Multiple basketballs transformed into brownish-orange blurs at one point during the Pepperdine Waves women’s hoops team’s July 5 practice at Firestone Fieldhouse.
The college basketball squad rocketed the balls to each other during a shooting and passing drill at one end of the arena’s polished, wooden floor.
Following a shot attempt, the ball funneled through an automated basketball shooting machine, which then blasted the leather sphere to a waiting Wave at the top of the three-point arc. That player then passed the ball to a teammate on the left side of the arc, who fired the ball to a player on the opposite arc ready to shoot. The process repeated rapidly after a made or missed shot.
Through it all, players called the names of the shooter, once senior guard Paige Fecske told teammates to “follow your pass. When you shoot go to the middle,” and Pepperdine head coach DeLisha Milton Jones directed the shooters to “finish on your toes.”
Milton-Jones, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and retired WNBA All-Star—and two-time champion—said she likes for the team to be animated and vocal during the drills to promote bonding. She said the exercises also help determine what type of team the Waves will be during their upcoming season this fall.
“Are we going to be a team that will hit you from different areas on the court offensively from the three-point line on in or we going to be a team that pounds the ball on the inside?” she asked. “Are we going to be a running team? We are trying to evaluate a lot in a short period of time, so when the end of August comes we have a plan.”
Junior guard Barbara Sitanggan believes her second-year head coach will direct the Waves to play at a high-speed pace. She hopes she and her teammates can fast-break to the top tier of West Coast Conference, the 10-member league Pepperdine competes in.
“I think we have a great chance this year with all the players we have, and we are such a young team—we only have three seniors,” Sitanggan said. “We can have a great year.”
Senior forward Yasmin Robinson-Bacote is eager to lead the Waves to success. She said practices this month will set the tone for the 2018-19 campaign.
“The season starts now,” said Robinson-Bacote, who averaged 16.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game during Pepperdine’s 10-20 record season that ended last March.
The morning after Independence Day, Robinson-Bacote and her teammates—minus Australian-born players Monique Andriuolo and Mia Satie—scrimmaged (the losers had to do push-ups) and ran through various skill development drills with the coaching staff, who often got involved in the drills themselves.
Assistant coaches Josh Pace and BJ Porter lead Sitanggan, Fecske and other Waves such as new team members, junior Deezha Battle and freshman Malia Bambrick, through a drill that had the girls crossing over in front of cone then pulling up for a jump shot.
On the other end of the floor, Milton-Jones directed frontcourt players in drills that featured them trying to score on her in the lane—baseline drives, short jump shots and more—after receiving a pass from strength coach Adam Estrin.
Pepperdine’s seven other practices this month will feature more of this. The women also have conditioning days and dedicated hours in the university’s weight room.
Their coach said she wants to identify the team’s culture this month.
“I want to see the maturity of the returners and how welcoming and accepting they are of the newbies coming,” Milton-Jones said. “I’m also trying to get a feel for the new players and where they are. What their skill level is outside of what we evaluated during recruiting.”
Pepperdine won 14 games in Robinson-Bacote’s first two college basketball seasons. With the 10 wins of her junior season behind her, the fourth-year player said establishing a winner culture is important.
“The senior group that we have now—me, Keyari [Sleezer] and Paige—have been through a lot and would love to see the program get on the right track,” Robinson-Bacote said. “We came in and struggled. Now we are just trying to leave a winning culture behind.”
She said Pepperdine’s six new players are helping to forge a champion program.
“They have done a very good job of catching onto things early,” she said. “These girls really know how to play the game. They are going to make a difference. Every single one of them has the ability to come in the game and change the dynamic. It adds more depth to our group.”
Milton-Jones has called the newcomers Pepperdine’s most talented recruiting class in a few years. One of them, Battle, a transfer from Cochise College in Arizona, said she wants to live up to that billing and show she is deserving of a roster spot.
“It’s extremely important, especially coming in as a junior,” she said.
Freshmen forward Skye Lindsay said the more experienced Waves have been encouraging the new players.
“We are just going to get stronger,” she said. “Go faster. Go harder. I think we can only go up from here.”
Sitanggan, a guard known for being more pass-first than score-first, who is looking to be more aggressive this season offensively, said her new teammates have been impressive.
“It pushes and challenges the returners,” she said. “We are all fighting for spots, but at the end of the day we are all a team that will be competing together once the season comes.”
Battle believes Pepperdine can claim a lot of victories.
“We don’t have a set goal, but we definitely want to improve,” she said. “I feel like we are underdogs, and I like that. I feel like we can surprise a lot of people.”