The motto for the Pepperdine men's basketball team, which will miss its first NCAA tournament in three years, may be: "Wait till next year."
But next year may be well worth waiting for.
Before the season began, Coach Jim Harrick said that he would be surprised if Pepperdine wasn't in at the end of the first West Coast Athletic Conference basketball tournament.
Harrick may not have been surprised--but a lot of other people were--when the Waves, seeded seventh in the tournament, defeated second-seeded Gonzaga in the first round, and then upset the University of San Diego, the regular-season WCAC champion, in last weekend's semifinals.
But the Waves, a young team with only one senior on the roster, used up its emotional capital in overcoming Gonzaga and San Diego and went bankrupt in the title game, losing to Santa Clara, 77-65.
Santa Clara got out to a 37-23 half-time lead, and things looked bleak for Pepperdine. But senior all-conference forward Eric White and redshirt freshman guard Craig Davis led a second-half Pepperdine comeback that pulled the Waves to 54-53.
Then Pepperdine, in possession of the ball and with a chance to take the lead, turned the ball over. And the Broncos surged and put the game away.
The turnover was costly, but so was the inability of junior point guard Donny Moore to play much against the Broncos. Moore, a transfer from West Valley Junior College near San Jose, had caught a knee in his thigh in the semifinal game against San Diego, and, though he played 22 minutes against Santa Clara, he wasn't up to par.
He had done a good job of directing the attack that upset the Toreros last Friday night, but without him, the Waves had little direction against the Broncos.
"We came back, got right to the wall and couldn't get over it," Harrick said. "It was still one of the great comebacks that any of my teams has ever done, and I was proud of them."
This year's Waves, who were seventh in the WCAC with a 5-9 record in the regular season, finished 12-18 overall, giving Harrick his first losing season in eight years at Pepperdine.
This year's team was guard-poor after the loss of the seniors who manned that spot last year: Dwayne Polee, Grant Gondrezick and Jon Korfas. The Waves got poorer before the season started when a back injury forced junior Marty Wilson to sit out the season. Harrick had been counting on Wilson to run the show.
Next year the Waves should be guard-rich. Wilson will be back and so will Davis, whose three-point shooting was a big plus in some key victories. Moore and Ed Allen, another junior-college transfer, will each have had a year of Division I experience.
Freshmen Lafayette Dorsey and Wally Carter, who both redshirted this year, will add depth to the back court.
Harrick said he may have another scholarship to give this year if his son Jim, another of this year's guards, graduates next August.
Coach Harrick said that he hopes his other scholarship will go to a big forward to replace White. The 6-8 senior forward was not as accurate from the field this season as he used to be but still averaged 19.3 points a game and was chosen to the All-WCAC team for the third straight year.
White, who scored 1,674 points in four seasons, finished in second place on Pepperdine's career scoring list, behind Dane Suttle's 1,702 points.
Although 6-7 Tom Lewis, who redshirted this year after transferring from USC, is an excellent shooter, Harrick said that Lewis is more of a small forward than White was.
Also returning will be junior Mike Cumberland, a 6-7 transfer from Rio Hondo College, who was sort of a floating center for Harrick this season. He played well at times, giving the Waves some of the shot blocking they lost after the departure of senior Anthony Frederick. But his enthusiasm sometimes got him in early foul trouble.
Next year, muscular 6-7 forward-center Levy Middlebrooks, will be back for his senior year, and Harrick said he looks "for a big-time year" from him. Middlebrooks, the WCAC freshman of the year in 1985, could dominate games at times, particularly on the backboards. At other times, he seemed to disappear.
"Levy has got to get over his inconsistencies," Harrick said.
Antonio Martin, the 6-10 freshman from Spain who sat out this season after knee surgery, has got to get over his injury to become the kind of dominating center that Harrick has not had since Orlando Phillips left in 1983.
"There is no question that Martin can do the job, but I'm still worried about his knee," Harrick said.
Casey Crawford, the 6-11 but spindly sophomore from Leuzinger High School, has got to add more weight to his reportedly 220-pound frame in order for him to mix it up with muscular, aggressive Division I centers.
"The key to our team is Casey Crawford and how he develops," Harrick said. "He's a pretty good athlete and he's just got to improve. We're going to have him lift a lot and try and get some weight on him."
"I'm worried about our size a little bit if those kids (Crawford and Martin) can't get it done."
Harrick said that next year Loyola Marymount, which finished last in the conference this season, should be "the league favorite, without a doubt." The Lions should be much stronger next season when redshirt transfers Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, teammates of Lewis at USC, and Corey Gaines from UCLA become eligible to play.
Though this year's Waves had a losing record, they were in at the finish of the conference tournament as Harrick had predicted. "It took us a lot longer than I anticipated," he said, "and fate beat us at the end.
"We've got a great group of kids, and we hope to do a lot better than seventh place next year--I hope."