On a clear day, you cannot quite see forever from the basketball coach's office. You can see Catalina Island and all but hear the Pacific quietly licking at the shoreline a few hundred dribbles away. Makes a fella wish he'd worked harder on spin moves 25 years ago.

"Mighty fine at the 'Dine."

That's from the garrulous Pepperdine coach, who sounds even better than he reads. Jim Harrick did not bodysurf in from Universal Studios, as you might expect from the leader of Malibu's Team. He beat it here from West Virginia, on his wedding night, 21 years ago.

This is why his greeting, to friends and strangers, comes out like: "Maaahty Fiiiiiine at the 'Diiiiine."

Which it most assuredly is.

You may not have noticed, but Maryland's opponent Friday afternoon is the only California team in the NCAA tournament this year. Yep, Cal was bumped to the NIT. Same with UCLA.

"Can't tell you how nice that is," Harrick says. "Course, that puts a lotta weight on our shoulders."

Harrick could tell you how nice it is that Pepperdine has won only three fewer games than UCLA since 1978, but he doesn't. He was an assistant there under Gary Cunningham, the second very good successor to John Wooden who was judged not nearly good enough.

Wooden has been a mentor. Harrick directed many of his summer camps, as a high school coach, and borrowed a system he insists "is not the only way to win -- just the best." Pictures of Wooden dot Harrick's office; a sermon from England's head coach during World War II hangs on the wall opposite his desk.

Said Winston Churchill:

"To every man there comes in his life that special moment

"When he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder

"And offered that chance to do a very special thing

"Unique to him and fitted to his talents.

"What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for that work."

That moment for Harrick would be a job that provided the necessary tools with which to win a national championship. One of the loveliest campuses on earth isn't enough.

I asked Harrick where he might take this season's high school hotshot, J.R. Reid, on the postcard-pretty campus. What would he say about Pepperdine if Reid were sitting in the chair I was occupying?

"J.R. Reid would not be sitting in that chair," Harrick snapped. "Our goal in life is to get players as special as him to visit. There is a chance time will take care of that. We've made great strides in seven years."

At the moment, Pepperdine is the St. John's of the Pacific Coast Highway. The Waves make do largely on transfers, but still are playing in a tiny gym and an obscure conference.

Their leading scorer, shooting guard Dwayne Polee, and playmaker, Jon Korfas, are transfers from more famous basketball schools (Nevada-Las Vegas and Southern Cal).

"I must get 200 calls from kids wanting to transfer," Harrick said. "They get out in the big ol' world and find seven forwards, eight centers and seven guards as good as they are on the same team .

"But with our record over the last five years 105-42 and four NCAA tournament appearances , we've just about quit taking transfers, except for a couple from junior colleges."

Since January 1985, Pepperdine has lost only seven times: twice to De Paul in Chicago, to Duke in the NCAAs, to Kansas in the first round of the Big Apple NIT, to Kentucky at Lexington and twice on the road in the West Coast Athletic Conference.


This is to a radio talk show in Baltimore. To another radio person who had missed an earlier appointment for a telephone interview, Harrick said: "I'll be up at 5 a.m. tomorrow to jog. Want to do it then?"

Off the phone, he tidies the office and says: " Len Bias is an animal. An animal. What am I doing playing these guys?"

He means the Atlantic Coast Conference. This is the third straight time the Waves have played an ACC team in the NCAAs. They were beaten badly by Duke last year; they were kicked by Cinderella's sneaker three years ago.

Ahead by six points with 70 seconds left in overtime, and with the ball, Pepperdine lost to North Carolina State in double overtime. Seemingly certain losers in that early-round game, State eventually won the NCAA title.

"I tell Jim Valvano I made him," Harrick laughs.

Free throws by the almost always reliable Dane Suttle haunt Harrick the way Keith Gatlin's botched inbounds pass does Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell: frequently, but not to the point of depression.

Hey, it's maaaahty fiiiiine at the 'Diiiiine just now.

Harrick is reminded that the Pepperdine-Maryland game will be telecast in Washington; there is a joking reference to President Reagan possibly watching. Harrick says:

"Ron is very, very close to our university. He's been on our campus more times than any other, I'd guess. At least that's what my administrators tell me. We honored Nancy at a dinner for 1,000 people."

Pepperdine was built on fan belts and windshield wipers by the founder of Western Auto in 1937. George Pepperdine's dream had 40 students in its initial class.

Originally in downtown Los Angeles, the school was moved here in 1972 after the Watts rioting. Affiliated with the Church of Christ, it has about 2,400 on-campus students. About 15 percent of the student body is from foreign countries; about 8 percent is black.

Malibu is so snooty that a realty firm billboards deals such as "Bluff Home . . . 5 BRs, 5 BA . . . $1,495,000." A three-bedroom home in Malibu Cove Colony is a heist at $895,000.

"This is a very Republican school," Harrick said. "A very Republican school." Matter-of-factly, the coach guessed Reagan's late-afternoon schedule on Friday:

"He'll be watching the Waves."