Like a seasoned entertainer, Pepperdine basketball Coach Jim Harrick is not changing his line of patter just because his cast of supporting players has changed drastically.
Harrick's act has been among college basketball's best, one that has captured five West Coast Athletic Conference championships in the last six years, including last year's 25-5 team.
Even though six seniors from last year are gone--including top guards Dwayne Polee, Grant Gondrezick and Jon Korfas--Harrick is not retreating.
At Pepperdine's press day, he said this year's squad will have "talent without much experience" but he hopes "we can reload and not have to rebuild."
Does that mean his team could win its third straight WCAC title? "I think we can," he said. "It's going to be tough, but I'll be very disappointed if we're not right in there at the end."
Big Man Had Surgery
He's right; it will be tough. The only guards who have college experience are his son, Jim, and Marty Wilson, both juniors. And his new big man, 6-10 freshman Antonio Martin from Spain, is recuperating from knee surgery and may not be ready until conference action begins in January.
But Harrick has also been right about his teams being in the fight at the end, and he could be right about this one.
His confidence will be partly rewarded if his top two returning players, 6-8 senior Eric White, twice an All-WCAC selection, and 6-7 junior Levy Middlebrooks have good seasons.
Harrick said White led an NIT all-star team in scoring last summer, averaging more than 21 points a game in a tour of Italy. "He ought to be one of the best players on the West Coast."
Middlebrooks, who played center his first two years, did not have quite as strong a season last year as when he was named the WCAC freshman of the year. His scoring average dropped to 8.2 points from 10.3 but his rebounding average remained about the same, better than six a game.
Memories of Gondrezick
But Harrick said Middlebrooks, as well as many of last year's regulars, played fewer minutes and did not produce as much because sixth man Gondrezick, a draft choice of the Phoenix Suns, played so much. Gondrezick, he said, was "the best player we had on the floor."
If the right knee of Martin, who played for Spain's junior national team, mends more rapidly than expected and he can take over the high post, or if 6-11 redshirt freshman Casey Crawford, the Leuzinger High graduate, can play a lot at center, Middlebrooks will probably play forward, his more natural position.
Harrick said Martin, whose older brother Fernando was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers this year, "is the ideal high-post center for our offense, and he is a rugged player." But he added that the Spaniard from Madrid "can't play until the doctor gives him the OK." If he can't play until January, Harrick said, he will be in his "preseason while everyone else is in season form."
Two new front-line players, 6-7 sophomore transfer Tom Lewis, USC's leading scorer last season, and 7-0 freshman Freik Beij, a native of Holland, will redshirt. But a redshirt freshman from last year, 6-7 Dexter Howard from San Francisco's McAteer High, may see a lot of action, and 6-7 junior transfer Mike Cumberland from Rio Hondo College could help.
But "it's a complete tossup at guard," Harrick said. He described Wilson as a "great athlete learning to play guard" and said he would be asked to defend a foe's best guard sometimes. "I hope he'll be our leader there, but you never know."
Besides son Jim, whose experience has been as a reserve, redshirt freshman Craig Davis from Hueneme High in Oxnard also knows the system and may help at guard.
Junior college transfers Ed Allen from City College of San Francisco and Donnie Moore from West Valley College in San Jose could also move in at guard.
Harrick said Allen "comes to us as a shooter" and could be very helpful hitting baskets from 19 feet, 9 inches, shots that will count for three points in college basketball this year. Moore, he said, is a good passer and could give the Waves "a much-needed ball handler."
Harrick does not favor the 19-9 distance, calling it a "chip shot" in the college game, and prefers a three-point distance of 21-9, the standard used under international rules.