The Wilson Era

Marty Wilson has spent only months at the top of Pepperdine’s basketball program, but he’s not exactly the new kid on the block.

October 25, 2011  | 3 min read

A college athletics coach must possess the spirit of a cheerleader, the stamina of a drill sergeant, and the guile of a salesman. The winning combination of these has led Marty Wilson (’89) to the top as the new head coach of the Waves men’s basketball team.

Over the last 25 years, Wilson has compiled an impressive record in Malibu as a student-athlete, assistant coach, and, for the past three seasons, associate head coach. Buoyed by his passion for Pepperdine, dedication to excellence, and commitment to cultivating a new crop of star athletes, Wilson stands behind his product: a solid, talented basketball team with a whole lot of heart and drive to succeed both on and off the court—and everyone is buying in.

What first drew you to Pepperdine as a young student-athlete?

I came to the team camp at Pepperdine the summers before my junior and senior years of high school. That was my first time on campus and I fell in love with it. As a basketball program, Pepperdine was at a very high level with very good players. I knew I was going to have to compete to play initially, but it made me better and tougher.

How does it feel to be the head coach of a team you used to play on?

It’s been awkward, especially when I first came back as an assistant in 2007 because I didn’t expect to ever return. But when the opportunity presented itself, and coach Asbury [who retired after the 2010-11 season] got the OK to have me succeed him, it was a no-brainer for me.

What does the future of Waves basketball look like?

We are in the process of changing the culture of our program. We can’t just say we want to win, and then go out and win. There are 340 other teams that want the same thing. So we focus on the process of whole development: on the floor, in the classroom, in the community; and trying to put 12 to 15 individual kids, mindsets, and goals aside and try to focus on one, which is the team. The main vision is just building something that everyone associated with Pepperdine can be proud of.

You’re often heard saying “Both Feet In.” What does this phrase mean to you?

It’s a motto. Obviously, every guy wants to get in the NBA. They have to understand that they have to buy into everything we’re teaching. They can’t complain about being at an early morning practice. That’s what we have to do to be successful. It’s a conscious effort that says, “I’m in.” Whatever we have to do, we have both feet in.

Who is your coaching hero?

Former Pepperdine coaches Harrick and Asbury, who gave me the opportunity to earn a degree. I was the first one in my family to go to college and the first one to graduate. Another is my high school coach, Bob Hawking. Also, all of the other guys I’ve worked for who have given me something thathas prepared me to be in the seat that I’m in now.

During your time as interim head coach, Pepperdine famously defeated Santa Clara—led by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash—in 1995–96. What has been the highlight of your basketball career at Pepperdine?

As a player, when we won the WCC championships (then WCAC) my freshman and sophomore years. We had the opportunity to beat Santa Clara twice on the road when they were sitting at the top of the conference. I remember telling the guys that we want to have their crowd leave the gym with their heads down. We had the pleasure of seeing that.

When I was coaching, the highlight has been winning back-to-back conference championships, then going back-to-back in NCAA tournaments.

What are some of the challenges of being a head coach?

Hiring a staff. No matter how great you think you are as a head coach, you’re not good without a great staff. Another challenge is that I have to make decisions now instead of suggestions as an assistant. I have to make those decisions that I believe are best for the players. My goal is to paint the big picture for them.

What is the Marty Wilson Basketball Camp?

We have two different camps: one for little kids, where we teach them life through the fundamentals of basketball, and one for high school-aged kids, which is a one-day, high-intensity camp to teach them some of the things we’re doing at this level. We can impact the kids in a positive way. They step on campus with us, see the University, and learn more about it to hopefully give them motivation.

Is there a possibility of professional coaching in your future?

I would never say never, but after hearing some of the horror stories about it, that lifestyle doesn’t fit me. I would have a tough time being around some of the things some of those guys are doing and not saying something about it. College basketball, for me, is the perfect level.