Countdown to 2015–16: Waves rising out west

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Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson, and co. (Courtesy of Waves men’s basketball)

Their season ended in Vegas, in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals, at the hands of a Gonzaga buzzsaw that cleaved through so many opponents in ‘14–15. But in what became a running theme, Pepperdine showed glimpses of a team ready to mount a charge toward a conference title.

First, the base: here’s a look back to a sunny afternoon at War Memorial Gym, on the first weekend of 2014. Pepperdine had just lost a conference game to San Francisco, but as players, coaches, friends, family and fans milled about the foyer following the game, USF’s head coach, Rex Walters, caught the attention of then-Waves freshman point guard Jeremy Major.

“Not looking forward to facing you for the next three years,” Walters said with a chuckle.

In addition to Major, a rising junior who’s started all but three games in his Pepperdine career and will make a serious chase at the program’s all-time assists and steals records, the story might start with two-time First Team All-WCC senior Stacy Davis (15.7 points, 7.8 rebounds). Davis is one of the country’s most well-rounded forwards.

Add in Jett Raines, a 6–7 senior who posted 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds, and mirrors Davis’s ability to chip in blocks and steals. There’s capable perimeter contributors in Shawn Olden and Lamond Murray, Jr. The return of junior guard Amadi Udenyi from a devastating injury to his achilles tendon that ended his season in February cannot be discounted. Udenyi is one of the WCC’s best defenders, and has featured alongside Major since the two were freshmen.

The most important note? The majority of the Pepperdine core has played together for two seasons.

Pepperdine’s official website summed up the reasons for the enthusiasm quite nicely, in their brief concerning the contract extension that will keep Marty Wilson in Malibu until 2021.

He will be bringing back 12 letterwinners and all five starters from a team that went 18–14 overall, finished fourth in the West Coast Conference at 10–8 and made its first postseason appearance since 2002 with a bid to the College Basketball Invitational.

The ‘14–15 non-conference slate was headlined by excellent road performances at Iowa and Arizona State, and a nailbiter of a neutral site loss against a very good Richmond team. Said Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, after his team’s 72–61 win in November, “We just beat a team that’s going to win 20 games.”

The Waves got 18 in ‘14–15, but they might just reach that tally this season. From there, things promise to get interesting. Gonzaga, while boasting one of the best front lines in the country, and a frontrunner for national player of the year, will undergo a face lift in its backcourt, after four years of the elite Pangos-Bell show.

Backtrack to another quote from a coach. This time, it was Wilson, who was asked in August of 2013 what it takes to turn around a program. “Getting good players,” he said. It’s something he set about doing from the moment he took the full-time coaching post at Pepperdine in ‘11.

He’s added key contributors at every position. This season marks the next step in the journey. It should be fun.

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