Men's Basketball Season Outlook
Nov. 1, 2011
MALIBU, Calif. --It's a season of change for the Pepperdine men's basketball team, starting right at the top as Marty Wilson takes over the program's reins in 2011-12.
The Pepperdine alum and long-time assistant coach joined Tom Asbury's staff as its associate head coach more than three years ago with the intention that he would become head coach when Asbury decided to retire. His apprenticeship over, Wilson is ready to help continue the Waves' upward trend that began following Asbury's return. Progress has been steady, as last season's team posted 12 victories, the program's most since 2004-05.
For the third straight year, Pepperdine will have returning players numbering in double-digits. But change will come on the floor as well, as new scorers will need to emerge to replace a lot of points that won't be available to the Waves in 2011-12.
Two of the top 20 scorers in Pepperdine history, Mychel Thompson (graduation) and Keion Bell (transfer) aren't back, and the Waves suffered a major blow when their top returning scorer and All-WCC honorable mention selection, senior guard Lorne Jackson (Simi Valley, Calif./Simi Valley HS), suffered a knee injury during the summer that caused him to have surgery and is likely to force him to redshirt the upcoming season.
Without Jackson, the Waves that are back account for only a little more than a third of last year's scoring. In Wilson's mind, that just means more opportunities for his veterans to take another step forward and for his young players to prove themselves.
"With or without Lorne, it's going to be an adjustment for all of our guys," he said. "We want to give them the freedom and the opportunity to make plays, as long as it's within the confines of our offense and our philosophy. I expect us to score more in the paint, whether it's our bigs or our guards. We have to have a better balance so that we don't have to rely on our perimeter like we have in the past."
The on-court philosophy won't change entirely from what the Waves have done in the past, but Wilson will look to put his own stamp on the program.
"We want to pick up the tempo," said Wilson, who hired associate head coach Mark Amaral and assistant coach Bryant Moore during the offseason while fourth-year assistant Damin Lopez remains on staff. "I think we'll have enough depth at each position where we can play a number of guys and hopefully go deep into our bench. But we have to take care of the ball if we want to play fast. I'm not a big fan of playing fast when you're turning the ball over.
"We'll run some of the same things offensively, with some new variations and wrinkles. I'm a big believer in some of the stuff we ran with Coach Asbury because it has been successful. But it's not just what you run, it's how you run it. The sticking point is running things sharp, moving the ball, hitting the open man."
That begins at point guard, where the Waves have plenty of options. Last year's starter was 6-foot-3 junior Joshua Lowery (Phoenix, Ariz./Desert Vista HS). He was backed up by 6-foot-2 junior Caleb Willis, and new to the mix is heralded 6-foot-4 freshman Jordan Baker (Tempe, Ariz./Tempe HS).
Lowery increased his output from 1.8 points and 0.7 assists as a freshman to 5.6 points and 2.8 assists as a sophomore, and those numbers may be expected to increase again this season. Willis hasn't played as much in a reserve role, but could see his minutes rise. Baker earned Parade All-American third team honors (the only WCC recruit to earn a spot on the first three teams) and was Arizona's Gatorade State Player of the Year after averaging 27.3 points as a senior.
"Josh is a veteran who played valuable minutes last year," Wilson said. "I expect a lot more out of him in terms of production and leadership. Hopefully we can challenge Caleb to do more and to give him more opportunities. I hope with both of those guys sharing time, it will allow us to blend Jordan in where he can grow without having to be thrown to the wolves. But eventually, he will play a lot as a freshman."
Lowery or Baker could also see time on the wing, where the Waves also boast a veteran in 6-foot-6 senior Dane Suttle Jr. (Los Angeles, Calif./Westchester HS/Summit College Prep), a promising youngster in 6-foot-7 sophomore Hector Harold (Pasadena, Calif./Northfield Mount Hermon School) and two exciting newcomers in 6-foot-8 freshman Ramon Eaton (Sacramento, Calif./Sheldon HS) and 6-foot-4 sophomore Nikolas Skouen (Bergen, Norway/Pratt CC).
