Picked to finish tied for seventh place in the WCC’s preseason poll, the Pepperdine Waves exceeded expectations in 2014-15. Marty Wilson’s team won 18 games, finishing fourth in the WCC and earning the program’s first postseason berth (CBI) since 2002. And with all five starters, led by forward Stacy Davis, returning to Malibu the 2015-16 season could be one in which the Waves take a step forward in the WCC.
With that being the case the school announced Thursday that it has come to terms with Wilson on a five-year contract extension. Wilson, who played at Pepperdine and is approaching his 19th season as either a player or coach at the school, now has a deal that will run through the 2020-21 campaign.
Pepperdine’s win total has increased in each of Wilson’s four seasons at the helm, and last year they proved to be one of the WCC’s best defensive teams despite losing 2014 WCC Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Lane to graduation.
In WCC games Pepperdine ranked second in the conference in scoring defense (61.2 ppg allowed) and field goal percentage defense (41.9 percent) and first in three-point percentage defense (28.2 percent). In all games Pepperdine ranked second nationally in three-point percentage defense, limiting opponents to 27 percent from beyond the arc.
Joining Davis (15.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg), one of the top players in the WCC, as returning starters are fellow forward Jett Raines (10.6, 5.1) and guards Jeremy Major (8.7, 3.4, 3.6 apg), Shawn Olden (9.2, 2.4) and Atif Russell (5.6, 2.9). The Waves also return key reserves Lamond Murray Jr. and Amadi Udenyi (12 letterwinners in total return).
Pepperdine’s Stacy Davis looks to build on last season’s All-WCC selection
As a freshman at Pepperdine in 2012-13 forward Stacy Davis put together a solid debut, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Davis was named WCC Newcomer of the Year at the end of that season, and with such praise comes added attention from the opposition. And as a front court player who spent the majority of his time in the post as a freshman, for Davis that meant he would see even more double-teams as a sophomore.
Yet thanks to the combination of a much-improved perimeter shot and the addition of UCLA transfer Brendan Lane, Davis was able to deal with the extra attention and make the progression from being the WCC’s best freshmen to being one of its best players in 2013-14.
Davis accounted for 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, shooting 47.1% from the field and 46.9% from beyond the arc. The perimeter shooting is where the greatest strides were made, as he connected on 23 of his 49 three-point attempts and 40.1% of his two-point jumpers, according to hoop-math.com. By comparison, Davis attempted just two three-pointers (missing both) and made 36.5% of his two-point jumpers as a freshman. The 6-foot-6 forward worked hard to improve that aspect of his game prior to his sophomore season, and the end result was a factor in Pepperdine’s finishing fifth in the WCC after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll.
“One big thing I learned was patience,” Davis told NBCSports.com last week when asked what he learned as a freshmen that he was able to apply as a sophomore. “My freshman year we didn’t have the best record and it was filled with a lot of ups and downs. I learned from that and realized that everything comes in time, and you have to be patient.
“I applied that to the summer [before my sophomore year] as far as my workouts, just working hard and adding a three-point shot to my game and getting in shape and doing whatever I had to do.”
Now comes the time to take another step forward, and unfortunately for Davis he had to deal with a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand in early October (the cast was removed last week). Having to miss “live” practice time is a detriment for sure, but there was a silver lining in this cloud for the All-WCC forward. According to Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson, the injury led to Davis spending even more time working to strengthen his left hand. And while Davis won’t be an ambidextrous player in the aftermath of the injury, the ability to make greater use of his off hand is something that’s expected to help him deal with the attention he’ll continue to receive from the opposition.
“He had the cast on for about four weeks, and we’ve been doing a lot of coming in early to work on his left hand,” Wilson noted. “That was a big part of his development even before the injury, and [the injury] was almost a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t able to use that right hand. Jump hooks, passes, all kinds of different layups with his left hand to where he’s fully comfortable with it.
“So now when we put him in situations where he has an advantage against a bigger guy or a slower guy, when he goes to certain moves he’ll be able to finish either way. The other part of it is that the injury has allowed some of our young guys to be immersed in the stuff we run and get more reps so they can learn.”
That’s just one adjustment Davis will have to make, with the other being the need to help the Waves account for the graduation of Brendan Lane. In his one season on the court Lane was an impact player for Pepperdine, averaging 13.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per contest. Offensively Lane’s ability to score inside, as he finished the season shooting 54.7% from the field, allowed Davis the freedom needed to step out onto the perimeter in search of scoring opportunities without having to deal with the double teams that would come frequently when he was in the post.
