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7 FOR '97

Romar Prepares Waves to Make Bigger Splash : Their Backgrounds Are Greatly Diversified but These Men and Women Share One Common Thread: They Promise to Make Sports News Next Year

7 FOR '97 * One in a series. Today: LORENZO ROMAR, Pepperdine men's basketball coach

December 25, 1996|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He came (triumphantly). He saw (optimistically). He got beat (convincingly).

Welcome to Lorenzo Romar's first year as Pepperdine men's basketball coach.

But, as the losses mount for the 1-8 Waves, whose lack of height and poor shooting have been a debilitating double whammy, it's easy to picture Romar making a list of the schools kicking sand in his face.

Every dog has his day, and Romar's should arrive in 1997. Maybe not this season, which has "lost cause" written all over it, but next fall when Pepperdine will suit up several players who have sat on the bench, dressed in street clothes, watching the disappointing developments of the past two months.

Romar's goal of turning the Waves into a top-25 team figures to begin taking shape once omm'A Givens and Jelani Gardner become eligible and Gerald Brown returns in 1997-98. With them, look for Pepperdine to become bigger, stronger and more potent offensively.

Of course, that's little consolation to Romar these days. After the Waves suffered their seventh consecutive loss Saturday night against Cal State Fullerton, Romar talked about the frustration of his team's repeated failures.

"The most disappointing thing to me is that we're on a losing streak, and I keep preaching to the kids that we're going to break through," he said. "It's so disappointing to play this hard and not get a win.

"I may not look like I'm down, but inside I'm dying. . . . After a loss, the next couple of days are miserable. You replay every play, every drill you did in practice. At the same time, you wonder, 'What can we do from here?' "

Romar's four seasons as an assistant under Jim Harrick at UCLA scarcely prepared him for the hard knocks of rebuilding a program. But to his credit, Romar has maintained his grace under adversity, conducting himself with class and not blaming players, officials or bad luck.

In an effort to forge a turnaround, Romar has held closed-door meetings after games and conducted two-a-day practices. However, all the talking and working may not matter if Pepperdine doesn't have the players to get the job done.

The true test will come next season when the Waves' cupboard will be stocked.

Givens, a 6-foot-10 transfer from UCLA, will give Pepperdine the true center it lacks this season and allow 6-8 Bryan Hill to move back to power forward, his natural position.

Gardner, a 6-6 transfer from California, will provide an experienced hand at point guard, a position presently shared by several players with dicey results.

Brown, a 6-3 guard using a redshirt season to fully recover from knee surgery, will immediately boost the Waves' firepower, having led the team in scoring as a sophomore (16.5 points per game) and junior (17.8).

That lineup should put smiles on the faces of fans starving for victories and a return to prominence. Pepperdine won the West Coast Conference title eight times from 1981-93 but is looking at a third straight losing season.

Don't tell that to Romar, though. An eternal optimist, he still believes the Waves can turn their season around in time for conference play, which starts Jan. 10 against San Diego.

"I'm not into taking my lumps or believing that this is the card I've been dealt," he said. "I'm still convinced that our team can finish the season in a positive direction."

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