Pepperdine's Up-Tempo Style of Play Receiving National Attention

First-Year Head Coach Vance Walberg's System has Proved to be a Winning a Formula

Senior Chase Griffin should excel in the up-tempo style of play.

Senior Chase Griffin should excel in the up-tempo style of play.

Aug. 30, 2006

Malibu, Calif. - (Pepperdine first-year men's basketball head coach Vance Walberg up-tempo style of play that resulted in a California junior college state title has gained national attention this summer. The Waves recently debuted his system during a 10-day trip to Europe and produced a 2-2 record while averaging 16.7 points a contest. The following is a reprint of an article that appeared on

By Ed Graney

Vance Walberg isn't worried about the little guys. The guards. The ones whose stature at times won't allow the ladies at the club to believe those pick-up lines about being college basketball players. The ones who can run for days, who have a motor built by Honda.

The big guys, though, are another story.

"It's going to take a period of adjustment for them, no doubt about it," Walberg said. "We're not asking them to jog or run. They have to sprint up and down the floor. They have to adopt a mindset that we never stop, that a major key to the whole concept is a big man filling lanes over and over. We'll see which are the toughest ones."

He is one of those coaches who prefers you describe what he teaches as more a style of play than a detailed system. Whichever the definition, the guy who has spent a career building winners at the high school and junior college levels now hopes his ultra-fast approach is the answer to turning around Pepperdine's program.

Walberg was hired to replace the fired Paul Westphal, who went 76-62 in five years but was never able to duplicate the success (22-9, NCAA Tournament berth) the Waves realized in his first season. Their win total under him dropped to just seven last year, prompting those in charge out in Malibu to look away from their picturesque ocean views long enough to make a change.

It's an interesting one. In his 28th year of coaching, Walberg finally gets to see if what was so successful at lower levels can now translate to the college game's highest one.

You can't make up these numbers: Since he first adopted this idea nine years ago at Clovis (Calif.) West High of pressing and running with abandon, of demanding his team dictate tempo no matter the score or importance of the game, Walberg is 292-29.

At Fresno City College, he went 133-11 in four seasons, including 34-0 while winning a state title last year.

The most obvious question: Will his style adapt to the Division I level? The most popular answers: Maybe. Probably. No idea.

You can't succeed at this style without first conceding failure is as much a part of it as anything. That's where the toughness part comes in, a trait Walberg will search for in recruiting.

He calls the plan AASAA -- attack, attack, skip (pass), attack, attack.

Walberg remembers one juco game when the opposition broke Fresno City's press the first five possessions for dunks and led 16-4.

By halftime, Fresno City was up 12.

"I'm the rookie and realize it's going to be completely different than in high school and junior college," said Walberg, 49. "We have to find kids ready and willing to get after it and fight through whatever struggles come along. When you press this much, you're going to give up some easy baskets. I don't think we'll have great speed right away, but we have some length and smartness. You know that old saying, 'Strong beats weak but smart beats strong.' Even though I want us to be smart and strong.

"Our guards will absolutely love the way we play. We're going to launch quite a [number] of 3-pointers. I think if you really break us down, you'd see we play pretty fast and pretty hard and pretty smart. We give extra effort. We make the extra pass. When you do those things, no matter what level you're at, good things happen. The key will be getting them to play as hard as we want and need them to play. We have always been blessed in the fact our best player has been our hardest worker."

One of those was Chris Hernandez, the former star point guard at Stanford who played for Clovis West and was a major reason Walberg created his frantic scheme. Clovis would travel to national-level prep tournaments and struggle against more athletic teams, playing half-court defense for 25-30 seconds at a time before surrendering baskets. Walberg knew something had to change.

"So," he said, "we thought we might as well start blitzing -- like in football -- the whole game. Speed everything up. Push the ball. Try and create turnovers. It has been pretty phenomenal since."

But how will it play against Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount and others teams in the WCC? No conference program returns more letter-winners (12) than Pepperdine, which can be good or bad depending on how many are strong enough mentally and willing enough physically to play Walberg's way.

How will they react when the other guys begin the game with three or four run-out dunks and the crowd grows louder and nothing seems to be working and Walberg instructs them to just keep pressing?

"I know this first year will be tough to run all we want to until we can recruit the kind of players we need," Walberg said. "I realize there will be tough times. I've only known winning the last nine years. I don't know what the other side is like. But I'm sure we'll find out. I grew up in the Bay Area and I know this league well. I've been watching it for some time. I know what's going on at San Francisco and San Diego and Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga and all the other programs.

"I can guarantee you this: Every time we play someone in conference, their scoring average is going up. A lot of coaches want to press like us, but tend to crawl back into what they know to be safe and play games in the 50s and 60s. Not us. I don't know how we'll do, but I sure as hell know I would bet my life on this way of playing. I have that much faith in it ... Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. It's really very simple."

AASAA, with pressing in between. Let the craziness begin in Malibu.

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