It may be that Pepperdine basketball Coach Jim Harrick hired 6-6 Tom Asbury as his chief assistant and top recruiter because Harrick wanted someone that prospects could look up to.
When Asbury, 40, was an All-Western Athletic Conference player at Wyoming in the mid-1960s, he was considered pretty tall for the game. Nowadays, Asbury would be a small forward or a big guard, and many of the high school and junior college players he visits can look down on him.
But they still look up to him--enough so that many are persuaded to play at Pepperdine and have helped the Waves to four West Coast Athletic Conference championships in the six seasons that Harrick and Asbury have been a team at the school.
Before last season, Basketball Times magazine ran a coaches' poll that named Asbury as one of the nation's top 15 assistant coaches in recruiting skills. And he has passed up chances to become a head coach in other major college programs because the offers were not as attractive as what he's doing.
Bay Area Athletes
Asbury has been credited with developing Pepperdine's "San Francisco Pipeline," which has channeled to the Malibu campus such top San Francisco-area players as 6-7 Orlando Phillips, who helped the Waves to conference titles in 1982 and 1983, and three current players for the defending WCAC champions: 6-8 junior Eric White, 6-7 sophomore Levy Middlebrooks and 6-7 redshirt freshman Dexter Howard.
Cynics might contend that the pipeline was constructed because the University of San Francisco dropped its nationally ranked basketball program a few years ago and Pepperdine benefitted from the absence of the Dons, who have returned to basketball in the WCAC this season.
But Phillips and White signed with Pepperdine while USF was still a basketball power, and Howard signed the year that the Dons came back.
Asbury said he was coaching Pomona High School in his home town of Denver when he first met Harrick, then an assistant at Utah State who was trying to recruit a Pomona player. When Asbury became an assistant at Wyoming and began recruiting in California, he frequently ran into Harrick, then a UCLA assistant, when they both were trying to sign top California players.
Before Harrick was named Pepperdine's head coach in 1979, Asbury said he and his family toured Pepperdine's Malibu campus while on vacation. It was "one of those beautiful days," Asbury said, and they fell in love with California.
Just after Harrick was named the Pepperdine coach, Asbury said, they ran into each other in the elevator of a Salt Lake City hotel and Harrick asked him if he would be interested in becoming a Pepperdine assistant.
Asbury said he welcomed the job offer because during his three years as a Wyoming assistant he had to leave his wife and two daughters at home in Laramie while he was on recruiting trips for six months of each year. He reasoned that his family would be much better off without him during California winters than in the the cold of Wyoming.
Pepperdine, with its picture-book, ocean-view campus, is also a much easier sell to prospects than wintry Wyoming.
But that's not all that Asbury has going for him as a recruiter. He said the important elements of successful recruiting include establishing contacts, knowing which players to recruit, representing an established basketball program and getting "a lot of help from a lot of people," including former Pepperdine players. "Most of our kids graduate," he said, "and leave the program with a good taste in their mouths."
But the "key thing is knowing how to talk to young guys," he said, adding that many of the players he talks to come from single-parent homes and have "pretty strong mothers who are involved in their children's programs."
Recruits often can be clinched, he said, if their mothers "have the feeling they can trust you to take care of their man-child," and such mothers "can read character pretty well. The fact that our program has never been on probation is a real plus.
"Here at Pepperdine, we like to say that we give our players what they need--not what they want. What they want is a car and a million dollars. What they need is an education and an opportunity to play basketball in a tremendous environment."
Asbury, who played for the Denver Nuggets during the first season (1967-68) of the old American Basketball Assn., said he had always "wanted to be involved in basketball. I would have preferred to play longer."
Eye on Top Job
Like many assistants, he would prefer to be a head coach. He said he was offered head coaching spots at Montana State and Dartmouth but he did not accept either job because he felt neither of those schools had programs that offered a "real opportunity to win."