Waves basketball - DeLisha Milton-Jones.jpg

Pepperdine Coach DeLisha Milton-Jones on the sidelines

The Pepperdine women’s basketball team will begin dribbling toward its 2018-19 season next week. 

The college hoops squad will hold a series of practices in July. During the summer sessions, the players will work on hoops skills, lift weights and do conditioning in preparation for the season, which starts in three months.

Waves head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones said next month is a big deal for the group.

“What we do in July will set the tone for what we do in September when we come back together,” she said. 

Milton-Jones, a former professional basketball player entering her second season as Pepperdine’s coach, said the team’s tone includes three “non-negotiables.” 

“Non-negotiables are complacency, being irresponsible and not doing everything you need to do to make sure you have an enjoyable experience,” she said. “A large part of that is my responsibility but whatever part they play in it, I want to make sure they know it.”

The Waves finished last season with a 10-20 record including a 5-13 record in the West Coast Conference. The 2017-18 campaign was the first time in six years that Pepperdine finished with a double-digit number of victories. The wins were over non-WCC foes Long Beach State, Nevada, Idaho State and Utah Valley, and conference opponents Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland and Loyola Marymount. The Waves also defeated Santa Clara in the first round of the WCC tournament. 

Pepperdine won seven games the season before, so the squad’s coach said fans and people around the basketball program were happy with the improvement and could sense a culture shift with the team. 

Milton-Jones said the shift took a lot of work throughout a season in which the Waves’ 10 wins were sprinkled among a lot of defeats. The Olympian and former WNBA All-Star said one thing she wanted to address with the team was complacency.

“I had to show the young ladies how they were maneuvering—they were selling themselves short,” Milton-Jones said. “A lot of them were just complacent with showing up to the games and just putting forth an effort for a few quarters, and when things got hard they folded. Anyone that knows me as a player [knows] that I am a fighter to the end. I love competing, and that is what I wanted to instill in every young lady in the program.”

Confidence was also an issue, initially. Milton-Jones spoke of how any time she would see a player putting themselves down she would address it quickly, especially in practice. 

“I would say, ‘Stop. What are you thinking right now?’ And they would say something like, ‘I suck. I can’t make a shot.’ I would say, ‘You are the only one in this gym that is thinking that about you. All I see is a very good player that missed a shot, but you are going to have another opportunity and I believe you are going to hit this next one,’” the head Wave recalled.

Milton-Jones changed the Waves’ mentality by helping them fall in love with basketball and working on their skills. She said that took many conversations, being available 24/7 and reminding the girls that she was once a player, so she is familiar with any issues they were going through. 

The coach said Pepperdine began to hit its stride when conference play began. Milton-Jones said opponents knew the Waves were going to play hard for the entire game. 

But the team—and their coach—were also tested.

Opposing coaches knew that Milton-Jones was an assistant coach for only one season before being named head coach, so they tested Pepperdine with funky defenses and complex plays on offense. 

Senior forward Yasmine Robinson-Bacote led the way for Pepperdine. The All-WCC first team member averaged 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds each game. Guard Paige Fecske, an honorable mention All-WCC player and senior, was second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points a contest and shooting 38.4 percent from three-point range.

The two leading scorers will still be with the Waves this season, but Pepperdine did lose some players to graduation. The Waves will have six newcomers on the roster when July practice starts. 

Milton-Jones said the four freshmen—twin forwards Jayda and Jayla Ruffus-Milner, forward Skye Lindsay, and guard Malia Bambrick—and junior college transfers—guard Deezha Battle and center Ashleen Quirke—make up the most talented and deepest recruiting class Pepperdine has had in the last five years. The coach said she will depend on the returning Waves to show the new players how the non-negotiables work.

Milton-Jones hasn’t set any expectations for Pepperdine’s coming season but believes more of it will be focused on coaching “real Xs and Os and the nitty gritty of the game” since 75 percent of her first season as head coach was spent establishing a culture of the team. 

“Now, we are transitioning from a phase where I had to get them to understand what competition was,” she said. “I had them competing against each other all the time. Now, I’m teaching them how to compete together as opposed to against each other. Let’s do it together and we can go farther.”

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