As his splendid college basketball career is about to conclude with a third trip to the NCAA tournament, Pepperdine forward Dana Jones was asked to divulge his secret.
What was the driving force throughout a career in which the former North Hollywood High player was named first-team All-West Coast Conference three times and made the WCC all-tournament team four times?
"The bottom line is my dream to play at the next level is what keeps me going," said Jones, a 6-foot-6 senior forward who is averaging a team-high 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds and was most valuable player of the WCC tournament after the Waves defeated San Diego, 56-53, in the final.
"It's a matter of telling myself this is what I want to do," he said. "It's in the back of my mind."
While pursuing his dream to play professionally for the past four seasons, Jones has become the leading rebounder (1,028) in Pepperdine's 56-year history.
He also leads in steals with 206, is the Waves' third-highest scorer (1,662 points) and needs 13 to pass Eric White at No. 2.
It is no small feat that Jones will graduate in April with a degree in sociology; in his four years, he attended the summer session three times to complete his course work.
He might not think about it much, but when Jones reflects on his Pepperdine experience, his thoughts center on Coach Tom Asbury.
Jones was one of the first key recruits Asbury landed after he replaced Jim Harrick. Together, Jones and Asbury have led Pepperdine to at least a share of the WCC title the past four seasons.
"I don't think I'll miss him, because I'll always come around," Jones said of Asbury. "But as far as playing for him, yeah.
"We've got a very good relationship. We've grown together. He's been a great help in my success here."
Tragedy hit the Asbury family before the 1993-94 season when the coach's oldest daughter, Stacey, who had battled anorexia nervosa for nearly six years, died of heart failure in September. She was 22.
Asbury considered taking an extended leave of absence. Instead, Asbury, Jones and the Waves stayed together and struggled to a 12-10 start before winning their last seven.
"It was just a matter of everybody wanting to play every night, everybody knowing their role and everybody playing consistently at the same time," Jones said. "The past couple of weeks we've done that. The result is we've won games."
In the WCC tournament final, Pepperdine trailed most of the game until Jones, who had a game-high 17 points, hit a layup with 1 minute 42 seconds left to put the Waves ahead for good. A national television camera caught Jones and Asbury embracing.
"Just looking at him, I could see happiness on his face," Jones said of Asbury. "We've been through a lot this year. To have this happen to us . . . it's appreciated."
Pepperdine has an NCAA tournament record of 4-11. The Waves' past two trips resulted in early exits: a 71-51 loss to Seton Hall in 1991 and an 80-70 defeat by Memphis State in 1992. Jones played in both games.
"The first two years it was fun and everything," Jones said. "The atmosphere was great. But now I just want to go and play hard.
"We have just as good a chance as anybody. We want to play hard and with confidence."
An upset by 1993 WCC tournament champion Santa Clara over highly touted Arizona in the first round last season could provide inspiration for Pepperdine.
"We don't take that as a shock, though," Jones said. "Why couldn't they beat Arizona? It's a tournament. I think that's why they call it March Madness."
Checking the fax: Mike Spears (Hueneme) had 24 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots as Westmont upset No. 5 Azusa Pacific, 83-79, for the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament championship. Spears, a 6-6 senior forward who is averaging 15.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, made 10 of 17 shots from the field to help the Warriors gain an automatic berth in next week's NAIA tournament.
Eddie Hill (Cleveland), despite his 12.8 scoring average and 40.2% accuracy from three-point range, has been removed from Washington State's starting lineup. The Cougars (18-10) entered this week's Pacific 10 Conference series with Stanford and California needing two victories for a chance at an NCAA tournament berth. Hill scored a team-high 18 points the last time Washington State played Stanford.
D.J. Jackson's scoring average has dipped to 10.3 points for top-seeded New Mexico State, which will play either Cal State Fullerton or Nevada in today's second round of the Big West tournament. Jackson, from Antelope Valley College, has made 50 three-point shots but has scored only nine points in the past three contests.