Men's Basketball 2014-15 Season Outlook
The Waves begin the season at home in one week (vs. Fresno State on Nov. 14).
MALIBU, Calif. - The Pepperdine men's basketball team will feature zero seniors during the 2014-15 season and the Waves' 16-man roster includes 12 freshmen or sophomores. Those facts might make it easy for some to discount the team heading into the season, but equally important to remember is the Waves' track record of outperforming their expectations and the upward direction that fourth-year head coach Marty Wilson has his squad pointed.
Since Wilson returned to Malibu prior to the 2008-09 season, the Waves have enjoyed six consecutive years finishing better than predicted in the West Coast Conference, including the last three when he's been the head coach. Last season, he guided Pepperdine to 15 wins, the program's most since 2004-05. After being picked to finish 10th in the WCC, the Waves reached the top half of the standings (fifth) for the first time since 2004.
With a squad that has wholeheartedly bought into his "Both Feet In" philosophy and recruiting efforts that have filled the roster with "OKGs" - Our Kind of Guys - Wilson expects his Waves to continue to take another step forward in the coming season.
"We're never going to be satisfied," said Wilson, who is assisted again by Mark Amaral, Bryant Moore and John Impelman. "We have high expectations for ourselves and our team. I wasn't satisfied with finishing fifth last year, although it was an accomplishment with a very young team. We're going to continue to raise the bar, continue to demand more out of them individually and collectively, and hope to finish as high as we possibly can. And ultimately, we want to play for championships."
Wilson and his staff have reloaded the roster with another strong recruiting class that consists of seven newcomers. Coupled with his veterans, he's excited about the prospects of the new season.
"I already like our chemistry," Wilson said. "I've seen it grow off the floor already, and that's going to carry over to what happens on the floor. I like our athleticism and our toughness. If we're healthy, we've got good depth. We've got some versatile players that will allow us to choose between playing big and playing small. And very importantly for what we want to do, I like our quickness, from our guards to our bigs."
Not having a senior on the roster doesn't necessarily bother Wilson, though he knows life will be different after the graduation of a terrific senior class, led by WCC Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Lane.
"It'll be difficult not having Brendan anymore," Wilson said. "I considered him a `super-senior' because he knew what we were doing on the both ends of the floor, he knew what our opponents were doing on both ends of the floor, and he covered a lot of our mistakes."
But, Lane was only one-half of one of the best starting frontcourts on the West Coast last season. And 6-foot-6 junior forward Stacy Davis (Laveen, Ariz./Fairfax HS) is back and ready to lead the Waves after a tremendous sophomore campaign that saw him become the school's first All-WCC first team selection since 2005. Davis averaged team bests of 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, up from his freshman year when he was the WCC's Newcomer of the Year with figures of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds.
With two more seasons comparable to his sophomore year, Davis would become the school's all-time leading scorer. He's also on a pace to finish among the top five rebounders and as one of the program's most prolific free throw shooters.
"Stacy has grown on and off the floor," Wilson said. "He's taken more ownership of this team. He's working out at a higher level, eating better and showing more self-discipline. We're challenging him to do more on the perimeter this year because he can be a real mismatch. Other teams are going to have to figure out whether to go big or small on him, and it's our job to take advantage of that. He knows he's going to have a target on his back, and that motivates him. I'm sure he'll be one of the top five guys in the league. Hopefully his goal is to be MVP of the league."
Junior forward Jett Raines (Coppell, Texas/Coppell HS) has seen his share of minutes over the past two years. The 6-foot-7 Raines was one of the top freshmen in the WCC two years ago, then had to take a step back last year while he recovered from a hand injury and backed up Lane.
"Jett expects a lot out of himself and he wants to have a breakout year," Wilson said. "He's got all the tools to be a great defender. He's quick, athletic, long, moves his feet well and can get off the ground. Mentally, he's tough enough to guard other guys who are bigger. That's where he can separate himself as a great player. Offensively, he's gotten better with his ball-handling and his decision making."
