The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is unlike any other event with its pageantry, illustrious history, buzzer-beating games and Final Four hoopla. Much to our chagrin, March Madness has come and gone, with the championship game played last Monday night between Wisconsin and Duke.
Each team dreams of reaching the “Big Dance” and maybe, in due time, the Pepperdine Waves will have their one shining moment once again. Pepperdine has reached the NCAA Tournament 13 times, but hasn’t experienced the thrill since 2002.
If the 2014-15 season was any indication, the Waves are on the right path to, once again, punching that elusive ticket. All they need to do is believe and follow the lead of their coach, Marty Wilson.
Wilson, who just completed his fourth year as head coach, participated in the NCAA Tournament for Pepperdine as a player (1985, 1986) and as an assistant coach (1991, 1992, 1994), as well as reaching the tournament with UC Santa Barbara and Utah as an assistant.
Since Wilson took over at the helm for the Waves, Pepperdine has improved its win total from 10 to 12 to 15 and to 18 this year. This past season featured several milestones, including the most overall wins since 2002; first postseason appearance since the 2002 NCAA Tournament; first winning season in West Coast Conference play (10-8) and best finish (fourth) since 2004; first WCC Tournament semifinal appearance since 2004; and the program’s first winning season since 2005 (18-14).
“We are not going to celebrate finishing fourth. We didn’t win anything,” Wilson said. “I try to keep our team humble and motivated about what can happen and what has happened here. We’ve accomplished a lot of things but are not satisfied. We want more. These guys want to get to the ‘Big Dance.’ Now it’s time to take that next step.”
A program rich in tradition, the Waves have struggled in recent years, but appear to have turned the corner, with Wilson and his dedicated staff setting course by holding their players accountable and challenging them to be the best they can be as players and as citizens.
“We are getting better. Four years ago we talked as a staff and as a team to focus on the process,” Wilson explained. “The process is bringing in better people, better students and better basketball players. We’ve done all three and our program has gotten better. We talk about the process of holding these guys accountable in the classroom, in the weight room and on the court. We’ve done that. We have no issues off the floor.”
Highlights this season include defeating Brigham Young University twice, winning at Saint Mary’s for the first time since 2007, competing in three close contests against WCC champion and Elite 8 participant Gonzaga, and advancing to the WCC Tournament semifinals.
With no seniors on this year’s squad, everyone will return with their eyes set on loftier goals.
“We’re excited about next season. People want to play for winning teams and we’ve noticed that through recruiting. People are listening more and people want to visit because they know that this is the direction Pepperdine basketball is headed,” Wilson said. “We are going to keep working, keep pushing and challenge our staff and players to get the most out of ourselves to make sure we continue to go in the right direction.”
Junior forward Stacy Davis was named to the All-WCC first team for a second straight year. Junior Jett Raines earned All-WCC honorable mention and freshman Shawn Olden made the WCC’s All-Freshman team.
Davis was the only player in the WCC to rank in the conference’s top five in points (15.9), rebounds (7.3) and blocked shots (1.4). Raines averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds overall, while Olden scored 9.5 ppg.
“That means the world to me. It goes to show that if you put in the work and stay patient, good things will happen,” Davis said of his honor. “To be amongst Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Tyler Haws (BYU), Brad Waldow (Saint Mary’s), [those] are great players, it’s amazing. What I am most proud of is being able to represent our team and the coaching staff. It’s definitely an honor.”
Wilson will continue to emphasize the process as he restores the pride in Pepperdine basketball. As for Davis, he has one season left to leave a lasting impression.
“Coach (Bryant) Moore told me when I first came here, ‘You always want to leave a program better than when you got here,’” Davis said. “That’s the mantra I’ve tried to live by as far as my play and how I act.
“It definitely was a special season. It was good to achieve a lot of those firsts. We want to contend for a conference championship in the regular season and in the postseason and ultimately get to the NCAA Tournament, which would be a dream for everybody. We are coming for people. Pepperdine basketball is here to stay.”