Suttle was having an outstanding showing during non-conference play as a sophomore but an ankle injury diminished his play as the WCC season began. He spent last year still trying to get back to his old self, but he's an outstanding three-point shooter whose career percentage of 37.9% ranks ninth all-time at Pepperdine. Harold didn't see much playing time as a freshman, but Wilson rates him highly.
Eaton was one of the top prep players in Northern California last season and was one of six finalists for the area player of the year by the Sacramento Bee. Skouen made 75 three-pointers for Pratt Community College last year and this summer he played for the Norwegian National Team.
"Our main thing is to be consistent from the outside," Wilson said. "These guys need to be able to consistently knock down shots. I'm excited about Niko because that's his trademark. That's what he does well. Dane's made a lot of three-pointers in his career and we need a big senior year out of him. Guys like Hector and Ramon bring something totally different. They're a little bigger, a little more athletic, and they have the ability to create shots for themselves."
Pepperdine's frontcourt begins with a pair of returning starters, 6-foot-8 senior forward Taylor Darby (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills HS) and 6-foot-10 senior center Corbin Moore (Cypress, Calif./Los Alamitos HS). Both have played in all 96 games the past three years, with Darby starting 82 and Moore starting 49.
Darby has been one of the WCC's top rebounders the past three years (ranking ninth, ninth and 14th while posting a career average of 5.9). He increased his scoring output to 7.7 points per game as a junior. With Jackson out, that makes Darby the team's top returning scorer.
Moore also improved his scoring average to 4.5 points last season, and he's averaged 3.9 rebounds for his career.
"Corbin and Taylor have played quite a few minutes the last three years and we'll lean on them heavily to step up even more," Wilson said. "We'll challenge them to score more, and need them to have the confidence to score more. They'll also be given responsibilities as leaders. We need a physical presence down low. We need to be tougher physically, and that starts on the front line, and it starts with those two veterans."
They'll have help, however, including sophomore center Jan Maehlen (Tucson, Ariz./Ironwood Ridge HS). The 7-footer has continued to improve his conditioning and has slimmed down more than 50 pounds since first enrolling at Pepperdine. He didn't play a great deal as a freshman but that could change as he develops (though Maehlen will miss the first month due to a fractured right hand suffered just a few days ago).
Also, the Waves brought in a pair of new big men in 6-foot-9 Manny Ochenje (Abuja, Nigeria/Brehm Prep) and 6-foot-9 Moriba De Freitas (Bon Air Gardens, Trinidad/Williston State JC). Ochenje was one of the top recruits in the state of Illinois, while De Freitas showed his muscle at a junior college in North Dakota the last two years and was once a member of Trinidad's U-17 National Team.
"I'm excited about the progression by Jan," Wilson said. "As his body has changed for the better, he's getting more and more confident in his ability. Watching him in the spring, and hearing reports about how he did this summer, I think he's going to be able to showcase what he's capable of. The biggest challenge for Moriba and Manny is the physical side of things because they're not the biggest, strongest guys, but what they lack in strength they make up for in quickness and athleticism, and they will create opportunities on their athleticism alone."
Two walk-ons return as well, senior guards Richard Branning (Menlo Park, Calif./Menlo-Atherton HS) and Don Martin (Gladstone, Mo./Oak Park HS), and a third one joins the team in sophomore guard Dominic Redix (Apple Valley, Calif./Granite Hills HS).
The roster of 16 -- 10 returners and six newcomers -- has Wilson looking forward to his first season in charge.
"We have a lot of returners and we have a great feel of what they're capable of doing," he said. "They know what we expect of them. But what we don't know yet is how they're going to adjust to the changes that we're going to make, offensively and defensively. That's an unknown. So it's hard to say what our expectations are right now. I expect all of our players to work hard and to want to do more, to strive to have better seasons than they had the last three years. If they're consistently buying into that philosophy, we're going to be okay."