Sophomore Don Pompan, the number one player on the Harvard tennis team, was walking past Leverett House one day last fall--striding purposefully, chattering non-stop to two friends, carrying a couple of organic chemistry books under his arm--when a teammate observing this scene turned and said, "You know, Don treats his whole life like it's reading period."
And when you consider what Pompan has done on the tennis court for the Crimson this spring, you would have to agree that the only possible evaluation of his performance is Group I. The intense, competitive Californian won the New England tennis championship without losing a set last weekend, virtually ensuring a spot in the NCAA tournament. His season's record stands at 18-3, 14-0 east of the San Andreas fault.
More important, he has fashioned his own special brand of third-set lightning this season, winning all seven of his matches that have gone the full three sets by a combined game total of 44 to 18.
Pompan who combines extremes of intensity and clownishness in his personality is all business on the court. In a match, he plays with trance-like concentration and stalks his opponent constantly. More often than not, the opponent cracks.
"It's just my philosophy that a tennis match is inevitably going to come down to a few points." Pompan said yesterday morning as the team prepared to leave for its biggest match of the year at Princeton. "It's the player that wins those few points who will take the match. Once you recognize that you're one step ahead of the game. A lot of players are under the illusion that they're going to blow a player out, but if it's a good player, he's always going to be in the match."
Pompan himself fits the description. He adapts to match situations so well that he can stay in the match even against players at a level or two above him. Nationally ranked Rocky Vasquez of Pepperdine and Matt Woolridge of Irvinc both handled him in straight sets during Harvard's first week of play, but each game was tightly contested.
"He's so solid that unless the guy really comes out and blows him off, he's always in the match," doubles partner Andy Chaikovsky said. "Almost at any level of tennis, somebody will break down a little sometimes. Not Don."
Pompan, in fact, doesn't break down in any phase of life. A study in ceaseless energy, he works on his pre-med course-work non-stop sometimes even at matches and once he starts talking it's tough to make him stop.
He'll talk your ear off about any subject, and he loves to do imitations of people ranging from Maxwell Smart to Leonard K. Nash to Brent Musburger. And he's been known to rattle off questions in machine-gun fashion, sometimes leaving no time for a response.
He is, unquestionably, the number one character on a tennis team that has more than its share of jokers. And his gregarious nature has earned him a team record number of nicknames--Pomps, Pompano and Donaldo, among others.
Pompan, who is a dead ringer for Starsky the TV detective, often uses his clownishness at appropriate moments. On the spring trip, at a time when intra-squad rivalry for positions on the varsity ladder was particularly tense. Pompan established a "humor ladder" and arbitrarily moved teammates up and down the ladder according to how funny he thought their jokes were.
Another time, just before altough match, Pompan looked down and said: "Hey, look how small those people are down there. They look like ants. Oh, they are ants."
At times, though, the zaniness gives way to ultra-seriousness. "At the New Englands, anytime we'd go out on the court I'd be talking to people I knew there," Chaikovsky, a native of Hartford, said, "and he'd say. 'C'mon, Chai, quit signing autographs and play.'"