Because Jim Harrick left Pepperdine last April to become UCLA’s head basketball coach doesn’t mean that Harrick’s favorite saying, “Everything’s fine at the ‘Dine,” is no longer valid.
However, that doesn’t mean that Tom Asbury, Harrick’s successor and his top assistant for 9 years, intends to maintain the status quo at Pepperdine, even though the Waves won five West Coast Athletic Conference championships and advanced to postseason play six times under Harrick.
At Pepperdine’s basketball press day, Asbury said he is “cautiously optimistic” about his team’s prospects this season and that he expects to place more emphasis on defense and rely more on big men in the offense than in the past.
“We hope to be stronger defensively and have spent more time on defense,” he said, “but it’s going to take us a while.
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors, and I’m convinced that we’ll be better 4 or 5 years down the road. I know if Harrick were sitting here, he’d be saying the same thing.”
Harrick might not be saying the same thing about the offense. Asbury said the biggest gap he has to fill was created by the departure of 6-foot, 7-inch, 240-pound forward Levy Middlebrooks, the WCAC player of the year last season and the Waves’ career rebounding leader.
But Asbury thinks he has recruited some good big men capable of taking over some of the rebounding tasks of Middlebrooks, including junior David Hairston (6-8, 245) and freshman Geoff Lear (6-8, 220). Hairston, a transfer from Chabot Junior College, was an All-Golden Gate Conference selection. Lear won All-Southern Section 5-A honors at Bishop Amat High School, which lost in the 5-A finals to Mater Dei.
Asbury has redesigned the offense to put more big men in the lineup. “We have some size and bulk and may have to play two big guys at the same time for rebounding,” he said, “we have to put the big guys in the right place.”
A former star forward at Wyoming, Asbury would “probably rather have a bit bigger lineup than Harrick,” who played guard for Morris Harvey College in West Virginia and liked to use a 3-guard offense at times.
He may also have a deeper bench than Harrick. “This may be one of the deepest teams we’ve had in the last 10 years,” Asbury said. “We can put a lot of different lineups on the floor. There’s not a guy in our program that I’m afraid to play. On the flip side, there’s not a guy that I’m afraid to sit down.”
Two returning starters who won’t sit down often are 6-7 junior All-WCAC forward Tom Lewis, who averaged 23 points a game to lead the Waves last season, and 6-4 junior guard Craig Davis, a fine shooter from 3-point territory.
Asbury disclosed that Lewis was ill the last half of last season and lost 20 pounds. Lewis said he had been treated for “a chemical deficiency in my system” but characterized it as “nothing serious.” Asbury said he was told Lewis had “a low grade of flu.”
He said Lewis is a “real scoring machine” but has to “shore up his defense and rebounding” because Middlebrooks is gone.
The coach said he thinks that Davis “is about to blossom into the kind of player that Lute Olson said he was” when he saw him last season, “a first-round draft choice” in the National Basketball Assn. Asbury said Davis has been working hard on ball handling and defense.
Other returning starters are 6-3 senior guard Marty Wilson and 6-11 senior center Casey Crawford. Wilson missed the last 3 months of last season after knee surgery and was redshirted the previous season because of a herniated disc.
Wilson tore three of the four major ligaments in his left knee in a fall last January against Portland. Asbury said the injury was similar to those suffered by Seattle Seahawks running back Curt Warner and former San Diego Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow. He said he thinks that Wilson is “about 90%, is right there as a potential starter” and would not have recovered that well if he were not “tough and dedicated.”
Asbury has a few other problems that make things not so fine at the ‘Dine. The team’s sixth man, 6-7 junior forward Dexter Howard, broke his nose while battling for a rebound in practice last week and has missed some practice sessions, and 6-6 freshman forward Steve Guild from Huntington Beach Marina High School pulled a leg muscle on the first day of practice. Asbury said Guild has been held out of practice and would probably be “a little bit behind” when the season starts.
Asbury also said that 6-4 freshman Doug Christie, a star guard from Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, was “a Proposition 48 casualty.” That National Collegiate Athletic Assn. proposition specifies that a prospective freshman athlete meet certain standards in college entrance examinations or forfeit his first year of eligibility in college. So Christie won’t be practicing or playing for Pepperdine this season.
Among the newcomers expected to see a lot of playing time are 6-1 junior guard Shann Ferch, a redshirt last year after he transferred from Montana State, and Bishop Amat graduate Lear. Asbury said Ferch is an excellent shooter from the wings and that Lear may or may not start but would play a lot because “he’s awfully good.”
Asbury said that contending teams in the WCAC include defending conference champion Loyola Marymount, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara and Pepperdine. He said the conference should be stronger because of “good coaches, good schedules and better recruiting.”
The Waves will play home exhibitions at 4 p.m. Nov. 5 against Athletes in Action and at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 against the Czechoslovakian national team. Pepperdine will open the season Nov. 25 against Texas in the University of Hawaii’s Tip-Off Tournament in Honolulu and play its first home game against Northern Arizona at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1.