Michael Pomeroy plays his final game in the Swannanoa Valley
As a young kid growing up in the Swannanoa Valley, Michael Pomeroy was introduced to the sport of basketball. It was love at first sight.
So perhaps it was fitting that the final time the Warren Wilson College senior laced up his sneakers and took the court in his hometown, it was Valentine’s Day, when the Owls held Senior Night.
Many in the Valley have associated Pomeroy’s name with the sport of basketball since he stepped on the court as a seventh grader at Owen Middle School. But his relationship with the game started long before that.
“My grandad got me hooked on basketball,” Pomeroy said in an interview last week. “When I was little we used to go to YMCA and swim, and when we were done we would always go up to the gym and shoot. He would always try to teach me the hook shot.”
As Pomeroy got older his interest in the sport grew. As a young child he was taller than many of his peers, which gave him an advantage on the court. However, travel basketball taught him early not to be complacent.
“Everybody (here) thought I was so good in fourth and fifth grade because I had a height advantage over the other kids,” he said. “I went to a travel ball tournament in Atlanta and the first play of the game - I’ll never forget this - a kid threw it off the basketball and dunked. I was like ‘wow, basketball is a lot bigger than the Swannanoa Valley.’”
The competitor in Pomeroy fueled a desire to improve. By the time he joined the team at Owen Middle School, during the seventh grade, he was a confident and competent basketball player.
Chuck Robinson, who would later coach the varsity basketball team at Owen High School for six seasons, was the head coach of the junior varsity program when Pomeroy was in middle school. Robinson left Owen following the 2016-17 season to coach his alma mater, North Buncombe. But while he was at Owen, he produced four 1,000-point career scorers. Pomeroy was the first (Brian Bartlett, Mathew Brown and Ben Craig were the others).
“We knew we had a special player coming to Owen,” Robinson said, recalling the first time he met Pomeroy. “I went down (to OMS) and watched him several times his eighth-grade year. And I remember sitting down with Mike and his mother and talking to him about going straight to varsity as a freshman.”
Robinson had no doubt Pomeroy could compete at the varsity level, but he knew the transition can be tough. Pomeroy, who was a 6-foot-2 guard coming into the program, was confident, however.
It didn’t take long for him to establish himself at the high school level. He played the majority of his freshman season on varsity and averaged double-digit point totals from his sophomore season on. He led the region in scoring his senior year with 22.9 points per game. That season he picked up his 1,000th career point on Dec. 5, 2013.
“Mike is a great leader,” Robinson said. “His teammates look up to him, and he’s an awesome shooter and scorer. He helped turn the Owen program around.”
Pomeroy is proud of his Warhorse career. “I used to look up in the rafters and see the retired jerseys of Brad Daugherty and Brad Johnson and think I wanted my jersey up there one day,” he said. “I just wanted to get on the court, have fun and be remembered as a player who had fun out there.”
Warren Wilson College head coach Anthony Barringer was a point guard for the Owls when he reached out to Robinson in 2012 to do his service learning project with the basketball team at Owen.
“I remember walking into the gym, before Mike’s junior season, and asking the players who was the best player in there,” said Barringer, who took over as the head coach at Warren Wilson prior to the 2015-16 season. “Everybody pointed at Mike. Not one of them disagreed.”
Barringer and Pomeroy quickly built a relationship on the foundation of their shared love for basketball. The two began working out together, and Pomeroy continued to get better.
When Pomeroy enrolled at Montreat College as a freshman, his college basketball career started just a few miles from where his high school career ended. He struggled to find playing time under former head coach Lincoln Walters.
“That was the first time I really experienced that,” Pomeroy said of being unable to crack a starting lineup. “It drained my confidence, but honestly I don’t regret it. That experience helped me grow as a person.”
After his freshman year he contacted Barringer, his former workout partner who had been named the Owls' interim head coach. Pomeroy, who considered quitting the sport, felt at home on the Swannanoa campus immediately.
As a player, the Owls were getting someone who “at his best is unguardable,” according to Barringer. However, Pomeroy’s value to the program supersedes his skills on the court.
“Mike is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever been around,” Barringer said. “For someone who has been the man on the basketball court in this area for so long, you would never know it by what a humble guy he is. He’s wise beyond his years.”
A knee injury derailed Pomeroy’s junior season, forcing him to miss nine games. Barringer believes the guard would’ve earned a spot on the All-American team had he remained healthy. Pomeroy was cleared to return to action just a few days before the beginning of his senior season. He scored a season-high 25 points on Feb. 3 and is averaging around 12 points per contest this year.
Going into his senior season, the psychology major committed to becoming a more vocal leader. He's trying get the team get back into the postseason, something that hasn't happened since Pomeroy’s sophomore year.
He’s happy he decided to attend college in his hometown. “Coming to Warren Wilson gave me a totally different outlook on a lot of stuff,” he said. Preparing to take the court in DeVries Gymnasium on Valentine's Day, his final game with the Owls, he called the occasion a “cheerful one.”
“I’m not sad because my college basketball career is ending,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets, I’d rather celebrate all of the opportunities basketball has given me.”