Waves men’s basketball season tips off on Friday

Pepperdine Head Coach Lorenzo Romar speaks at Tip-Off Luncheon in Los Angeles on Oct. 4. Romar's team hopes to bounce back in 2022-23 after a losing season. Photo by Roger Horne.

The Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball team finished last season with a losing record.

Ten days before the Waves’ season begins with Blue & Orange Madness on Friday night, Oct. 14, Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar said this season’s Waves squad can be more successful. 

“We had three players on the All-Freshman team last year,” Romar said. “That meant they played a lot and gained a lot of experience. We did not have a great season last year, but we are hopeful that our guys can build on the experience they got last year.” 

The Pepperdine coach’s words came at the annual Southern California Basketball Coaches Tip-Off Luncheon at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 4. 

Romar was one of 15 area Division 1 hoops coaches to attend and speak at the luncheon. The other coaches at the event included USC head coach Andy Enfield, San Diego head coach Steve Lavin, CSUN head coach Trent Johnson, Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson and UCLA assistant coach Rod Palmer. 

Blue & Orange Madness, which begins at 8 p.m., is held each year in Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse to introduce the Waves men’s and women’s basketball teams to fans and the public. The yearly event features player introductions, scrimmages, skits, and displays of basketball acumen. 

The Waves were predicted to finish seventh in the 11-team West Coast Conference by the conference’s coaches at the WCC’s media day on Oct. 6. 

However, sophomore guard Houston Mallette, one of the Waves named to the WCC All-Freshman team last season, was named to the preseason All-WCC team. Nine other players from across the conference were in the group. 

Mallette averaged 13.6 points last season, tops on the Pepperdine team. He scored 15.9 points a game in WCC games. Mallette also hit a Waves freshman record 71 three-pointers, and closed Pepperdine’s 2021-22 campaign with an active streak of 26 straight games with a splashed triple. The guard had eight straight 20-point games and tallied double-figures in 19 games.

Guard Mike Mitchell Jr. and forward Maxwell Lewis were the other two Pepperdine players named to last season’s WCC All-Freshman team.

Mitchell averaged 9.1 points per game. He stood out with his ability to pass the ball. Mitchell averaged 4.9 assists a contest, second in the WCC, and averaged 4.6 assist a game in WCC contests, which ranked third in the league. The guard’s 156 assists were the second-most ever by a Waves freshman. Mitchell was the only Pepperdine player to start all 32 games a season ago.

Lewis scored 11.0 points a game. However, his freshman season ended prematurely due to a wrist injury. Lewis had two games of at least 20 points in WCC contests and scored in double figures in seven conference games.

Another key returning player is senior forward Jan Zidek, Pepperdine’s second-leading scorer last season. He scored 13.3 points a game. 

Pepperdine ended its season last spring with a 7-25 record, which included seven consecutive losses. 

The Waves had a 15-12 record the season before and won the College Basketball Invitational tournament title. 

At the luncheon, the 2021 Legends of Coaching Award was given to former Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Los Angeles coach Dave Yanai after the COVID-19 pandemic previously stopped him from receiving the honor in person. Dawn Staley, the women’s coach at South Carolina, was named the 2023 winner of the award. 

The event is also associated with the yearly presentation of the John Wooden Award and the Wooden Award Legends of Coaching, both named after the legendary UCLA coach, who died in 2010. 

Romar, once an assistant coach at UCLA, said everyone knows how great of a coach Wooden was. 

“There are so many awards and events that have taken John Wooden’s name to be a part of what they’re doing,” he said. “Either we all know or have heard or have experienced how great a man he was. You’d learn just as much about life as you would if you were talking about basketball. His humility was unbelievable.”

The Waves open their season by hosting Rice on Nov. 7. 

The Pepperdine coach said this year’s Waves need to learn how to win games.

“It’s hard to win games,” Romar said. “We need to learn how to win the close games. I think our guys are all up for it, we can do that, and we can be a lot more successful.”