Men's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 17, 2013
MALIBU, Calif. - Fans and pundits might not know what to make of the Pepperdine men's basketball team in 2013-14, given that half the roster is made up of newcomers and a few key players from last year's squad either graduated or moved on.
But talk to third-year head coach Marty Wilson for even just a few minutes about his team and you'll see that he's got enough optimism to fill Firestone Fieldhouse, largely because he believes that he has put together a roster of student-athletes with the talent, attitude and desire to help take the Waves to the next level.
"I have high expectations," said Wilson, who is beginning his 17th year at Pepperdine as either a student-athlete or a coach. "I expect us to be better, even with our youth and inexperience. I tell everyone that we're going to surprise some people. I honestly believe that. Our team chemistry is great. We're more athletic, we're more skilled, we're faster. I'm not going to accept that because we're younger, we're not going to be good. We're going to be better than last year."
Last year's excellent freshman class has been fortified by another strong group of rookies. Wilson's mission -- along with assistants Mark Amaral, Bryant Moore and John Impelman -- has been to recruit the right kind of student-athletes to Pepperdine, ones that will help the program succeed and represent the University well.
"We call them OKGs - `our kind of guys,'" Wilson said. "We're getting better because we're recruiting the right kind of people. We're recruiting high-character guys that we know are going to buy into this program and do everything they can to help us win. These are the people that we want around."
The Waves have seven new freshmen and one junior college transfer, matching the eight returners from last year's squad. The veterans accounted for just about half of last season's points, rebounds and minutes played for a squad that went 12-18 overall and 4-12 in the West Coast Conference, good for a tie for seventh place.
Even if outside prognostications don't give much consideration to Pepperdine, those in the know realize that the Waves have finished better than predicted in the WCC's preseason coaches' poll in each of the last five years -- ever since Wilson returned to the program.
The Waves will look to surpass expectations again, and their efforts will be aided by what should be one of the best starting frontcourts in the West Coast Conference, if not the entire region. UCLA transfer Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif./Rocklin HS) will make his long-awaited debut and sophomore Stacy Davis (Laveen, Ariz./Fairfax HS) had a brilliant freshman campaign that led to WCC Newcomer of the Year honors.
Lane graduated from UCLA after three years, and though the former California state player of the year didn't ever see the playing time he had envisioned with the Bruins, the 6-foot-9 senior forward will get his chance during his one and only season on the floor with the Waves. He shot better than 50% from the floor each of his three seasons at UCLA and averaged 2.5 points for his career. Lane elected to redshirt last season, his first at Pepperdine.
"We need senior leadership, and I've challenged Brendan to be the voice of our team," Wilson said. "He's taken that role and he's done a heck of a job with it. He didn't have this kind of responsibility at UCLA and I think he relishes the opportunity to do that. He's going to play a lot for us and will be a go-to guy. Redshirting was good for him last year. We could have used him last year, but we needed him more this year. He's got his confidence back, he knows what we need him to do, and he's going to have a great year."
The 6-foot-6 Davis became Pepperdine's first WCC Newcomer of the Year since 2003. He was the first Pepperdine freshmen to earn All-WCC honorable mention notice since 2008, and the first Wave to make the WCC All-Freshman team since 2009. His averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds led all conference freshmen, and he ranked seventh in the conference in overall rebounding. An offseason spent in the weight room has transformed Davis into an even more impressive physical specimen than what he was a year ago.
"Stacy has worked very hard to change his body," Wilson said. "He's more athletic and more explosive. He's going to be one of the top five to seven guys in the league this year. People know who he is now and he's going to be a target. But Stacy will raise his level of play, and when he does that, it's going to raise up everyone else. I'm challenging him to be another voice along with Brendan, so that when Brendan's gone, Stacy is the guy who takes the baton and leads us the next two years. I'm excited to see what he's going to do this year."
