YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Pepperdine's Hip Hoopsters Generating Wave of Publicity

March 19, 2000|J.A. ADANDE

BUFFALO, N.Y. — At last, a quick route to fame that doesn't involve a scandal. All it takes are a few Afros and an NCAA tournament victory over the Indiana Hoosiers.

People know the funky, loose, hard-playing Pepperdine Waves now. They might not know much about them, but they know them.

A worker at the front desk of the team's hotel confirms the team is staying there, but that's about all he can tell you.

Do you know where they're from?

"Uhhh, in California," he said.

Where, exactly?

"A small town, from what I understand."

Technically, Malibu is a small town. Just think of it as a place where people live simple lives in their quaint multimillion-dollar homes.

Desmond Mason of Oklahoma State knows Pepperdine is "somewhere in California."

His teammate, Andre Williams, had "never heard of them. I couldn't even tell you what conference they play in."

It's the West Coast Conference, and in case you haven't noticed its two NCAA entries are undefeated so far. Gonzaga first took out Louisville, seeded No. 7 in the West Regional, and on Saturday stunned No. 2 St. John's.

The only two other lower-seeded teams to advance in the first round of the tournament are right here in this East subregional, No. 10-seeded Seton Hall and good old Pepperdine.

Now that the Waves have bounced the No. 6-seeded Hoosiers with a performance that alerted everyone to their skill and athleticism, they get to face No. 3-seeded Oklahoma State today.

But it seemed as if the Cowboys spent little time discussing matchups and more time discussing fashion.

"That's about all I know about them: They've got headbands and they've got Afros going," Oklahoma State forward Fredrik Jonzen said.

Pepperdine senior guard Tommie Prince has the grandest 'fro of all, a real throwback to the Dr. J ABA-style 'dos. Senior center Nick Sheppard and sophomore guard Craig Lewis also sport Afros.

"It gives us a sense of energy," Prince said.

Mason prefers more of a clean-shaven look. He cuts hair for many of his Oklahoma State teammates (a studio art major, his current project is a wood sculpture and abstract painting of his clippers) and as a part-time barber he cringes at all those wild Pepperdine 'dos.

"They need haircuts," Mason said. "They can come by the hotel."

Mason didn't know Pepperdine's nickname was the Waves, and that could pose a problem for this game. On his right arm is a tattoo that features a series of waves that circle his biceps.

"I might have to cover it up," Mason said.

When you watch the Waves play you can't help but notice their attitude.

"Confidence bordering on arrogance," as Temple Coach John Chaney described it.

As the Oklahoma State players returned to the locker room after Friday's victory over Hofstra they passed by the Waves, who were waiting to take the court against Indiana.

"You could see a look in their eyes that they weren't going to be beaten," Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb said.

"I think that's just from us believing and having each other's back," Lewis said. "Everyone is kind of riding on each other."

They also trust their coach, Jan van Breda Kolff--or Jan van, as the players call him.

Clearly the players enjoy the media attention, but the nice thing about them is they aren't seeking personal glory. They keep referring to their goal of representing the WCC.

When asked what he hopes this little time in the spotlight can accomplish, Prince said: "I want to just put Pepperdine on the map, so that people can know about it and also recruits that would like to come to Pepperdine will have a sense of they're coming to a school where they're going to get a good education and also be known as far as playing basketball and get some publicity, also."

Most people don't know about the school's basketball history. They don't know that it's the alma mater of former NBA star Dennis Johnson. They don't know that Pepperdine came so close to ending North Carolina State's improbable run to the 1983 NCAA championship before it got started, but lost by two points in double overtime in the first round of the tournament.

They don't know about the powerful men's volleyball, baseball and water polo and women's tennis and volleyball programs.

And they don't know Pepperdine has perhaps the most scenic location of any college campus, on that green hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

"That's what gets you--the view," Sheppard said.

There are other great sights, such as their famous neighbors.

"If you don't see a movie star in Malibu, you're not looking," Prince said.

He regaled reporters with his tale of the time he and some teammates happened on Pamela Anderson and took pictures with her.

The Waves are the stars this weekend, enjoying a different look at college basketball life. Even here, 2,500 miles away, the advice is the same as when on campus.

Enjoy the view.


J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address:

Los Angeles Times Articles