Brandin Podziemski

How bitter college experience ignited Podziemski's NBA rise

NBC Universal, Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO – When the Warriors selected Brandin Podziemski in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft last June, the general reaction was skepticism, perhaps because many pre-draft projections tagged him as a second-round pick.

Or maybe because Podziemski played 69 minutes as a freshman at University of Illinois in the Big Ten and then transferred to mid-major Santa Clara University.

On Monday, less than one year after the 2023 draft and two years after that lost season on bench, Podziemski was certified as a potential star in the world’s greatest basketball league.

He was voted to the NBA’s All-Rookie first team. Same team as San Antonio Spurs big man Victor Wembanyama, Oklahoma City Thunder big man Chet Holmgren – both of whom are viewed as future All-Stars and pillars of NBA contenders.

“Being the 19th pick in an organization where not a lot of rookies get to play and ending up All-Rookie is a credit to my work ethic but also to my teammates and the coaches and front office for providing an opportunity,” Podziemski said 90 minutes after the All-Rookie team was announced.

Podziemski played in 74 of Golden State’s 82 games, making 28 starts. He averaged 9.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 26.6 minutes. He was third among NBA rookies in 3-point field goal percentage (38.5), fifth in assists (3.7), sixth in rebounds (5.8) and eighth in minutes (26.6).

He went from being a spectator with Illinois in 2022 to starting in the Warriors’ backcourt along alongside two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

It's a meteoric rise, to be sure, and there was no bigger boost than that which came to Podziemski during the 2021-22 season, when he was glued to the bench in 17 of the 33 games under Fighting Illini coach Brad Underwood.

“It gave me a chip on my shoulder because the first couple games I didn’t play, I really questioned my ability," Podziemski said. "Was I good enough to play? I really had to think about that, if it was really something I wanted to do, to push through it. I did because I love the game.

“And here we are today, two years later from when I transferred from Illinois. It’s been a pretty cool ride. To see where I’ve grown, developed, what I’ve become as a person, as a man, as a player.”

Once Underwood, according to Podziemski, “made it known that I was not good enough to play,” the Wisconsin native wanted no part of a second season at Illinois. He entered the transfer portal in May 2022 and Santa Clara pounced on the 6-foot-4, 185-pound combo guard.

Podziemski’s lone season with the Broncos was a rousing success. He averaged 19.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. He shared the West Coast Conference Player of the Year award with Gonzaga center Drew Timme.

“It was nice to be welcomed and loved by a coaching staff, and trusted with a heavy position on a team,” Podziemski said. “They can say it’s a mid-major or not, but through this year I proved it doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Podziemski’s arrival at Santa Clara came shortly after Jalen Williams departed after three seasons to enter the 2022 NBA Draft. Drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 12th overall pick, Williams also was voted All-Rookie first team – and finished second behind Orlando’s Paulo Banchero in the voting for Rookie of the Year.

Podziemski, 21, finished fifth in the 2024 Rookie of the Year voting, with Wembanyama winning the award and Holmgren finishing second.

Asked about highlights during his rookie season, Podziemski mentioned several moments, but one stood above all. When the Warriors went to Milwaukee, 11 miles northeast of his hometown, in January, Podziemski not only was in the starting lineup but scored 23 points (a season-high at the time) on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, adding 10 rebounds and three steals.

“I remember playing at Marquette when I was at Illinois,” Podziemski recalled. “A bunch of people were there, and I didn’t take my warmup off.

“To have that feeling and then come back two years later and play – and play well – even though we lost, it was a full-circle moment. Those same people got to come back and watch me.”

Podziemski keeps motivational receipts. As he should. They’ve served him well.

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