Though the Waves aren't overly big and don't have a lot of depth in the frontcourt, Wilson likes who he has. That includes rising sophomore Jett Raines (Coppell, Texas/Coppell HS), a healthy Malte Kramer (Frieburg, Germany/Cuesta College) and freshman David Jesperson (Merrill, Wis./Merrill HS). The 6-foot-7 Raines was also one of the league's most productive freshmen last season, averaging 6.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. Kramer, a 6-foot-6 senior and an outstanding long-distance shooter, had his first season marred by injury and illness and only played in five games last year. The 6-foot-8 Jesperson was an all-state player in Wisconsin.
"I think we'll be solid in the frontcourt," Wilson said. "We have a good group. We're going to create challenges for other teams because of our quickness and athleticism. They're not traditional low-post players but they're skilled and they can stretch the defense. Our challenge with our lack of size is going to be rebounding, so that's going to be a major emphasis for us."
The backcourt, and particularly at point guard, is where the Waves have some spots to fill, considering that three key regulars departed the program after last season.
The only major contributor back is senior guard Nikolas Skouen (Bergen, Norway/Pratt CC), who was in the starting lineup 21 times. He is looking to wind up his career as one of the school's all-time best long-range shooters. He led the team with 58 three-pointers made and averaged 8.0 points overall. Skouen is #3 all-time at Pepperdine with a 46.4% career three-point percentage and should break into the top 10 in three-pointers made.
"Niko works harder than anybody I've ever been around," Wilson said. "He's focused on having a great senior year. He's always either in the gym shooting or in the weight room trying to get stronger. He's shooting as well or better than ever. The great thing is that Stacy and Brendan are going to command a double-team, and they're unselfish enough to find our shooters, so Niko is going to reap the rewards."
Two true freshmen -- Jeremy Major (Pasadena, Calif./Maranatha HS) and Amadi Udenyi (Oakland, Calif./De La Salle HS/St. Thomas More Prep) -- have the first opportunity to win the job at point guard. Major was a prolific scorer (25.8 ppg as a junior) and a three-time All-CIF Southern Section first team selection. Udenyi was a three-year starter and an all-state selection at one of the biggest and most successful high school programs in Northern California before spending a year at a prep school.
A trio of newcomers will try to make their mark at shooting guard or on the wing: junior Malcolm Brooks (Brooklyn, N.Y./Cardozo HS/Lamar CC) and freshmen Lamond Murray Jr. (Los Angeles, Calif./Bishop Montgomery HS) and Jeff Van Dyke (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon HS).
Brooks averaged 17.1 points as a freshman at Lamar Community College and 18.2 points as a sophomore en route to All-Region IX honors. Murray, the son of an 11-year NBA veteran, averaged 22.3 points per game last season and was an all-state selection and the Daily Breeze Area Player of the Year. Van Dyke made more than 90 three-pointers as a junior and a senior, and was an All-CIF San Diego Section first teamer after averaging 15.1 points in his final season.
Among the returners, sophomores Atif Russell (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes HS) and Austin Mills (Beverly Hills, Calif./Beverly Hills HS) hope to expand upon the complimentary roles they played last season at guard. Russell averaged 2.7 points in 13.5 minutes, while Mills is a walk-on who posted 2.4 points in 10.4 minutes.
Mills and another true freshman, Marley Biyendolo (Melbourne, Australia/Cheltenham Secondary), are point guards who will try to push Major and Udenyi. Biyendolo last attended the Andrew Bogut Basketball Academy and looks to be add his name to the number of accomplished Australians that have played in the WCC.
The backcourt's lack of experience doesn't concern Wilson, provided his players do one thing in particular.
"Our backcourt needs to take care of the ball," Wilson said. "That's number one. We want to play faster, and we'll be capable of that because of Jeremy and Amadi. Those two will give us a much greater advantage at the point with their quickness. We're also a little more athletic and a little bit bigger on the perimeter. We're going to be able to score more and in a variety of ways. I'm not worried about their youth. We're going to have them ready."