Ponder an asset to NWFSC basketball

Tina Harbuck | 315-4466 | @DestinLogTina | tharbuck@thedestinlog.com
Raider head coach Steve DeMeo sends walk-on Casey Ponder into the game as Northwest Florida State College takes on Enterprise State Community College at home. MICHAEL SNYDER/DAILY NEWS

From Rocky to a Raider, Destin’s Casey Ponder is making the most of his minutes on the hardwood.

Ponder, a 2015 graduate of Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville, walked on and earned a spot on the Northwest Florida State College Raider basketball team.

“He’s a great kid and very versatile,” said Raider Coach Steve DeMeo. “He brings a lot of energy and is a great teammate. We’re glad to have him on the team.

“He’s very smart defensively … he gets it," DeMeo added. "He’ll definitely help us with the program.”

And for Ponder that’s what he aspires to do, help where ever he can.

“I’m just thankful to be on the team,” said Ponder, the 19-year-old son of Mona and District 4 state Rep. Mel Ponder. “Even though I’m a walk-on, (the coaches) still treat me like a scholarship player. I still try to get as many reps as I can, just maximize the minutes that coach gives me.

“And I try to do my role the best that I can whatever it is,” Ponder said, noting it may be to sit the bench the entire game and cheer on his teammates or to play a couple of minutes.

However, like all players, Ponder, who stands 6-foot-6, wants to play.

Thus far, he has played in five games for the Raiders who are 12-2 going into the Christmas break.

Overall, he’s had 36 minutes of playing time, hit eight of 13 field goals and is a 100 percent from the free-throw line. He also has six rebounds.

“I love being a Raider,” Ponder said.

But he didn’t become a Raider without a little hard work and commitment.

Ponder worked all last spring and summer with the coaches at Northwest.

“We had an open gym where we scrimmaged each other and mainly I just kept showing up and tried to stay as committed as possible and kept putting my face in front of the coach. So eventually, after showing commitment to the program, I earned a spot on the team,” he said.

At Northwest Florida, Ponder plays power forward and loves it.

In addition to loving the game, he also loves the atmosphere of college ball.

“College basketball is a lot more intense and I like intensity. Every drill is intense, everything we do. It just has a better feel to it,” he said.

Also the gym has a bigger feel as well.

“There’s a little bit of a difference in the stadium size,” Ponder said, coming from Rocky to the college arena. “It has a bigger importance feel about it,” he added.

Another plus for college ball is traveling.

Ponder says the team gets a day for traveling before hitting the court.

“You have time to ... get ready for the atmosphere and locked in for the game,” he said.

“(In high school,) you’d get off the bus and have to play in 30 minutes. It’s a bit different.”

Ponder has been playing basketball for more than half his life.

He got his start playing basketball in the Destin youth basketball league at the Destin Community Center at age 7. From there he played for the Destin Middle School Marlins and then started at Fort Walton Beach High his freshman year.

He finished out his high school career at Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville.

His junior year at Rocky Bayou, the Knights won the school’s first-ever district championship.

As a Knight, Ponder played almost every position at one time or another from point guard to shooting guard, small forward and power forward.

“I actually played a little bit of everything, just where ever the coach put me,” he said.

While at Rocky, Ponder had a few games where he put up 20 points or more, but his biggest accomplishment was pulling off a triple double his senior year.

“To me that was a big deal,” he said. He hit double digits in points, rebounds and assists.

Thus far at Northwest Florida State, Ponder’s top score has been seven points, which he hit in his debut as a Raider against Enterprise State Community College.

“My best shot is the mid-range shot in between the paint and the 3-pointer,” he said. “That’s my go-to shot. If I catch the ball and I’m in that mid-range I’m looking to shoot it if I can.”

In addition to basketball, Ponder likes to play golf. He works part time at Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club in Destin as a cart attendant.

“I try to sneak in a little golf when I can,” he said, noting he’s a mid-80s guy.

The job helps him earn gas money for the commute back-and-forth to Niceville for school.

“It’s a blessing,” he said.

But not his only blessing.

“I’m blessed for the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the nation. … Go Raiders," Ponder said.