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COLLEGE BASKETBALL ’86-87 : WCAC Preview : Conference Is Upgrading, but It Is Still Facing an Identity Crisis

Times Staff Writer

A conference crying out for an identity probably lost more stars than it has coming back--including three high NBA draft choices in Keith Smith, Forrest McKenzie and Dwayne Polee. So the West Coast Athletic Conference may face another season of relegation to the small type on sports results pages.

But the league is making some inroads in its image as a minor league for the Pacific 10.

Pepperdine, under Coach Jim Harrick has played DePaul and Houston competitively and lives up to Harrick’s boast that the Waves will play anyone, anywhere. UCLA, DePaul, Washington State and Marquette are on the nonconference schedule this season.

Loyola Marymount made a statement last March in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, beating California in a fervid Harmon Gym.

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With the league’s approval--and some nudging--most of the eight teams are toughening their schedules, weeding out lower division opponents.

And the WCAC, like the Pac-10, will go to a postseason tournament to determine the team getting the automatic NCAA bid.

The University of San Diego and defending champion Pepperdine are the favorites for that bid. Last season, the Southern California triangle--Pepperdine, Loyola and San Diego--swallowed the league. “We think the balance of power remains there until we see different,” Commissioner Michael Gilleran said.

The league is seen as more balanced than a year ago, however, with Pepperdine boasting the only preseason All-American, 6-8 forward Eric White. That doesn’t make Harrick overly confident, despite having appeared in four of the last five NCAA tournaments. “I see someone lurking in the bushes, always,” he said of the conference season.

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A capsule look at the WCAC teams:

PEPPERDINE

1985-86: 25-5, 13-1 The Waves have a relatively new lineup but boast a veteran duo up front in White and muscular 6-7 junior Levy Middlebrooks. Slender 6-11 sophomore Casey Crawford, who red-shirted last year, will open at center. Freshman Dexter Howard, 6-7, is expected to contribute. Ed Allen, a transfer from City College of San Francsico, appears to be one of the guards. Marty Wilson is the only letterman in the backcourt. At least three other guards will be looked at.

“We play in December and see who rises to the top,” Harrick said. He is confident that someone will rise to the top and he has a pretty good eye for back court players. “Every guard that’s ever started (in Harrick’s seven-year tenure) has been drafted,” he said.

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White, a fluid senior who averaged 15.3 and 15.9 points the last two seasons, has shot 56% for his three-year career and may be Pepperdine’s steadiest frontcourt player ever. “He’s not flash and not dash but when the end comes you’ll see him in the top four or five” in most categories, Harrick said.

Middlebrooks has been less consistent but the 225-pound junior has the potential to dominate. He averaged 10.3 points as a freshman but fell off to 8.2 last season. “He hasn’t even scratched the surface,” said Harrick, adding, tongue in cheek, “I call Levy my man-child. We’re trying to get the child out of there and we’ll be better off.”

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT 1985-86: 19-11, 10-4

The Lions lost the nation’s highest-scoring backcourt in Smith and McKenzie, who accounted for 41 points a game last season, and they may not have the WCAC scoring leader for the first time in five years. But Coach Paul Westhead believes that the Lions will continue to score, with a little more emphasis up front this season.

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“My goal is to replace those two with five,” he said. “We’ll be relentless in running downcourt.”

Brigham Young University transfer Chris Nikchevich will run the show, and 6-8 center Vic Lazzaretti and 6-7 forward Mike Yoest should be the recipients of his play making. Lazzaretti, out with a foot injury until mid-December last season, could be the key. Loyola began to click last season when he finally got into playing shape in February.

Yoest, a junior, emerged as a scorer in league play and finished with an 11.3 average. Mark Armstrong, a 6-6 forward, returns as the Lions’ best rebounder. Senior Darryl Carter, 6-8, returns as backup center. Westhead also added 6-10 John Veargason, a sophomore from San Jose City College.

Senior Dennis Vogel and talented sophomore Enoch Simmons join Nikchevich in the backcourt, along with freshman Jeff Fryer, a long-range specialist.SAN DIEGO

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1985-86: 19-9, 9-5

The Toreros have the league’s premier big man, 7-foot, 260-pound Scott Thompson, who averaged 14.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and blocked 52 shots last season. He has shot 54% for his three-year career. If Thompson is no Samson, he’s no Delilah, either. “That guy is a moving mountain,” Harrick said.

