Malibu News Flash: New men’s basketball coach at Pepperdine promises excitement

Vance Walberg says he wants the team making the NCAA Tournament in his second season and being in the Top 25 by the third season.

By Jonathan Friedman/ Assistant Editor

Pepperdine University men’s basketball fans could be seeing a team next season reminiscent of the Loyola Marymount squads of the late 80s and early 90s. At a press conference Thursday afternoon introducing the Waves’ new head coach, Vance Walberg said he would be bringing the high-intensity, high-scoring game he coached at Fresno City College to the Malibu school.

“A lot of you are going to be in for a shock,” Walberg said. “You’re not going to have time to get to go to the bathroom, get your snacks. You’ve got to do that at halftime or before the game. Because we don’t stop moving.”

Walberg’s junior college team averaged more than 101 points per game this past season while going 33-6. And his team also averaged in triple digits during the 2004-05 season in which it went 34-0 and won the junior college state championship.

The new Pepperdine coach calls his offense AASAA, which stands for Attack Attack Skip Attack Attack. This aggressive style is designed to overwhelm the opponent’s defense and lead to layups and skip passes for three-point baskets.

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Walberg said he doesn’t expect Pepperdine to be averaging above 100 points, but he would like to see the team scoring in the 80s. And he said people should not be expecting quite the same thing as people saw at Loyola Marymount during the days of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble when that team would outlast opponents by scoring well over 100 points, but giving up nearly as many. Walberg said he believes in playing defense as well.

“It’s a lot of pressure on both ends of the court,” Walberg said.

Walberg was hired as Pepperdine’s 12th head basketball coach after a month-long search. Although Athletics Director John Watson never confirmed who else was interviewed, sources say Walberg beat out a list of candidates that included University of Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak, University of New Mexico’s Ritchie McKay and assistants from UCLA and USC. Walberg thanked Pepperdine for taking a risk on hiring a coach from the junior college ranks.

“It doesn’t happen to too many people [being hired from junior college to Division I],” Walberg said. “But I also know for 28 years I’ve busted my tail to try to become the best I can.”

Walberg, who played basketball for De Anza Community College and Cal State Bakersfield, began his coaching career in 1978 at Mountain View High School. He then coached basketball (as well as badminton for two years) at three other high schools before coming to Clovis West High in Fresno during the 1989-90 season. Walberg had a 343-68 record during his 13-year stint with Clovis West, which included nine league titles, six seasons ranked in the California State Top 10 and two seasons listed on USA Today’s national Top 25.

Walberg took the Fresno City job in 2002. In four seasons with the Rams, he compiled a 133-11 record, including the state championship perfect season in 2004-05. This past season, the team lost in the state semifinals.

Since 1987, Walberg has spent a week each year at the beginning of the basketball season observing different Division I college’s practices. He said he has learned a great deal over the years from watching coaches such as Bob Knight, Rick Patino, Denny Crum and Lute Olsen.

The University of Memphis’ John Calipari, who Walberg observed two years ago, actually said he learned from the then-junior college coach. Calipari told the Associated Press last month that he adopted some feature’s of Walberg’s offense into his game. Calipari’s team earned a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year and fell one game short of reaching the Final Four.

In a statement printed in Pepperdine’s media packet about Walberg’s hiring, Calipari said the Waves’ new head coach has stimulated his thinking about the game of basketball more than any other coach has.

“Fans at Pepperdine are going to be blown away by his passion for the game and his ability to impose his will on his own and the opponents,” Calipari said. “Pepperdine fans are in for an incredible ride with Vance as their head coach, so they’d better hold on tight.”

Walberg replaces Paul Westphal, who despite having an impressive resume was never able to do much in his five years as Pepperdine’s head coach. His team reached the NCAA Tournament in Westphal’s first season, but the rest of the coach’s tenure was a series of disappointing seasons that were either below .500 or barely above the mark. The Waves finished this past season at 7-20, the team’s worst record in nine years.

Walberg said he plans to quickly bring the Waves back to national prominence. He said his goals are an NCAA Tournament appearance in his second season and the Waves being a Top 25 team in his third season. But next season, Walberg said, will be a difficult transition time for the players.

“This is going to be shellshock for a lot of these guys,” Walberg said. “They’re going to be pushed to a level they’ve never been pushed to before.”

Walberg, 49, has a physical education degree from Cal State Bakersfield, a teaching credential from the College of Belmont and a master’s degree from Saint Mary’s University in health, physical education and recreation. He and his wife, Rose, have four children. Their son, Jason, is on the Saint Mary’s basketball team.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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