Countdown to 2015–16: T.J. Wallace is at the helm of Pacific’s resurgence
When T.J. Wallace is asked what it was like growing up as the youngest of five children, he chuckles. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you had four sisters — you’re girly’; but I’ll tell you what, it’s very hard when they’re all older than you. They ganged up on me, and it made me a lot tougher.”
They also looked out for him — that contrast the timeless staple of sibling bond. Nobody was going to mess with Wallace, if his sisters had anything to say about it. All four of them played sports, and it was Tanisha Wallace’s passion for basketball that influenced T.J. to try his hand at hoops.
Wallace, who is from Stockton, transferred to powerhouse Modesto Christian, about 30 minutes south, ahead of his senior year in high school. There, he helped lead the Crusaders to a 29–4 record while playing with Anthony Townes and Ray Bowles, both of whom have joined him at Pacific.
“I wanted to stay close to home, but the small class sizes at Pacific were also a huge benefit,” says Wallace. “I like the 1 on 1 attention and feedback with professors, and that’s a pinnacle at UoP.” (Wallace is a business major with a concentration in entrepreneurship.)
Wallace was a key reserve during his freshman season, and shifted between running point and playing off the ball. “I thought I played well my freshman year, but there were some inconsistencies,” he says. “Then, as a sophomore, I got a better grip on playing point guard.”
Playing key minutes early in his career provided Wallace a valuable crash course in what it takes to run a team at the high-major level. Understanding spacing, running sets properly, controlling the tempo to the point where you can dictate it.
For examples, he likes to watch Deron Williams, and studies the way the Mavericks star mixes looking for his own shot with setting up teammates. Chris Paul’s savvy and work ethic are highlights as well. “I’m on the web watching basketball every day,” Wallace says. “I like finding little pieces I can implement and make me more complete. I’m a student of basketball.”
Wallace started 27 games in ‘14–15, and finished with 13.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists — all of which led, or tied for the team lead. It’s his shooting (40% FG, 34% 3FG) that he sought to address this summer.
Asked about his day-to-day grind this summer, Wallace says that ‘work’ doesn’t even begin to describe how many shots he put up. He re-tooled the form and release on his jumper, and made sure that each rep was performed at game-speed. “I like where I’m at (with the shot),” he says.
Wallace, who checks in at 6–3, 215 pounds, can get to the rack at will, but both he and Pacific head coach Ron Verlin know that showcasing a consistent jumper may determine his opportunities at the next level.
He’s certainly on the right track. Verlin was very impressed with Wallace’s sophomore campaign, during which he had to play a vital role for a very young and inexperienced team. (UoP went 12–19 in ‘14–15). “He’s our leader,” says Verlin, “and with his size and strength and skill, he’ll dominate games.”
This season, there is depth at each position. The youngsters from a season ago now have experience under their belt. Entering last season, only four players on the Tigers roster had played in a DI game. Now, that number is up to 10 or 12, according to Verlin. Wallace notes the return of 7–0 rim protector Sami Eleraky, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
“The expectations are high. I think we have the potential to be a top-three team in conference,” Wallace says.
Gotta love the confidence. Gotta respect the work that fuels it.