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For GW's Pinnock, Altered Identity Is Only Part of a Transformation

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By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 17, 2005

In one sense, the transition from J.R. Pinnock to Danilo Pinnock was a simple matter. After one preseason practice in late October, George Washington's starting guard approached the school's sports information director and said that henceforth, in news releases and box scores and television reports, he wanted to be known by his real first name, Danilo.

That was his father's name, and it was his 2-year-old son's name. It was the name under which he competed for the Panamanian national team last summer, and it was the name he wanted to use for his junior season.

In another sense, though, the process was more complex. The transition from J.R. to Danilo turned a player who was ineligible to play basketball his senior year of high school into the leading scorer for the No. 15 team in the nation. It turned an opinionated freshman who would occasionally melt down with frustration into a junior who coaches say is one of the emotional leaders of their team. It turned a teenager who would barricade himself in his bedroom to avoid his father into a 22-year-old who has taken on his father's name to make him proud.

And that transition has left coaches saying that they hardly recognize this Danilo Pinnock as the same person who arrived in Foggy Bottom 2 1/2 years ago.

"It's not even close," George Washington Coach Karl Hobbs said. "He's the fire of our team. My question for him is, 'Are you going to warm the house up or are you going to burn the house down? How are you going to use that fire?' And I'll tell you what, he probably has come as far as anyone in our program."

The origins of "J.R." were fairly straightforward. Pinnock's father had immigrated to the United States from Panama as a teenager, and his army career took the family to Texas, Seattle, Alaska, Alabama and Georgia, where no one seemed to be able to pronounce "dah-Neel-oh." Tired of being called Daniel and Danny and Dan, Pinnock became universally known as J.R., for "Junior."

The son had always been above average in both class work and athletics, but as a high schooler in suburban Atlanta he began feuding with teachers and then losing interest in school. His father went to look at his son's progress reports and saw 80s and 90s on tests, and nothing but zeros on homework assignments.

By the second semester of his senior year, Pinnock, who had also been a successful wide receiver on the football team, no longer had the grades to play sports, and so he paid even less attention.

"I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm not slow," he said. "I just didn't have a purpose. . . . I was going, but there wasn't no point in me going. I wasn't doing nothing."

Around the same time, he and his father began arguing more, about his friends and his habits and his behavior. His father -- who retired after 21 years in the Army, earned two bachelor's degrees as an adult and is working on a master's in information resources management -- tried to persuade Pinnock to take school seriously and to think about his future. A few times, the disagreements prompted Pinnock to leave home and stay with friends; his American-born mother, Bootsie, would then persuade him to return.

"Now I can sit here and say it was my fault," Pinnock said. "It was just me being young and dumb."

Finally, with Pinnock unable to qualify for college, his father, AAU Coach Desmond Eastmond and mentor Kevin Wales helped Pinnock enroll at Coastal Christian, a prep powerhouse in Virginia Beach. During that year Pinnock made and then broke a verbal commitment to Wichita State, and his girlfriend became pregnant with their son. He thought about leaving school and getting a job, but was instead persuaded to go to college and wound up at George Washington He averaged 9.8 points as a freshman, was named to the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team and impressed coaches as an extraordinarily hard worker. Still, his emotions spilled over on the court, and if he missed several shots in a row or was removed from a game or corrected by a coach, he was likely to lose both his focus and his temper.


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