Waves Star Could be Early Round Pick in NBA : Season Ends, and Waiting Begins

Times Staff Writer

Levy Middlebrooks is through with Pepperdine basketball, but basketball is probably not through with him.

Lakers General Manager Jerry West says the 6-6 1/2, 240-pound Middlebrooks could be chosen within the first three rounds of this year's National Basketball Assn. draft in June.

Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick thinks that an NBA team will draft Middlebrooks, named the outstanding player in the West Coast Athletic Conference this past season. And if he does not make it with an NBA team, Harrick said, "he'll play somewhere."

Middlebrooks says Harrick has told him that NBA scouts have shown interest in him during his college career. And the Pepperdine senior thinks he can play with the big boys--even though by NBA standards he is not considered as tall as a power forward should be.

West said: "People (in the NBA) find him an intriguing prospect. He's a big old guy that everyone wishes were three inches taller."

But West added that Middlebrooks has "good skills, is a hard-working kid," and that "(lack of) size hasn't been a deterrent" to such NBA players as Spud Webb and Charles Barkley.

Middlebrooks mentioned Barkley and Adrian Dantley as NBA players who have become stars even though they give away height to other front-court players.

"I think it's pretty much mental," Middlebrooks said. "I have the physical (ability), so I don't worry about my height."

In his four years in the WCAC, the physical attributes of the San Francisco native often made opposing coaches and players in the conference worry.

Before the beginning of last season, Harrick said Middlebrooks could "lie in bed and get 10 rebounds a game." He lived up to his coach's expectations, averaging 10.7 rebounds to lead the WCAC this year and finishing his career as Pepperdine's all-time rebounding leader with 972. He was also named the conference player of the year for 1987-88.

Often he out-rebounded players who were several inches taller. He did so by getting good position or by out-jumping taller players. As NBA commentator Tom Heinsohn might say, Middlebrooks can "sky," though his jumping ability didn't come as naturally as his massive physique.

His shoulders are so broad that he has to edge his way through narrow doorways, his hips so narrow that three sets of them could probably go through the same doorway side by side.

Middlebrooks is so muscular that he could easily win body-building contests, but he said he never lifted weights before he came to Pepperdine. He said he started some weight training after his sophomore year but "never really worked that hard."

However, he has worked hard to develop his jumping ability. While at Pepperdine, he has often run mile after mile along the beach to develop spring in his legs. Sometimes, he said, he ran "so hard that I felt like I was going to throw up."

He knows that he will have to work hard at diversifying his game to make it in the NBA and says he is willing to put in the work.

His best, sometimes his only, shot has been a high-arching base-line jumper. He liked to put it up when he was close to the basket and seldom shot it from farther away than 15 feet.

"I have a pretty good outside shot; I just have to work on it," Middlebrooks said. "Coach Harrick needed me on the inside to rebound and as a defensive player, guarding big guys.

"I need to work on my ball handling and also on my defense. And developing offensive moves is very important, very important."

Harrick agrees with that evaluation. "He has to increase his shooting range and improve his moves to the basket. He could probably use a few more shots in his repertoire."

"But on the positive side," Harrick added, "he has a great body, runs the floor well, shoots the ball, has great legs and can rebound."

Saying Middlebrooks can rebound is a little like what someone once said about young Fred Astaire--he could "dance a little." But you have to do more than just rebound in the NBA.

Middlebrooks does not shrink from the hours he will have to put in to develop his game. He points out that even a star such as Larry Bird has "worked at it a whole lot."

West said the big Pepperdine senior "can be a viable (NBA) player if he is put into a productive situation."

Though he wants to play professional basketball, in Europe if not in the NBA, Middlebrooks, the 1984 Bay Area player of the year at St. Ignatius High in San Francisco, said he definitely will finish college. He said he plans to complete work for his degree in communications in two terms of summer school.

Eventually, he wants a job counseling young people. A man of strong religious convictions, Middlebrooks has led Bible study classes for Pepperdine basketball teams and says he might also like to do some preaching as a layman.

He is motivated to finish college, he says, so that he can get a good job and help provide for his mother, Betty, who was disabled by a back injury years ago and forced to retire from her job at an Army base.

His father separated from his mother "when I was very little," Middlebrooks said, "and my mother took care of us ever since." He has a 20-year-old sister, Levette.

"We went through a whole lot of rough times. There were times when there were no meals on the table. I want to finish up school and make sure everything is financially stable so that I can take care of my mother," Middlebrooks said.

In his favorite class at Pepperdine--one on communications and conflict, which dealt with society and its problems--Middlebrooks said he learned "how to be a leader and what to do and what not to do."

He may also have learned what it takes to become a top professional player. If he hasn't yet learned it, he says, he will--and so do others in the know.

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