After a 10-year
stint as head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.), Colson came to Pepperdine in 1968,
where he encountered, among other things, a losing basketball team, crumbling
facilities and a great deal of culture shock. "In 10 years at Valdosta we'd
had only one black on the basketball team," says Colson, "and people
weren't too happy even about that. Coming to L.A. and spending four years in
the ghetto was the greatest thing in the world for me; it was worth a master's
Soon Colson found
he liked other aspects of Southern California life as well. Recently remarried
to a 23-year-old former Pepperdine coed, he owns a motorcycle, drives a
Mercedes, keeps a houseboat in Marina Del Rey and cavorts with his best friend,
Laker Coach Jerry West, 'it's a dream," he says. "I'll be in the coffee
shop over here in Malibu and Barbra Streisand will walk in and I'll go cuckoo.
I'm 42 years old and I'm still in awe."
Colson believes in
low-pressure, winning-isn't-everything coaching. Combined with his enthusiasm
about things in general, this approach attracts prospective players. He also
has a black assistant coach named LeRoy Porter, who "lives" in the L.A.
school yards and knows every ghetto kid who has ever tied on a rubber-soled
shoe. "With Gary, it's like we're the best of friends," says Flintie
Ray Williams, echoing the sentiments of the other black players. "But Lee
Porter, he's my father."
Things were not
always so rosy. In 1968 Pepperdine had had five losing seasons in a row,
including a 2-24 record in 1966. Because the gym was too shoddy for games, the
Waves had no official home court but played wherever facilities were available.
In 1968 that meant seven different sites. Recruiting was a game in itself.
year—I'll never forget—we got this player named Bobby Sands," says Colson.
"He'd been the MVP at the national junior college tournament and we brought
him in on a day just like today—sunny, warm, blue sky. He was from Trenton,
N.J., and it was snowing and miserable back home. We let him enjoy the
wonderful weather and then we gave him a 30-minute visit of the campus. He came
Bird Averitt, a
6'1" guard now with the Buffalo Braves, was the next major acquisition.
"Bird came the same way as Sands," says Colson. "He was from
Kentucky, and back there it was rainy and cold and here it was beautiful. Of
course, the campus was awful, but we'd never show kids the campus till the last
few minutes. We'd even try to take them at night. We couldn't get any athletes
from California. We couldn't fool them. But after we knew we were moving to
Malibu we used to actually bring players like Bird out here and show them this
A gunner of rare
proportions, the Bird-man once took 51 shots in a game, canning 25 of them. In
1973 he led the nation in scoring with a 33.9 average, giving most sports fans
their first introduction to the name Pepperdine.
"Bird had been
a nobody," says Colson, "but once we saw how good he was we made him
the man. His junior year we stacked four players on the free-throw line and had
them move one way or the other. We only had two plays—'shift right' and 'clear
left'—and we'd let the Bird go. He had strict instructions from me to
The next superstar
was Leite, the Brazilian who led Pepperdine in scoring and rebounding in
1975-76, the school's best season since 1952, when it was 20-4. Pepperdine was
27-8 in 1946, but the opposition included such notables as Corona Naval and
Twentieth Century-Fox. In 1975-76 Pepperdine upset the University of Nevada,
Las Vegas when it was undefeated and third-ranked in the nation and beat San
Francisco on the Dons' home court for the WCAC title.
Leite, who was the
second-leading scorer in the 1972 Olympics and is now a pro in Europe, came to
Pepperdine because he was seeking a small American college that played against
major competition. With Leite leading the Pepperdine attack, Colson claims the
only problem on court was one of communication. "Marcos spoke English,"
he says, "but you know how it is when everybody is excited at a game. The
language has a tendency to get a little blurred and, well, colorful. So we got
hold of a Bolivian tennis player for the games; he would sit on the bench with
us and act as a translator. It was sort of funny, because at halftime we used
to chew out the tennis player."