When Pat Bolden of Inglewood was a standout basketball player at Cal State Northridge, he set his sights high--10 feet high.
Repeatedly seeking out the basket, Bolden finished his career with 1,081 points, fourth in school history. The more he scored, he thought, the better his chances of being noticed by scouts for professional teams.
Although undoubtedly one of the finest basketball talents ever to play at Northridge, Bolden never received a pro contract. For the past two years, he has struggled to keep alive his dream of making it to the pro ranks.
Patience finally seems to have paid off, however. Bolden, a 6-foot-5 off-guard, is flourishing as a member of the NBA Pro team that is competing in the Southern California Summer Pro League at Loyola Marymount. His teammates include Ralph Sampson of the Sacramento Kings and Leon Wood, most recently of the New Jersey Nets.
Before the start of Thursday night’s game against the NBA Stars, led by Byron Scott of the Lakers, Bolden tried not to rush through warm-ups.
“I’m just so happy to be out here that I don’t want it to end,” said Bolden, a three-year starter who played at Northridge from 1984 to ’88. “I’m finally getting my big break, and I want to make the most of it. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Bolden, a former All-Southern Section guard at L.A. Lutheran High in Burbank, is averaging 14 points a game as a reserve for the NBA Pros. His play has been so impressive that Coach Joe Weakley, an assistant at Crenshaw High, is certain that some team will invite Bolden to try out.
“Pat is good enough to go on to the next level,” Weakley said. “I don’t know why he didn’t get noticed before. He can do some very good things on the court. Perhaps he just wasn’t getting enough exposure at Northridge. It’s not a school known for its development of basketball players.”
Improving his skills enough to impress pro scouts has been a difficult task. After averaging 16.4 points during his senior season, Bolden was neither drafted nor contacted by any teams, and he did not have an agent.
Bolden tried out for the Summer Pro League at Loyola in 1988 and was selected to play on a free-agent team. Although he performed well, there were no serious offers at the end of the three-week league. He was invited to attend leagues in both Mexico and Ecuador, but plans fell through at the last minute.
For the next year, Bolden worked as a salesman for a video distribution company in Woodland Hills and took some classes at Northridge. He also played in a few recreation leagues to stay in shape and waited for another chance to play in the Summer Pro League.
He played on a free-agent team again last summer, and this time he came out of it with an agent, Mike Arias, who helped him get a tryout with the Wichita Falls Texans of the Continental Basketball Assn.
“I made the first cut there and thought I had a good chance of making the team,” Bolden said. “When they chose the final 10, I was listed as the 11th man. A lot of guys, including myself, couldn’t believe I didn’t make the team. It was very political.
“But it was a very good experience for me. I really improved my game. The competition was great.”
When the tryout ended in November, Bolden went back to the drawing board. He moved in with his parents, Prentis and Beverly Bolden, in Inglewood and began preparing for this summer.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was 8, so it’s in my blood and I want to keep going,” Bolden said. “At the same time, there have been many frustrating moments. I have felt like giving up quite a few times. Everyone has been so supportive that I just keep going. I know I’m good enough to make it, but it’s easy to get down on yourself.”
Bolden, who at 200 pounds said he is in the best shape of his life, started to have a change of luck this spring. His mother initiated conversations with Fred Slaughter, an ex-UCLA player and well-known agent whose clients include Wood and John Williams of the Washington Bullets.
Slaughter agreed to watch Bolden in the Run-'N-Shoot League at Crenshaw and liked what he saw. By mid-June, Slaughter agreed to represent Bolden and secured a place for him on Weakley’s team.
“The problem Pat’s had the past couple years is a lack of exposure,” Slaughter said. “The scouts don’t notice you when you’re on a free-agent team. But when you’re with the pros, you get noticed.
“I’m very impressed with how he’s doing. He’s got a great jump shot and plays hard defense. He has a pro body. I think I’ll be able to get him tryouts with several NBA teams. It was simply a matter of getting him where he should be.”
Although Bolden acknowledged being a bit nervous in the beginning about playing with the likes of Scott, Sampson and Wood, he said he now feels comfortable on his new team and is holding his own. Wood agrees.
“When we started practicing for the Summer League, I had no idea who Pat Bolden was,” said Wood, a 6-3 guard. “But he’s certainly caught my attention. That boy can really play. He’s a very good ballhandler.”
Bolden said that since he joined the NBA Pros, he is able to make decisions much more quickly on the court, allowing him to anticipate what’s going to happen and get free for an open shot.
If Bolden fails to get an invitation to an NBA camp, he appears likely to generate interest from foreign teams.
“I would love the opportunity to play in Europe,” he said. “Italy or France would be great.
“I’m just happy to finally be getting my chance.”