By Paul Muyskens

For 25 years the Pacific Tigers were led by Head Coach Bob Thomason. In his tenure, the team went 437-321 and made the NCAA Tournament five times.

During Thomason’s final season as the head coach, the Tigers captured the 2013 Big West tournament championship and made the NCAA Tournament in the final season before moving to the West Coast Conference.

The past five years have been a roller coaster for the program as the team has had multiple coaching changes and have had to deal with sanctions, including a ban on postseason play and losses of scholarships because of infractions under head coach Ron Verlin who took over the team after the departure of Bob Thomason.

“Once those sanctions came down the program pretty much hit rock bottom,” said long-time broadcaster Zack Bayrouty. “They needed to make a significant hire to get the program back on track.”

That significant hire would be a man that played 13 years in the NBA and was the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, as Pacific hired Damon Stoudamire to become the head coach in March 2016.

“Since Damon’s arrived there’s been a huge improvement year one to year two not just in wins and losses but in the culture,” said Bayrouty.

Previously an assistant before accepting his first head coaching job with Pacific, Stoudamire took over a program that won just eight games the year before and wasn’t an ideal situation for a first-year head coach to be stepping into.

That first season the Tigers won just four games but it was a learning experience for both the coaching staff and the players.

“It’s just not going to happen overnight, not with these sanctions,” said associate head coach Leonard Perry. “That’s crippling to a program.”

“Damon needed to implement a culture of accountability, he needed to learn how to take those lumps, he needed to learn how to get the most out of guys,” said Bayrouty.

Going into the 2017-18 season the Tigers were once again selected to finish near the bottom of the West Coast Conference as the team had a roster of mostly unknown players. The overhaul of the program had brought in several new players and saw the early departure of others.

After a slow start to the season which saw the Tigers at one point lose five straight, the team started to turn things around and at one point they won four straight games in West Coast Conference play for the first time and saw themselves in the upper half of the league standings.

“You have to trust the process, but we are just taking it one day at a time and start chipping away and next thing you know we have four wins in a row,” said junior Anthony Townes who is one of the few that has been there through the ups and downs. “I feel like this year now, his second year he knows what to do, he knows what to expect. I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit for being as smart as he is on the court. He’s changing the culture around Pacific honestly, a winning culture. When you come into the gym now on game day there’s this excitement and electricity in the air and everyone is just fired up to play. I believe in him.”

Pacific during the 2017-18 season won six more games than the year before while going an impressive 9-9 in WCC play for the Tigers best league record since joining the conference before a heartbreaking one-point loss in the conference tournament to end the season.

“There was seven guys available and they took USF to overtime and lost by a point,” said Bayrouty. “If they had one more guy it was probably a win. Those guys gave everything they could.”

Playing a tough conference that includes a team, Gonzaga, that played for the national championship two seasons ago the Tigers have their work cut out for them to capture a league title but all signs point to the Tigers continuing to turn things back around and returning to the glory that may seem so long ago but was just five years ago.

“Nine wins in this league is monumental in year two,” said Perry after the season. “I don’t know how you judge a program moving forward until you are playing with everything that everyone else is playing with. We are leaps and bounds ahead of where anyone could be. We are going to stop at nothing, within the rules, to get us back to a point where people are really really proud to be associated with UOP basketball.”

The 2018-19 season cannot come soon enough.

Head Coach Damon Stoudamire demonstrates a drill at practice.
Head Coach Damon Stoudamire running through drills at practice.
Players run through drills at practice.
Anthony Townes shoots a free throw at practice.
Head Coach Damon Stoudamire stands back and watches during practice.
Game ball sits waiting for the game to start
Players line up before the game for the National Anthem.
Roberto Gallinat shoots a free throw in front of the cheer section.
Dance team and band watch the game
Dance team performing during a timeout.
Fan watching the game with signs for the defense.
Roberto Gallinat makes a free throw in the second half of the game.
Jack Williams shoots a three-pointer.