Family affair for Wave coach
Walberg keeps wife, kids close to him
By Dan Wolken
Saturday, January 5, 2008
As Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg walked his team through its game plan Friday morning at FedExForum, his wife, Rose, was sitting at the scorer's table scribbling notes on greeting cards, his daughter, Jaimie-Rose, a Pepperdine senior and team manager, was running the clock and filling water bottles, and his son, Jason, was playing point guard.
For Walberg, being constantly surrounded by family has been one of the few comforting aspects of the season. And though he will get to see his second family today when the Waves play No. 2 Memphis, he suspects the Tigers won't be quite as accommodating.
"It's going to be quite eye-opening," Walberg said.
Though Memphis, indeed, is a heavy favorite to beat Pepperdine (5-9), the outcome in many ways will be a backdrop to the celebration of Walberg's basketball family tree, which has had a profound impact on the Tigers' run.
"What our fans should be doing is give him a standing ovation (during pregame introductions)," Tigers coach John Calipari said. "Let him know we appreciate his contribution."
The story has been told many times in various ways, but it boils down to this: When Walberg was a junior-college coach in Fresno, Calif., five years ago, he came to Memphis and spent a week observing Calipari. At dinner one night, Calipari asked Walberg about the offense that helped him compile a 133-11 record at Fresno City College.
As Walberg explained his system, which he called AASAA -- Attack, Attack, Skip, Attack, Attack -- Calipari became more intrigued. Over time, Calipari implemented elements of that style, which is based on spreading the court and driving for lay-ups rather than a more traditional motion offense propelled by passing and screening.
Everyone has benefited from their relationship. Calipari fully committed to the system when the Tigers' current junior class came in as freshmen, and it has helped them to two Elite Eight appearances and a current No. 2 ranking.
Then, once word got out, Walberg quickly advanced from the lower levels of basketball to a Division 1 head coaching job at Pepperdine. And former Memphis assistant Tony Barbee was plucked off the staff by UTEP, where he is already beginning to get results in his second year.
"Our fans should be appreciative he's been that sharing for us," Calipari said. "He's as good a friend as I have. He and I talk three times a week. It's been a great experience for me. I'm coaching a totally different way that I think is better for our players, better for the game of basketball, more exciting for our fans and a more effective way for us to try to win at the highest level."
If Memphis fans give Walberg a standing ovation, it might be the highlight of the day for the Waves.
Though Walberg has been able to bring in some talent, the Waves are light on experience. Pepperdine starts three freshmen and two transfers, in part because of two major preseason defections.
Michael Gerrity, an all-West Coast Conference freshman guard, transferred to Charlotte and senior guard Kingsley Costain, last year's leading scorer, was dismissed in October for violating school policy.
Meanwhile, Pepperdine has had to navigate a brutal schedule with just two home games among its first 15. The Waves haven't played at home in Malibu, Calif., since beating Long Beach State on Nov. 21.
"It's crazy, isn't it?" Walberg said. "Especially since seven of the 12 are freshmen, it's really unfair for them. Hopefully we can survive it (mentally), because that's the hard part. You know and I know it's a little easier winning at home than on the road. You get a few more calls, you don't have to worry about the travel, this, that. It would be good in one way, if we were more of a veteran team. But it's been really tough."
In December, Pepperdine went on a nine-day road trip from BYU to Arkansas-Little Rock to Manhattan, then back to California on Dec. 22. The Waves haven't played since then, and now must make the trip back across the country for this game, which Walberg certainly didn't have to schedule.
"I wanted the kids to see what it's really like at the top," he said. "And then just the friendship with John, to come out and see him. These kids, if they want to dream, that's what they should be dreaming."
The nice thing for Walberg is that two of his four children have roles with the team, and his wife comes on nearly every road trip, bringing a sense of stability to a profession that can be difficult on families.
"It's very hard," Walberg said, "and I went the different route than most. But family has always been very important to me, very, very important."
No. 2 Tigers vs. Pepperdine
When, where: Noon today at FedExForum
TV, radio: WLMT (30), WREC-AM (600)