Pepperdine's Lear May Soon Earn the Right to Be King of the Court : College Basketball: The Waves' sophomore, with the size and skills to become as top power forward, has shown flashes of brilliance against some of the nation's best.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Not surprisingly, Pepperdine's Geoff Lear is nicknamed "King" after the Shakespearean protagonist, and he may one day earn the right to be considered royalty in college basketball.

At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Lear looks as if he is physically capable of imposing his reign over most of the nation's other power forwards. However, he has not yet demonstrated that he always has sufficient skills to govern wisely throughout his career.

Only a sophomore, he showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman year against such veterans as Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers, the nation's leading scorer and rebounder last season, and Cliff Robinson, then of the University of Connecticut and now with the Portland Trailblazers of the National Basketball Assn.

In describing Lear at Pepperdine's basketball press day before the season, Coach Tom Asbury sounded as if he were talking about a crown prince.

Asbury said that Lear is "a guy anybody in America would like to have. He's real strong and physical, (and) he had some of his best games" as a freshman when he appeared to be overmatched.

Last week he had two of his best games in a Pepperdine uniform. He scored a career-high 25 points and added 10 rebounds in an 81-71 victory over UC Irvine. A couple of nights later, he scored 22 points and had seven rebounds in a 99-71 rout of Western Washington.

If he continues to hold court like that throughout the season, the graduate of La Puente Bishop Amat High School could help end the reign of Gathers and Loyola in the West Coast Conference, where the Lions have run rampant for the last two years.

He said he may have been spurred to a good night against UC Irvine because he was playing against Ricky Butler, who outshone Lear when Ocean View High ousted Bishop Amat from the CIF-Southern Section playoffs a couple of years ago.

"When someone beats you (as Ocean View and Butler did to Bishop Amat), you've got to put the revenge factor to work," said Lear, sounding as if he had been dethroned by Butler.

He might not have been in a position to exact his revenge if he had not listened to his father in his senior year in high school.

Lear had signed an early letter of intent with Pepperdine in November, 1987, after he had been recruited by former Wave Coach Jim Harrick. When Harrick left Pepperdine to become UCLA's head coach in the spring of 1988, Lear seriously considered going to another school and losing a year of basketball eligibility as required by NCAA rules.

He said that he heard about Harrick's appointment on a radio broadcast and that he was "real shocked. How could he do that to me when he had recruited me."

He said that Asbury, who succeeded Harrick as Pepperdine's coach, visited him and tried to persuade him that it was not in his best interests to go to another college.

"Originally, I didn't like Coach Asbury. I thought he was trying to pressure me.

"But my father talked me into (staying committed to Pepperdine). He told me, 'Why make trouble for yourself?' So I came here, and I fell in love with the place."

Asbury said that he, not Harrick, ordinarily would have recruited Lear because recruiting was one of his chief responsibilities as a Pepperdine assistant coach.

But at the time, he said, he was in Seattle, talking to Doug Christie about playing for Pepperdine. Asbury was successful in persuading guard-forward Christie, then considered one of the top prep players in Washington, to come to Pepperdine. Christie and Lear are now roommates, and they are playing well for the Waves.

Asbury said that when Lear had been cool toward him "it was not so much a matter of not liking me as of not knowing me. But I had watched him in summer leagues and was part of the decision-making process to recruit him."

Still, he added, he is grateful that Lear's father is "big on commitment."

Asbury has been big on Lear. "I think he's improving with every game, and he was probably the dominating player in the program in fall practice."

Lear and Asbury agree that he can be more dominating at power forward than at center, but circumstances have dictated that he play both positions at times.

"The post is one of my strong points," Lear said. "If the other guy is bigger than me, I try to out-quick him. If he is quicker than me, I try to out-muscle him.

"But I would rather play forward because there's more freedom there. You have a center behind you, and if your man gets free, he can block his shot."

Lear has improved in his positions both on the court and in the classroom since his freshman year.

As a reserve last year, he averaged five points and 4.9 rebounds a game. In Pepperdine's first seven games this season, he averaged 14 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds. "A lot of it with him is confidence," Asbury said.

He is not particularly confident when it comes to shooting free throws. Last season he made only 53.7%, and this year he is not much better (57.7%). His confidence may be building, however; against Irvine, he was nine of 11 at the line.

His confidence is definitely growing in his studies. Last year, he said, he had a grade-point average of 2.1 (on a four-point scale). Last term it rose to a 3.1, he said. He is majoring in business and wants to go into hotel administration, possibly after playing pro basketball.

He is not placing all his hopes on becoming a pro and is "going to try my darndest" to graduate in four years. He attended summer school after his freshman year and plans to do so again.

The transition from high school to college has been difficult but good for him, he said. "I like the feeling of having a lot of responsibility. The coaches are going to care about you, but they're not going to make you get up in the morning and go to class."

He likes the responsibility of living up to the praise given him by Asbury. The coach has compared him to former Pepperdine power forward Orlando Phillips, who was a menacing and strong defender and a top rebounder. But he said he wants to be himself on the court, not a replica of someone else.

"I don't want to be anybody else. I'm not trying to be a second Orlando or a second Magic (Johnson). I'd rather be Geoff the First and have people follow in my footsteps."

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