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Family Circle

Westphals enjoying final days of player-coach relationship

March 08, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

Mike Westphal was bored of hearing the same chant in hostile gyms:

"Daddy's boy, daddy's boy."

So when a TV reporter asked Westphal about the chant earlier this season, the senior guard for Pepperdine said he wanted to hear something new that would make him laugh.

He got his wish in the Waves' next game at Loyola Marymount's Gersten Pavilion as he stepped to the free-throw line:

"Daddy's girl, daddy's girl."

"I got it in high school," he said of the razzing. "I get it now."

Nothing much upsets the quietly confident Westphal, least of all references to his father, Pepperdine Coach Paul Westphal, a former NBA player and coach.

Mike, 23, learned while growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz., that there were pros and cons to having a famous dad.

The perks included shooting baskets with Charles Barkley, meeting Michael Jordan and riding on the team plane with the Phoenix Suns, coached by Westphal, during the 1993 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls.

Then there were days, after a Suns' playoff loss, when Mike wouldn't want to go to school because he knew he'd hear about it from the other kids.

"When he was a boy I told him, 'You have to take the bad with the good, and don't take either one of them too seriously,' " Paul said. "And I think he really learned that lesson."

Mike said he never felt pressure to live up to his father's legacy. Paul, 52, ranks among the greatest players ever from the Los Angeles area -- an All-American at USC and a five-time All-Star in a 12-year pro career spent mostly with the Suns.

"My parents never put any pressure on me to even play [basketball]," Mike said. "So without pressure from them, I don't feel any pressure from anyone else."

Mike has played for his father the last two seasons, an experience that will come to an end this weekend unless Pepperdine wins the West Coast Conference tournament, thus earning a berth in the NCAA tournament.

The Waves (15-12) play a second-round game against St. Mary's (14-14) at 8:15 tonight at San Diego.

Mike has played more since the Waves lost center Will Kimble (heart condition), forward Glen McGowan (circulation problem) and point guard Devin Montgomery (broken thumb) in the season's opening weeks.

As the Waves' first guard off the bench, he ranks third in the conference in three-point shooting percentage (43.8%) and is second on the team and fifth in the conference with 56 three-point baskets.

He averages 8.5 points and 22.1 minutes a game for a team with only nine players.

"It's been frustrating to look at the team we could have had," Mike said, referring to the sidelined starters. "But, at the same time, we've had flashes of being a great team without those guys."

Mike came to Pepperdine as a sophomore in 2000 after playing a year at Bellevue (Wash.) Community College. At the time, Paul was the coach of the Seattle SuperSonics.

A non-scholarship player, Mike played little in his first season with the Waves.

Back in Seattle, Paul was fired by the SuperSonics early in the 2000-01 season and moved his family to Manhattan Beach, where he owned a house. The Westphals moved to Pacific Palisades last summer to be closer to Pepperdine's Malibu campus.

"We said Manhattan Beach or the rain?" Paul said. "It wasn't a hard decision."

Shortly after returning to the South Bay, the former star at defunct Aviation High in Redondo Beach learned that Pepperdine Coach Jan van Breda Kolff was leaving for St. Bonaventure.

Paul had reservations about pursuing the position because he was apprehensive about the prospect of coaching his son.

"It's hard on the father -- they're always perceived as favoring their son -- and it's harder on the son because of that," Paul said.

Mike, though, encouraged his father to apply for the job.

"He said, 'Look, I hardly played last year, so if I don't play it's not your fault, it's my fault,' " Paul said. " 'And if I earn playing time, I know you'll be fair.' "

Paul was finally convinced when Mike told him that if the competition was close between himself and another player, to favor the other player.

Said Mike: "I didn't want him to feel like he'd be disappointing me or upsetting me if I wasn't getting playing time."

Mike became just another player in his father's eyes, willing to follow directions and accept criticism. Privately, Paul breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was really worried about it, because if he would have acted differently, it could have put me in a horrible situation," Paul said.

For Mike, playing for his father was as natural as lacing up his sneakers.

"It's never been awkward," he said. "Had I come after him, it might have been. But getting to know the players before that, it made it a lot easier."

Mike worked hard and became a contributor last season, averaging eight minutes a game as the Waves tied Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title and earned an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

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