Lane was even more important on the defensive end, as evidenced by his leading the WCC in blocked shots and being named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Of Pepperdine’s three front court returnees only Davis saw significant action last season, with Jett Raines (11.7 mpg) and David Jesperson (9.3) being on the outskirts of the team’s interior rotation. In addition to Raines and Jesperson four newcomers will look to earn playing time, and while the progression of those players is important so is the need for Davis to have an even greater impact defensively. Davis led the team in rebounding a season ago, but the feeling in Malibu is that he’s capable of doing even more.
“The majority of the change is just me demanding more and holding him more accountable as a defender,” Wilson said. “We’ve seen him play different guys at times where he’s proven to us, and more importantly to himself, that he can guard guys when his mind is in it.
“My job is to hold him accountable to it, and we’re doing some different things that will challenge Stacy and his teammates to be better defensively.”
In total Pepperdine returns three starters, with sophomore guards Jeremy Major and Amadi Udenyi joining Davis. Major was one of the WCC’s best freshmen last season, as he accounted for 9.1 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per contest, and Udenyi put together a solid rookie campaign despite missing ten games due to injury. Add in sophomore wing Lamond Murray Jr. and freshmen Shawn Olden and A.J. Lapray (Oregon transfer), and Pepperdine is hopeful that they have enough to avoid a drop in the WCC standings.
But the task will be a difficult one, with Portland returning four starters (and seven of its top eight scorers), San Diego boasting the senior guard tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee and Santa Clara having the high-scoring guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark. What helps the Waves is that in Davis they have a player who’s proven to be one of the WCC’s toughest individual matchups. But there’s also more room for growth, and Davis has worked hard to ensure that he takes another step forward with regards to both production and leadership with Lane’s presence proving to be particular helpful with the latter department.
“He was very quiet as a leader but he always had that presence,” Davis said of Lane. “He taught me certain aspects of how to be a leader, but more importantly how to be a better teammate. He taught me things I can definitely apply to the team now, and with me being the leader I want to apply that aspect of being a great teammate and a great friend.
“That way when I am gone in two years it’s still going to be prevalent in the Pepperdine culture. He taught me a lot, and it’s going to be difficult without him. But with all teams you have to adjust, because something’s going to be different with your team every year. We’re a good team, and I think we’ll adjust.”
When Marty Wilson took over as the head coach at Pepperdine in 2011, it’s safe to say that there was a lot of work to be done. The program was coming off of a 12-21 season in 2010-11, and the Waves hadn’t finished above .500 since Paul Westphal led the 2004-05 edition to a 17-14 mark. But for as important as it was for Wilson and his staff to make strides on the court, improvements in the classroom were even more important.
James Barragan’s story in the Los Angeles Times discusses just how far the program has come during Wilson’s three seasons at the school off the court, a process that actually began when Tom Asbury returned as head coach in 2008. With academic issues attracting the attention of the NCAA the program mad significant changes, and with that process paying off in the classroom the Waves are also beginning to see better results on the court.
In those six years, 18 Pepperdine men’s basketball players have received the West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll award — given to players who earn a 3.0 GPA or better — and nine have been selected to the conference’s All-Academic team.
“I think the biggest thing is recruiting guys who are self-motivated to succeed academically,” said sophomore forward Jett Raines, a double major in computer sciences and mathematics. “If the student doesn’t want to succeed or give it his best, then it’s not going to work out. On our team we have a lot of guys that care a lot about academics.”
While Pepperdine still has that streak of nine consecutive seasons under .500 to deal with, in each of Wilson’s three seasons the win total has improved. From ten wins in 2011-12, Pepperdine won 12 in 2012-13 and 15 last season. That may not seem like a big deal, but given where the program was when Asbury returned to campus in 2008 that’s progress.
Pepperdine will have to account for the loss of WCC Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Lane, who played one season after transferring in from UCLA. But with guards Malcolm Brooks and Jeremy Major and first team All-WCC forward Stacy Davis all returning, Pepperdine has some solid pieces to move forward with.
But the goals are to pair the on-court success with progress in the classroom. Having taken care of the academic issues that plagued the program in the years prior to Asbury’s arrival, Pepperdine can take another step in the right direction in 2014-15.