Before the basketball season began, Pepperdine power forward Geoff Lear changed his uniform number from 3, his high school number, to 34 as an indication, he said, of his new attitude toward the game.
The former Bishop Amat star said that he probably should be wearing No. 6 because he wanted to play twice as well this season as he did in his first two years in college. But he chose No. 34, he said, because that is the jersey number of his favorite professional player, Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I like the style of Barkley, Charles the Great,” Lear said. “If I can do everything as well as he does, I’ll be happy with my performance.”
By that standard, Lear has been happy at times and unhappy at others. And Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury has felt the same way about Lear.
The 6-foot-8 junior, the only returning player named to last season’s All-West Coast Conference team, must have been overjoyed in his team’s first three games. Pepperdine opened with victories over Montana State, Fresno State and UC Santa Barbara and Lear averaged an impressive 15.3 rebounds.
But Pepperdine went 2-4 in its next six games and Lear’s rebounding has dropped off. He is still his team’s top rebounder with a 10.1 average and is averaging a team high 17.2 points.
Lear’s numbers are more than respectable, but occasionally he does not live up either to his own expectations or to those of Asbury.
Before the season, Asbury said that Lear has been inconsistent in the past but that this season he had “practiced harder and more consistently than in his first two years.” But he added that Lear’s role has changed from that of a supporting player to that of a leading actor, a role that calls for consistency in games as well as in practice.
“When you go from a support player to the go-to guy, it becomes increasingly difficulty to compile big numbers,” he said. “Then it’s just a matter of what point in time in your career do you become the go-to guy. I think he’s ready for it; he’s demonstrated at times that he’s ready for it.”
He was not ready in a recent game, particularly on defense because the player he was guarding scored 12 points in the first half. At halftime, Lear said that he was lectured by Asbury for his soft defense.
“In the locker room, Coach Asbury bawled me out; he was on my rear end a lot,” Lear said. “I guess I blocked it out; most guys would have crumbled.
“If you let it get to you, it can affect your performance. You’ve got to be ready to play and block out everything.”
In the second half, Lear held his man to two points.
Lear said that he thinks he understands why Asbury gets on his case when he does not play well.
“He’s trying to make an example out of me to the younger guys,” he said. “He doesn’t want the younger guys going half-speed or being lackadaisical, but to play up to their potential.”
Asbury also wants intense performances from Lear night after night.
“He understands that he is sometimes being outplayed by some inferior players. He understands that he has great ability.”
Asbury thinks that Lear is capable of being a dominating player.
“I think that’s what he wants and has worked hard for over the years,” Asbury said. “He’s willing to step up and be that guy.
“My concern is not his scoring; he will get his points. We don’t need 25 points (a game) from him, but we do need 10 rebounds. We need him to be a dominant rebounder.”
Lear realizes that Asbury is counting on him as a team leader, “and I’m glad I’m in that position.”
Lear remembers when the roles were reversed and he was watching from the bench as Asbury lectured the starters.
“They were the horses, and it was no skin off my nose,” Lear said. “It’s hard to accept blame, but I’d rather accept it than put it on somebody else. I figure if I put my mind to it, I can get 16 or 17 rebounds every night.”
Levy Middlebrooks, Pepperdine’s career rebounding leader, figures the same way about Lear.
Middlebrooks is taking classes at Pepperdine and hopes to finish work on his degree soon. Last season he played professionally in Spain, but he tore an Achilles’ tendon and has taken a year off from basketball to recover.
Middlebrooks, who was instrumental in recruiting Lear for Pepperdine, said he thinks Lear is capable of replacing him as the school’s career rebounding leader. He said that he attended one of Lear’s prep games in the hope that his demonstration of interest would convince Lear to come to Pepperdine.
The visit by Middlebrooks worked.
“Levy Middlebrooks had the most influence on me when he came to one of my games,” Lear said. “No other (college) player did that. That act spoke louder than any words.”
Lear said that this season’s team may be young and inexperienced, but that it has talent. It also has harmony, something that may have been missing from the team in his first two seasons.
“I think the guys are closer this year,” he said. “There is no animosity on the team, which makes it more fun to play.
“I do not see us staggering in the league. I’m confident we can win this thing.”