Although Shann Ferch has been only a reserve guard in his first year as a Pepperdine basketball player, he has already made one of this season’s All-America teams.
Ferch, a junior transfer from Montana State, did not become an All-American for the way he handles or shoots a basketball but for superior ability in the classroom. Majoring in organizational communications, he has a 3.45 grade-point average out of a possible four points.
He was named to the District VIII GTE Academic All-American team chosen by the College Sports Information Directors Assn. Others on the team are Terry Taylor and Eric Reveno, both of Stanford, Brian Quinnett of Washington State and Michael Smith of Brigham Young.
Like many college basketball players, the native of Bozeman, Mont., has dreamed of playing professionally in the National Basketball Assn. since he stepped into his first pair of gym shoes. Unlike more than a few, he has not placed all his hopes on the NBA.
The name of Jesus Christ is often on Ferch’s lips, and Christianity seems to be an integral part of his life.
“I’ve wanted to play in the NBA since I was a small boy,” he said. “But I think I have a better perspective on things now.”
Ferch, who said he was one of the founders of Campus Crusade for Christ, said that his goal has long been to “go wherever the Lord takes you.”
If he doesn’t make it as a pro basketball player, he said, he could end up working for the Christian basketball camp that he has attended during summers or for an organization such as Covenant House, which works with runaways on the streets of New York City.
He might work to alleviate problems of the homeless, something he said he has done in Santa Monica as a member of the Pepperdine Campus Crusade.
“It could be anything,” he said. “I do a lot of praying about it to see where God wants me.
“I put Jesus Christ first in my life. He calls us to be the best that we know how to be.”
Ferch felt that he could not be at his best if he had remained at Montana State. Although he was a starter at point guard for the Bobcats as a sophomore and helped the team win the Big Sky Conference regular season championship, he said he didn’t think the coaching staff had used him properly.
He said he was often benched in the last five minutes of the game. Players call those minutes “crunch time,” when a game can be won or lost. He felt that coaches did not have confidence in him at point guard, which he feels is his best position.
About his decision to leave Montana State for Pepperdine, which had recruited him out of high school, Ferch said:
“I’m sure I wasn’t too professional. I was always taught to stick it out. But if I had stayed there, it wouldn’t have been too beneficial basketball-wise for me.”
Ferch thinks he can play his best basketball at Pepperdine, and he has shown on occasion this year that he is an excellent shooter and ball handler.
He played behind Marty Wilson and junior guard Craig Davis and averaged only 21 minutes a game. He performed well at times.
In the Waves’ season-opening 82-79 loss to Texas, he made six of nine three-point shots and scored 22 points. He made three straight three-pointers in the second half against the University of San Diego to lift Pepperdine to a come-from behind victory.
He was at his best last Sunday in a 112-98 loss to Loyola Marymount in the semifinals of the West Coast Athletic Conference tournament. His season-high 25 points included seven three-pointers.
But he also experienced a mid-season shooting slump and began sharing more playing time with freshman Rick Welch. But Ferch made a strong comeback in conference play; in 14 conference games, he made 50% of his three-pointers (25 of 50) and shot 48.8% overall (40 of 82).
Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury said that Ferch, who had to sit out the 1987-88 season because of an NCAA rule on transfers, “was rusty” at times because of his year off from basketball. He also didn’t get to practice much last year; he twice had surgery on his right knee for torn cartilage behind his kneecap.
Asbury said that Ferch also had to adjust to a new offense he had installed, a passing offense more deliberate than the running attack at Montana State.
“Shann was open-court oriented, and he had to make a little bit of adjustment,” Asbury said. “It would have been ironed out normally if not for his two knee surgeries.”
The new offense did present an adjustment problem, said Ferch, not only for him but also for the rest of the team.
“No one was used to a motion offense with its quick passing and strong screens,” he said. “A lot of us hadn’t done that in three or four years.” Asbury said that Ferch also was “just rounding into shape” toward the end of the regular season. At that time, he added, “he began giving us a lift with his shot selection, which has really improved as the season has gone along.
“In our offense, we place more of a premium on shot discipline and the high-percentage shot.”
Asbury and Ferch hope that the season did not end when Pepperdine was eliminated from the conference tournament. Only the tournament winner, Loyola Marymount, is assured of a berth to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament. The Waves are hoping to receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, however.
But if the season is over for the Waves, Ferch is looking forward to next year. He said that Pepperdine “is going to be a powerful team” next season.
Three starters return: Davis and junior forwards Tom Lewis and Dexter Howard, both named to the All-WCAC team last week. Ferch said he expects to start with them next season at point guard. “I can shoot as well as handle the ball, and as the season has gone along (the Pepperdine coaches) have put more confidence in me at the point. I love to make the outlet pass on the fast break.”
He said, however, that he expects stiff competition from Welch, who has looked good this season in limited playing time.
Welch coolly hit two free throws down the stretch for the game’s final score as Pepperdine came from behind to defeat San Diego, 72-69, in the first round of the WCAC tournament.
Asbury said that “Rick is probably more of a true point guard than Shann, but in all honesty, Rick will have to beat Shann out. In any case, the position will be won in October.”
Ferch wouldn’t have it any other way, and he may have an edge on Welch. Ferch does have a prayer.