating his opponents off the dribble.
"He just ran us to death," said Oklahoma State point guard Doug Gottlieb.
It leaves the fourth-seeded Buckeyes with an interesting dilemma going into tomorrow night's second semifinal game in Knoxville, Tenn.
Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien seems more concerned with stopping a team that averages nearly 20 offensive rebounds from crashing the boards. "I'd rather get beat on jump shots," he said.
But Pohlman is not simply a spot-up shooter. He drove the lane several times against Oklahoma State. On defense, he even took a couple of charges.
Pohlman's family used to take vacations in Destin, Fla., and drive right past the exit for the Auburn campus. Little did they know they'd be making that 140-mile drive many times.
"The first time he came home from visiting there, he had a good feel about about the campus," said his mother, Gail.
Pohlman has been a starter since the second game of his freshman year and a steady performer who averaged 10.6 points as a freshman and 11.3 during the regular season as a sophomore.
After not playing well in this year's Southeastern Conference tournament -- he averaged only 5.5 points in two games and shot a combined three of 14 from the field -- Pohlman seemed surprised himself to play a starring role in the NCAA tournament.
"I've been watching it on TV all my life," he said. "It's just unbelievable."
The motivation to get this far in March didn't necessarily come from all the slights Pohlman has had to overcome. It was strictly academic.
"I was thinking, if we win, I don't have to take finals this week," he said.
Nor did his performance change his image. As Pohlman was walking from the locker room at the RCA Dome, teammates Smith and Robinson held a revolving door shut with Pohlman inside for a few seconds.
He'll always be Opie to them.
Pub Date: 3/17/99