Tigers basketball comes out to play The University of the Pacific makes its return to the WCC

By Davis Jones

The West Coast Conference gets a fresh makeover for the 2013-2014 men’s basketball season, adding the University of the Pacific Tigers to its now 10-member league.

The Tigers left the WCC in a move to the Big West Conference back in 1971 as the school looked to build its football program. Removing the sport in 1995, Pacific accepted an invitation to re-join the WCC on Mar. 27 of last year.

“The West Coast Conference is delighted to welcome back University of the Pacific as our tenth member institution,” said USD President Mary Lyons in a July statement for the WCC. “Pacific has a rich tradition of strong academics and competitive athletics and will fit in with our other WCC schools.”

Particularly intriguing as of the last decade is the team’s success in men’s basketball. The Tigers won the Big West Conference title in 2013 and made an NCAA Tournament appearance, its ninth in program history. New head coach Ron Verlin takes over last year’s Big West championship team from Bob Thomason, who saw his program surge after 25 years at the helm. Pacific made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2004 to 2006. It upset the fifth-seeded Providence Friars in 2004, and it followed the next year with a No.8 at-large seed and an opening round victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. The team’s run in 2006 ended in heartbreak, falling to the fourth-seeded Boston College Golden Eagles in overtime. Seniors Mike Webb, Johnny Gray and Christian Maraker combined for 58 points in the contest, with 30 coming from Maraker on 8-16 shooting. The Swedish forward finished his season an Honorable Mention All-American selection by the Associated Press.

If upperclassmen leadership indicates success for this team, the Tigers could surprise more than a few WCC teams during the 2013-2014 season. The squad returns seven seniors from last year, including guard Sama Taku, who leads his team in scoring among returners with just over eight points per game. He started all 35 games for the Tigers after transferring from Santa Rosa Junior College (CA) along with junior guard and then-teammate Lorenzo McCloud. Taku averaged 18.0 points per game with the Bear Cubs in 2011-2012 and led the team to its first Big 8 Conference championship in school history, paving the way to his recognition as the conference’s Most Valuable Player. Also returning is senior Tony Gill, a 6’8” forward who secured Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 46 points in three games.

These seniors will be looked up to in instructing four incoming freshmen this season. Guard Ray Bowles comes from Modesto Christian High School (Modesto, CA) as the two-time Most Valuable Player in the All-Trans Valley League. Forward David Taylor (Eckersdorf, Germany) played for Germany’s 2010 U16 National Team and was the only 15-year-old selection on the squad. He averaged 19.2 points and 2.2 steals per game for BBC Bayreuth in 2011.

At the forefront of Pacific’s continued momentum will be first year head coach Ron Verlin. The ex-associate head coach for the past 19 years has been with each of the school’s five NCAA Tournament appearances and seven conference championships under Bob Thomason. He worked as part of the coaching staff that saw its program win 354 games; 10 of those seasons featured 20 or more wins.

“[Verlin’s] dedication to this university and ability to lead this program became evident in the past 19 years,” University Vice President for External Relations and Athletics Ted Leland said in a press announcement. “It is an exciting time for the basketball program heading into the West Coast Conference, and Ron is just the man to lead us there.”
USD is set to play Pacific on Feb. 1 and Feb. 15.