Sportsperson of the Year: Pepperdine Waves Scoring Champ Colbey Ross

Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball head coach Lorenzo Romar (left) congratulates Colbey Ross as the talented hoopster earns the top-scoring title in school history in December 2020.

Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball player Colbey Ross is shooting for several hoops dreams in 2021. The senior guard wants to lead his team to a winning record, a West Coast Conference title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Ross, a basketball player since he was a tyke, also hopes to fulfill a lifelong ambition and hear his name called in the upcoming NBA draft. 

“My main goal is to continue to work hard,” said the 6-foot-1 hooper. “I’m going to learn from everything I do, not dwell on the past and become better at what I am doing.” 

Despite 2020 being a dastardly year overall due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and other lowly happenings, the period featured Ross reaching hoops heights that few players have. The college basketball player was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ All-District first team and to the All-WCC first team last spring. Ross was also named to the WCC All-Tournament team before the coronavirus’ spread shut down the college basketball season in March. Ross ended the season ranked second in the WCC in scoring and first in assists and free throw percentage. The Wave splashed a winning three-point shot to close one game and scored a career high in points in Pepperdine’s final competition. Additionally, in one game he scored 30 points, and snagged 14 rebounds, a career high.

The point guard entered Pepperdine’s COVID-19-delayed 2020-21 season 23 points shy of becoming Waves men’s basketball’s all-time leading scorer. Ross accomplished the feat in Pepperdine’s second game. He also gained the program’s all-time assist mark this winter. Ross was among the prominent players named to the Wooden Award preseason watch list and was recognized as a potential winner of the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award.  

All that has led to Ross being named The Malibu Times’ Sportsperson of the Year for 2020. Last year’s Sportsperson of the Year was Waves women’s tennis star Ashley Lahey. Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball coach David Hunt received the honor at the close of 2018. Basketball player Stacey Davis, who Ross eclipsed to gain the Pepperdine scoring crown, was the Sportsperson of the Year in 2015.

Ross experienced notable growth in 2020 and learned a lot about himself. 

“Everything happening with COVID, the season ending early—things like that helped me find out who I really am and how much I really love basketball,” he said. “I was dedicated this summer to getting better. We have the ability to practice and play games this year. That is a blessing with everything that is going on. I’m grateful to be able to play basketball in these times.” 

Ross also expressed appreciation that he was able to play during his senior year, after sports being shuttered for so long. 

“I am able to practice and play games with my teammates and my coaches,” he said. “I am embracing every moment and making sure I’m doing everything to the fullest because this will be my last time doing it. This is something I’m always going to remember.” 

Ross scored 15 points in Pepperdine’s first game of 2020, then scored 24 in the squad’s second. The guard scored 23 points in the Waves’ third game and 20 the following game. Ross’ productivity continued for more than a dozen games then reached a crescendo in Pepperdine’s last game of the 2019-20 season, a March 8 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament quarterfinals.

He littered points all over Saint Mary’s defenders. Ross swished floaters, shots from the post, three-point scores and more threes. In fact, the guard hit a career high seven triples on his way to a career high 43 points. 

Ross was in the zone.

“I was feeling good,” he said. “When I get in zones, the game slows down a lot. I can hear myself breathing. I’m calm. When I feel the ball come off my hand, I know the shot is good. I’m locked in.” 

Pepperdine finished last season with a 16-16 record and players hoped they would be admitted to a postseason event. However, the worldwide health epidemic put the sporting world on pause several days after their loss to Saint Mary’s. Ross said if the Waves had participated in a postseason spectacle, he would have shown basketball watchers across the nation what he is capable of.

“We weren’t on the big stage all the time,” he said. “We weren’t on ESPN or CBS every game. Fans around the country only get to see me a few times throughout the year, so they don’t know how good I am or might be skeptical. This year, I’m trying to show how good I am and how good my team is.”

The Pepperdine player could have perhaps shown off his skills on the NBA level. Ross spent a portion of the summer weighing whether to declare for the 2020 NBA draft. He interviewed with representatives from some NBA teams. However, since predraft camps and workouts didn’t happen to lead into the draft because of coronavirus restrictions, Ross and Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar determined it would be best for Ross to show off his talent during a final college basketball season.

For years, Romar has noted Ross’ skills on the court. In a January 2020 Malibu Times interview, Romar said he wasn’t surprised with the success the point guard had in the 2019-20 season.

“We are talking about a guy here with no problem with getting up at 5:30 in the morning every day working out,” he said. “He spends countless hours working on his craft.” 

Earlier this season, as Ross was honing in on the top scoring spot, Romar told the Pepperdine Graphic that Ross was as good as any point guard in college basketball—”No doubt about it,” Romar said. 

Ross gained the Pepperdine scoring crown while on his way to tallying 33 points in a triple overtime loss to UCLA on Nov. 27.  On Dec. 12, before the Waves’ loss to CSUN, a ceremony was held to honor Ross’ scoring accomplishment. 

The Waves boast a 4-5 record heading into a New Year’s Eve matchup against WCC-opponent BYU. Pepperdine is scheduled to play at Saint Mary’s on Jan. 2 and at San Francisco on Jan. 7. Both squads are also WCC opposition. Four of Pepperdine’s games have been canceled this season because of COVID-19 issues. 

Ross said navigating a season through a pandemic has not been easy, but it is necessary for games to happen.

“Anytime we have [a] chance to practice or play, it’s a chance for me to get better and the team to get better,” he said.

Ross was currently averaging 19 points and 7 assists a game and, along with teammate Michael Wexler, also a senior guard, showing off his sense of style before games via their @backcourtdrip Instagram account. 

The idea sprang from watching NBA players flaunt their outfits in front of television cameras while walking into arenas. Ross and Wexler’s routine is similar, sans the gaudy, blinged-out accessories and expensive designer wear. Instead, the social media page features the Waves’ guards rocking a variety of looks that include flannel shirts, ripped jeans, Jordan and Vans sneakers, and outfits composed mostly of denim all while striding into Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse or striking a pose. Pictures of their Waves teammates and friends are also amongst the page’s posts.

A Dec. 25 post taken in Palm Desert with the caption “Merry Christmas from our drip family to yours” features Ross dressed in a black shirt and dark plaid pants. He also is wearing a gray sweater jacket and white sneakers. Welker is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and gray plaid slacks. Black Vans complete his ensemble. 

One commenter wrote, “Ya’ll boys dripped out on this fine Christmas.” Another typed, “You guys look great!” 

The operator of the Pepperdine basketball IG account, who normally snaps pictures of the hoopers, wrote, “dang ya’ll don’t even need me” with a freezing face emoji. 

Ross said @backcourtdrip was been well-received. 

“It’s hard being a college kid with not a lot of money to pay for things like that, but we have done good,” Ross said. “We go to thrift stores to try to make our outfits cool.”

Pepperdine wants to compile a bevy of Ws and win the WCC to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Competing in March Madness would make 2021 an even more successful basketball campaign for Ross than 2020. 

“I feel like there is so much more to come,” he said. “Every day being able to play the game I love is always going to be my best moment. Being able to step on the court and play basketball is my best moment.”