Pepperdine men’s basketball off to a hot start

Jett Raines of Pepperdine tips it off at a recent game vs. Central Michigan. 

Twelve games into the 2012-13 season, the Pepperdine men’s basketball team has made hay in a difficult non-conference schedule to get off to its best start since 2004. As the West Coast Conference season approaches next week, the Waves carry seven wins under their belt and a healthy dose of confidence. 

“We have guys who have pride. It’s been good. You want to win them all but then you get greedy and get selfish,” Pepperdine Coach Marty Wilson said. “The main thing is if we don’t turn the ball over we are pretty good.” 

Wilson begins his second season at the helm for the Waves after serving three seasons as associate head coach under former head coach and Pepperdine’s newest Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Asbury. Building a foundation of accountability, unselfishness and toughness, Wilson has the Waves playing at a level not recently seen on the hills of Malibu. 

“We are going to defend, we will be physical and we will share the ball,” said Wilson, a former Pepperdine player himself and graduate of 1989. “We will continue to grow. We have a lot to learn and develop on. We will work on it and continue to get better.” 

Pepperdine has sprinted to its best start in eight years due in large part to the play of senior guards and captains Lorne Jackson and Caleb Willis. Jackson has bounced back from missing last season due to a knee injury. He’s averaging a team-high 15.7 points per game. 

Jackson’s absence in 2011-12 allowed Willis to gain valuable minutes at the point guard position. His leadership, aggressive play and toughness have rubbed off on the young Waves. 

Al Epstein, the play-by-play announcer for the Waves who is now in his 28th season, says it all starts with those two. 

“Pepperdine has two senior guards in Lorne and Caleb who have made a big difference in their success this year. They are executing and making plays when they need to,” said Epstein. “This is a team with a lot of versatility and depth. The coaches have done a great job really developing this team. The foundation has been laid the last several years to build on something. That’s been the best thing.” 

The Waves currently rank No. 1 in the WCC and No. 42 nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.379). They are also No. 2 in the WCC in scoring defense (62.2 ppg) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.322). 

The addition of freshman sensation Stacy Davis, a six-foot-six, 235-lb. wide body, as well as the contributions from freshmen Jett Raines and Atif Russell have infused Pepperdine with energy and youthful exuberance. Add the maturity of sophomore guard Jordan Baker and the Waves have a promising future. 

“I’m excited about them. They are learning every day and getting better every day. They are going to be good players,” Wilson said. “Stacy will be a great player and will have a great career here.” 

Davis is the top-ranked freshman in the WCC in scoring (10.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.4 ppg). 

“Stacy Davis is one of the best freshmen on the West Coast,” Epstein added. “He’s a mature, skilled gifted player.” 

Lurking around the corner for Pepperdine is a grueling 14-game WCC schedule. Gonzaga, ranked No. 10 in the country, Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young University are three top collegiate programs, and the Waves must match up with each of them. 

Pepperdine begins WCC action against Gonzaga on January 3 at Firestone Fieldhouse. The Waves are back on the court on Friday versus Fresno Pacific at 7:30 p.m. 

“The three bad bears are still the same. Santa Clara will be a surprise this year,” said Epstein, who has broadcast 827 consecutive games for Pepperdine. “I think the Waves are somewhere in the mix in the middle. Pepperdine will be a very competitive team this year for the first time in a long time in the conference.” 

This is the 75th season of Pepperdine men’s basketball, and the 40th that the Waves call Firestone Fieldhouse home.