Rodney Pryor’s Long Journey to the Hilltop
When Rodney Pryor began his college basketball career in 2011, Georgetown’s current Class of 2020, including freshman guard Jagan Mosely, was starting the eighth grade. LeBron James had not yet won an NBA championship. Snapchat did not exist, and President Obama had just over one full year left — in his first term in office.
Now, entering his sixth season and his fourth new college, the 24-year old senior guard wants to make the most of his final collegiate season. Being the oldest on the team, Pryor has already become a leader on his new team for his younger teammates.
“You know, they joke around with me being the old head on the team,” Pryor said. “They got a lot of jokes, so that’s funny. When we get serious, I try to give them as much knowledge and wisdom that I can give them as far as what it takes to bring it every day.”
Pryor’s college basketball career has been filled with adversity. He graduated high school as a member of the Class of 2011, the same class as former Hoya Otto Porter, Jr., who is now in his fourth season in the NBA. Pryor then enrolled at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, where he played one season before transferring to Cloud County Community College in Kansas.
In two full seasons at Cloud County, Pryor did not play in a single game. In his team’s first scrimmage in 2012, he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. He recovered well enough to start practicing prior to the 2013-14 season, but in Cloud County’s first practice, he broke a bone in his foot, forcing him to miss that season as well.
Despite the adversity, Pryor did not give up, instead turning the injuries into a source of motivation.
“Those injuries really made me into the person I am today — just being able to persevere through such tough times, then going through a rehab process, knowing how to dedicate my time and body to being healthy and stuff like that,” Pryor said.
Pryor went on to have two successful seasons at Robert Morris, a Division-I school that plays in the Northeast Conference. He was named an All-Northeast Conference player in both seasons, a member of the all-conference second team in 2014-15 and an all-conference first team nomination last season. Last season, he averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and 1.7 assists per game as Robert Morris’s leading scorer.
When he arrived at Georgetown, Pryor immediately took on a leadership role with his new team. He was headstrong and assertive, so much so that some teammates harbored some resentment towards his attitude.
“From day one he came in, he was very vocal,” junior forward Isaac Copeland said. ‘At first it kind of rubbed me the wrong way like, `What is this new dude talking about all this stuff for?’ But after week one or week two I was like, he’s going to be a big part of our team this year.”
Despite any initial misgivings, Pryor has earned the respect of his teammates, several of whom mentioned his experience as a key factor in his leadership ability.
“Rodney’s brought a lot,” senior forward Reggie Cameron said. “He’s always guiding the team — he’s been through a lot. He came here trying to be a leader from the first day, which everybody needs. He leads by example and also with his voice as much as possible.”
Pryor has continued to assert himself as a leader as the team prepares for the upcoming season.
“He’s taken that leadership role, he doesn’t take any slack from anyone,” sophomore center Jessie Govan added. “I really appreciate that. He’s been helping me out, showing me different ways I can play with him, so I feel like I’ve got good chemistry with him.”
Individually, Pryor is focused on making sure that he leaves it all on the court in his final collegiate season.
“To give 120 percent every time I step on the floor,” Pryor said of what fans should expect of him when he takes the floor. “I’m going to give my passion to the game and obviously to the Georgetown fan base and everything. Just seeing the greats that came here and how hard they used to play, just try and bring that tradition back.”
After two successful seasons at Robert Morris, Pryor was heavily recruited as he searched for a place to play his final season of collegiate eligibility. Outside of Georgetown, he also looked at Kansas, Oregon and Gonzaga among others, choosing Georgetown because he felt needed by the coaching staff.
“The need and want, I was looking for that a lot. Obviously Kansas is a top-tier school, but I didn’t feel the need for me was as high because they’ve got great players,” Pryor said. “I knew Georgetown needed me and wanted me at the same level.”
So far, Thompson has been impressed by Pryor’s work ethic and effort level.
“He puts in as many hours as anyone. The guys respect his game, they respect his work ethic,” Thompson said. “A lot of times people assume that the oldest person is going to be the leader, and that’s not always the case. But I think the guys respect just how hard he plays, how hard he works, how committed he is.”
On the court, Pryor has a versatile skill set. Standing at 6-foot-5, the left-handed guard is a dangerous scorer from all areas of the court. In just two seasons at Robert Morris, he scored over 1,000 points, averaging 15.6 points per game in his first season before increasing that to 18 per game last year.
Pryor is also a threat as an outside shooter, making 130 three-pointers in his two seasons as a Colonial. However, his three-point shooting declined from his first year to his second year, as he made 81 three-pointers on 42.9 percent shooting in 2014-15 before dropping to 49 threes at a 29.0 percent success rate last season. Pryor’s outside shooting will be a stat to watch early in the season as he attempts to regain the rhythm he found two seasons ago.
One of the key storylines surrounding this year’s team is a potential change in the team’s offensive philosophy. Thompson did not directly address the possibility that his offense might move away from his traditional Princeton offense towards a more fast-paced style, but he believes that Pryor could succeed in any offense.
“The thing about Rodney, he can play any kind of way,” Thompson said. “He’s a very, very good player. And his biggest asset, skillset, is just how hard he plays. He’s someone that can score, but at the same time he rebounds, he defends. If it’s a loose ball he’s going to get on the floor.”
Pryor excelled in the fast-paced style of the Kenner League, an annual summer league that takes place in McDonough Arena. He had several 30-point performances and led his team to the Kenner League final, where he scored 40 points in a losing effort. Pryor, along with junior guard and fellow transfer Jonathan Mulmore, looks to push the pace when he gets his hands on the ball this season.
“We’ve been here since Kenner League, just showing our speed and athleticism and translating it over here to practice, we really push each other,” Pryor said. “I’m pushing Jonathan in sprints, we’re trying to win every sprint — little things like that. When we’re getting defensive rebounds, trying to push it, get into something as fast as we can, and if not, then execute in the half court.”
Despite his scoring prowess, Pryor heavily focuses on the defensive side of the ball. He uses his size, length and athleticism to guard a variety of players on the perimeter and holds himself to a very high standard defensively.
“One of my main individual goals is winning Defensive Player of the Year,” Pryor said of his goals within the Big East conference. “I want to really commit myself to the defensive end because I know that’s how you win championships.”
Pryor’s transition to Georgetown has also been smooth off the court. He has enjoyed his experience in Georgetown’s Masters program and has worked hard to cultivate relationships with his new teammates.
“It’s been great,” Pryor said. “We hang out all the time. We go out to eat, we go bowling, stuff like that, and on the court we really compete, we don’t hold anything back, and I think that’s really helped us to where we got today, because if you hold back and you don’t really go at each other, then I think you’re not benefiting each other.”
He also devotes some of his time off the court to continue to build his relationship with Thompson.
“I try to get up to his office as much as I can, to pick his brain, watch film, and whether it’s just a talk on a lifestyle basis, just asking him about life decisions that he made, things like that,” Pryor said. “Just trying to get more comfortable with him, so on the court, when he’s yelling at me, I know why.”
After a college career filled with twists and turns, Pryor has arrived at his final stop. He is motivated by the challenges he has faced, his desire to win championships and the opportunity to finally compete in a top Division I conference. But more than anything else, Pryor is determined to make the most of his final opportunity to play college basketball and justify the faith Thompson has shown in him.
“Just being the kid coming out of high school not having anything and out of junior college not really having anything,” Pryor said, referencing his lack of recruitment. “Having the blessing to go to Robert Morris, to have a top tier school like this want me and need me, it goes a long way. And I want to make sure I prove to them that they picked the right person.”