The Waves also welcome back two starting guards, both of whom are equally adept at handling point guard duties. Sophomore Jeremy Major (Pasadena, Calif./Maranatha HS) was named to the WCC's All-Freshman team last year while setting a Pepperdine freshman record with 138 assists. He ranked fifth in the conference with 4.4 assists per game and also averaged 9.1 points. Sophomore Amadi Udenyi (Oakland, Calif./De La Salle HS/St. Thomas More) bounced back from an early-season knee injury to become a key contributor who averaged 5.9 points and 2.7 assists.
"With the amount of minutes that Jeremy and Amadi played last year, and the amount of responsibility we gave them as starters, they're going to see a lot of growth this year as sophomores," Wilson said. "We're going to be demanding more out of them because they'll be able to handle it now. I expect that they will be even better this year at attacking other teams because of what they learned as freshmen."
Other veterans looking to make a jump forward in 2014-15 include junior guard/forward Atif Russell (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes HS), sophomore guard/forward Lamond Murray Jr. (Los Angeles, Calif./Bishop Montgomery HS), sophomore forward David Jesperson (Merrill, Wis./Merrill HS) and redshirt freshman guard Marley Biyendolo (Melbourne, Australia/Cheltenham Secondary School).
"Atif is a very good athlete and his challenge is to defend, rebound and make the extra pass," Wilson said. "If he can be a defensive stopper, he's going to play. Lamond might be the best rebounder we have, and he can score any number of ways. If he defends, he's going to play, and that's the challenge he dealt with last year.
"DJ learned a lot going up against Brendan Lane every day as a freshman last year, and he's as sharp a player as I've ever been around. He's got a great basketball IQ and he picks things up quickly. Marley is going to surprise some people. He's quite possibly as good of a decision maker as we have, and he's very disciplined on defense. He's going to fight for some playing time.
"You usually see a lot of growth from your freshman to sophomore year, and we need that from all of our second-year players."
Among the newcomers, three freshmen big men and one transfer will all be hoping to claim some of the minutes that Lane left behind while pushing the others in the frontcourt. The freshmen are 6-foot-10 center Nate Gehring (Waukee, Iowa/Waukee HS), 6-foot-8 forward A.J. John (Santa Rosa, Calif./Maria Carrillo HS) and 6-foot-10 center Ryan Keenan (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge HS), while 6-foot-10 junior forward/center Jake Johnson (Reno, Nev./Reno HS/Casper CC) joins the squad as a walk-on.
"If Nate played three years of high school in Southern California, he'd have been recruited at the Pac-12 level," Wilson said. "And I think the same thing about some of our other guys. Nate can run and jump and dunk and he can be a special player. He knows he's a center, he's not trying to be anything else. A.J. has no idea how good he can be yet. All this is new for him, but we keep giving him things and he keeps responding. The sky's the limit for him.
"Ryan gets better every day. He might be the strongest human being I've ever coached. He's still learning how to be big and strong, but he can be a physical force. And for a guy that big, you wouldn't expect him to run as well as he does. I've been pleased with what Jake has been able to do, and I think he's going to play some minutes for us. He's pretty skilled on the block and he's tough. He's more than what you'd expect from a walk-on."
"We tried to get A.J. the first time around because we thought he would be a great fit," Wilson said. "The second time around, I think he realized Pepperdine was the right fit for him. He's got to get healthy, but he's a good basketball player. He shoots it, handles it, passes it, can post up and has a great feel for the game. Shawn is going to cause some problems for other teams because he can score in a variety of ways. He can shoot the three and get to the basket and dunk on guys. He's an unselfish scorer and takes pride in his defense."
The Waves have two other walk-on guards, sophomore Jonathan Allen (Nashville, Tenn./Ravenwood HS) and freshman John Yi (Yorba Linda, Calif./El Dorado HS). Allen is expected to miss the season due to a knee injury.
The squad opens the season at home against Fresno State on Nov. 14. Other non-conference highlights include road trips to 2014 NCAA Tournament teams Iowa (Nov. 24) and Arizona State (Dec. 13), and a spot in the Gotham Classic where the Waves will face Richmond at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Dec. 20.