For the last several years, Pepperdine basketball fans have languished watching a young team experience growing pains, only winning an average of just over eight games per season the last five years after averaging just over 18 wins the previous five seasons. Inevitably, the young players have grown up, giving the Waves an experienced team that has significant playing experience together.
“We have only had a couple of practices so far, but I can already tell that the team looks better,” senior center Denis Agre said.
The Waves have 14 players with playing experience returning, the most in school history. The returning players accounted for all of last season’s scoring, and more than 99 percent of the total rebounds and assists. Of the 16 players on this year’s squad, four are seniors, and seven are juniors.
“I’m excited to have an experienced team,” coach Tom Asbury said in an interview at the Wooden Award College Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon. “We finally have juniors and seniors instead of freshman and sophomores. Not only are they bigger, stronger, and more physical, but they also know what our program is all about. They understand our system, so we expect them to pick up things much quicker.”
The Waves became even closer as a unit on a basketball tour of Italy in May, when they had ten extra practices and competed against four Italian basketball teams. Players were forbidden from bringing cell phones, forcing the players to spend time bonding with each other.
“Our chemistry and camaraderie is higher than it has ever been,” junior guard Keion Bell said. “This is one of the most closely-knit teams that I have ever played on.”
The Waves will again be paced by Bell, who led the team in scoring, assists and steals last season. Bell displayed his athleticism and became a YouTube legend by dunking over seven people at Pepperdine’s annual Midnight Madness, which celebrates the beginning of the fall basketball practices.
“Keion will be more of a consistent player,” Asbury said. “He is a great scorer, and yet people figured him out towards the end of last year, and he struggled. He needs to stop turning the ball over, but he is dynamic and a great athlete.”
Senior forward Mychel Thompson is expected to provide leadership and be a scoring threat.
“[Thompson] is a quiet leader,” Asbury said. “He is not the type of guy who is overly out-going, but he is a leader with his actions.”
Starters Taylor Darby, Jonathan Dupre, and Lorne Jackson also return.
The Waves brought in two players who are expected to contribute immediately. Center Jan Maehlen, who is listed at seven-foot and 340 pounds, is down to about 320 pounds.
“I think [Maehlen] can be a force this year; I do not think we have to wait,” Asbury said.
The Waves also welcome forward Hector Harold to Malibu.
“Hector is a true basketball player, what we call a baller,” Asbury said. “He is versatile, and can do a lot of things on the court. I think he is going to play a lot as a freshman.”
Asbury envisions the team playing more up-tempo, and stated that Bell will sometimes play at point guard so that he can initiate the offense.
“We want to play faster,” Asbury said. “We want to put more quick guys on the floor, and push the ball.”
As a result of their experience and togetherness, the Pepperdine players have big expectations for the upcoming season. “I want to make the NCAA Tournament,” Thompson said. “That has always been my goal, and hopefully this season we can do that.”
The Waves open their season with a home exhibition game against La Verne on November 5 at 7:00 p.m.