Also back are 6-8 forward Nils Madden, who was good for 9.3 points as a junior, and point guard Paul Leonard, who averaged 8 points and 7 assists. “Those three are a great anchor to build a team around,” said Coach Hank Egan, whose major need is outside shooting. He’s looking to sophomore guard Danny Means for that.

There’s more power up front in 6-9 Jim Pelton, a Palos Verdes resident who transferred from Kansas, and four-year varsity player Steve Krallman, 6-8, of Anaheim.

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SANTA CLARA 1985-86: 12-16, 7-7

Carroll Williams, the winningest coach in WCAC history, is back with four starters, among them one of the league’s better big men, 6-9 junior Dan Weiss, who averaged nine points last season. Also back are 6-8 Matt Wilgenbush, 6-9 Jens Gorden and 6-5 Mitch Burley, plus 6-9 backup center Darrin Underwood.

The starting backcourt graduated, so Williams added Osei Appiah of Long Beach Poly and Roland H’Orvath of El Camino College to go with letterman Chris Lane.

With 11 lettermen in all, his counterparts expect Williams to bounce back from last season’s uncharacteristic 12-16 season.

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SAN FRANCISCO 1985-86: 7-21, 2-12

If Santa Clara had an uncharacteristic year, how about USF going 7-21? “We’re on the cover of everybody’s media guide,” cracked Coach Jim Brovelli.

Of course, the Dons were in their first season of rebuilding after having closed down the program for three years. They may not be such easy pickings this time around. Top guard Rodney Tention missed most of last season with an injury but is healthy now.

In fact, most of the team suffered through an injury-filled season. And Mark McCathrion, a 6-8 blue-chip prospect, showed freshman inconsistency in averaging 9.8 points. Forward Anthony Mann, also back, led the team in scoring with a 10.4 average.

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To go with 6-11 center Peter Reitz, Brovelli has added 6-10 Joe Seager from Orange Coast College and 6-9 Pat Giusti, a transfer from Oregon State. He also likes guard Keith Jackson from Taft College. Brovelli wouldn’t mind making the WCAC tournament final four, which will be played at USF.

ST. MARY’S

1985-86: 10-17, 3-11

Lynn Nance is making his debut as the Gaels’ coach after compiling a 156-90 record at Iowa State and Central Missouri State. He will have 10 lettermen from last season’s 10-17 club, including one of the conference’s better guards in Paul Robertson to go with sophomore forward Robert Haugen, who was WCAC freshman of the year.

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Robertson, a fifth-year senior, led the Gaels in scoring with a 15.8-point average, shot 52% and set a school record with an .866 free throw percentage. The 6-7 Haugen was good for 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game and shot 65%.

Incumbent center Scott Mayer, 6-9, is being pushed by 6-9 junior college transfer Dan Curry. Sophomore David Carter from Crenshaw High returns at point guard.

PORTLAND 1985-86: 13-15, 4-10

The Pilots don’t have much experience but Coach Jack Avina will take a two-way approach. He will have a power lineup with 6-9 sophomore Rich Antee, 6-7, 220-pound Adam Simmons and 6-5, 215-pound Edgar Foreman, then switch to a quicker lineup of 6-8 sophomore Jeff Hester, 6-8 freshman Jeff Paris and 6-6 freshman Andy Johnson.

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Antee, the focus of the attack, was a starter by the end of last season. Foreman had a 14-rebound game, best on the team.

The only returning starter is guard Thomas Thompson, who averaged 7.6 points but may be asked to shoot more with the addition of the three-point circle. Junior guard Greg Attaway also returns and was third-leading scorer with a 8.4 average.

GONZAGA

1985-86: 15-13, 8-6

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Gonzaga could be a split-personality team, with a veteran frontcourt and a new backcourt.

Returning are 6-4 sophomore swing man Jim McPhee and his 10.7 average, 6-8 center Dale Haaland, the team’s top rebounder, and 6-10 forward Mike Champion. If 6-7 junior Danny Roe continues to improve--he came on last season and averaged 10.1 points--Coach Dan Fitzgerald may switch McPhee, the first freshman to start for Gonzaga in eight years, to off-guard.

That still leaves the search on for a point guard. Senior Lenny Parham, who started three games, may get the nod.


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