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Pepperdine's Coach Is Ready to Move Up : Success Hasn't Spoiled Waves' Jim Harrick; It's Just Made Him Want to Do Even Better

March 12, 1986|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

As Jim Harrick is more than happy to tell anyone who asks--and even some who don't--everything is still mighty fine at the 'Dine.

Never been better, in fact.

Pepperdine's basketball coach won another West Coast Athletic Conference championship this season, the Waves' fifth in his seven seasons.

He picked up a few more honors--WCAC coach of the year for the fourth time, District 15 coach of the year for the second time.

His team won 20 games for the fourth time in five seasons. And the Waves will be playing again in the NCAA tournament. Pepperdine (25-4) will meet Maryland (18-13) in a first-round game Friday night at the Long Beach Arena.

Even though he was clipped on his left leg and sent sprawling by a motorist last week while jogging near his home in Newbury Park--he's sporting a bruise on his left calf--the West Virginia native said that he loves the California life style. And he can't knock the working conditions in Malibu, where the sliding glass door in his office affords a spectacular view of the Pacific.

So why does Harrick's name keep popping up whenever there's a coaching vacancy?

Harrick, 47, said it's a byproduct of his success.

"Athletic directors want to look good to their boosters by saying, 'Hey, I contacted the winner of the West Coast Athletic Conference, the Pac-10, the WAC, the Big Sky,' " Harrick said. "And we've won five times, so my name gets thrown around a lot."

Not that he's complaining.

Harrick went hard after the Arizona State job four years ago, when the Sun Devils hired Bob Weinhauer, and there's speculation that he may be looking around again.

"He and I have talked about it, and it would be nice to move on," said Jimmy, the second of Harrick's three sons and a sophomore reserve guard at Pepperdine.

"He won't tell anybody, and I don't know if I should be telling you, but, hopefully, this could be a springboard. . . . I think we're all at the mercy of our team. How well we do in the tournament could benefit some players, as well as my father and our coaching staff."

Jimmy said that his father is happy at Pepperdine. "But you always look to move on in your career, to better yourself in every way you can," he added. "I know he's looking for a long-term job and long-term status, where he can say he's set for a while.

"I think he's done all he can do within the capacity of Pepperdine," Jimmy said, pointing out the built-in obstacles at the university--limited budget, lack of publicity, high school-sized gym, no games on network television, weak conference. "I think there's a certain limit at Pepperdine where you're not going to be able to take a team much farther than he has taken some teams here."

Harrick, though, said he could stay forever at Pepperdine. Running a hand across the top of his desk, he told a visitor: "Our program's on the freeway, going very, very smoothly. There are no potholes. There are no curves."

But, in response to a question, he also said: "I think to win an NCAA championship at Pepperdine would be very, very tough. . . . Our attraction to top athletes in the country is very limited. I'm not sure, consistently, we can be in the top 20. We're the type of school that's going to be there maybe once every four years."

As for what might prompt him to leave, Harrick said: "No. 1, I think all of us in our profession would like to recruit the best athletes in America at some time in our lifetime. No. 2, you'd like to have an opportunity to battle for the NCAA championship--if you've got any competitive spirit in you."

And No. 3, Harrick said, the right move would benefit him financially. His annual salary at Pepperdine is believed to be about $50,000. In a less saturated market, with radio and television contracts, he could possibly double or even triple his salary.

Harrick said there will be some movement within the coaching ranks in the next few weeks.

"As for me, I don't know," he said.

For the time being, he'll make do in the 'Bu.

Make do, indeed.

Pepperdine may be the best team in the West--or, at least, west of Las Vegas.

The Waves have been ranked in somebody's top 20 for most of the second half of the season, largely with players that UCLA and a majority of other major colleges didn't even recruit.

The Waves aren't big--they go 6-8, 6-7 and 6-7 across the front--but Harrick said he's never had a team that shoots or defends as well as this one. ESPN's Dick Vitale said a few weeks ago that Pepperdine's Dwayne Polee plays the best on-ball defense of any guard in the country.

The same group--forwards Eric White and Anthony Frederick, center Levy Middlebrooks and guards Jon Korfas and Polee--has started 58 straight games, winning 46. The No. 1 reserve, swingman Grant Gondrezick, is getting a look from pro scouts.

Harrick said it's a fun team to coach.

"This team has a rare chemistry about it that I really enjoy," he said. "They share the ball. They give it up. They're very, very unselfish.

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