Then-first year guard Houston Mallette (No. 0) walks to the bench during a game against Gonzaga on Feb. 16, 2021, at Firestone Fieldhouse. Mallette scored 25 points versus then-No. 1 Gonzaga. File photos by Lucian Himes
The sound of sneakers squeaking and players shouting rang through the air on a Thursday afternoon practice at Firestone Fieldhouse.
Men’s Basketball sophomore guard Houston Mallette sports a No. 95 jersey — a jersey representing what Mallette says are the team’s core values of passion, accountability, toughness, humility and sacrifice.
“This jersey means a lot,” Mallette said. “We wear it with pride because it means you help contribute to winning without having to touch the ball and having the ball in your hands.”
Throughout the scrimmage, Mallette was vocal — calling out defensive assignments and encouraging his teammates on offense. The Alameda, Calif., native has slowly transitioned into becoming the team leader — so much so that graduate manager Ryan Williams said Mallette was an unanimous pick to be the team’s captain this season.
“He leads from his heart and those around him can feel it — it’s tangible,” Prince said. “He deeply cares about people, his teammates and his coaches. He’s just a guy that people want to follow because of it.”
Developing as a Leader
In basketball, some leadership qualities on the court come from the defensive end, such as taking charges, according to No Borders Basketball. Mallette is slowly developing into a two-way player, as he led the team in charges last season while also being one of the team’s top scorers — averaging 13.6 per game, according to Pepperdine Athletics.
Prince said he could pinpoint the moment he realized Mallette can go far in basketball when Mallette first played for Prince in the Under Armour Circuit.
Though Mallette was a good offensive player, Prince said Mallette needed work on the defensive end.
“When you’re playing on the Under Armour circuit, you’re playing against some of the best athletes in the country,” Prince said. “What Houston did was, he asked great questions: ‘Hey, Coach, what exactly can I do to get better with my own on-ball defense, my off-ball defense?’”
Prince said after giving Mallette drills to work on, he quickly became someone who the coaches could trust to guard the other team’s best player in a three month period.
“That’s a testament to the amount of time he put into it,” Prince said. “But, that was a critical moment for him. It was him realizing, ‘I got to really step up my game on the defensive side of the ball to get to where I’m trying to go.’”
Mallette said he credits Keena Payton, NBA legend and guard Gary Payton’s brother, for transforming his playing style. Mallette was originally playing like a center, but transitioned into a guard. Payton taught Mallette how to play with energy and toughness, Mallette said.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Dang, I can be good,’” Mallette said. “Then, on top of that, I really work hard. I watch a ton of film. I live, eat and breathe basketball. It’s something that I feel like that helps me strive to be great.”
A Leader’s Mindset
Since he was a kid, Mallette said his mindset is he could always be better.
“Never in my life will I think I have made it,” Mallette said. “I’ll never think like that. I’ll always be hungry. I always have a chip on my shoulder. You can always continue to get better.”
Mallette’s discipline comes from what he called the, “Breakfast Club.”
In high school, Mallette said his team started practice at 6 a.m. The team had practice four times a week, and it showed character when you play that early, Mallette said.
“The reason why they call it Breakfast Club is — you got to bring some energy,” Mallette said. “You’ve got to bring some intensity. It’s fun when you wake up and the first thing you do in the day is play basketball.”
Mallette said one thing he values the most is winning.
“I’ve never been the best athlete, the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, none of that,” Mallette said. “But, I’m willing to work harder with you and do things that you’re not willing to do.”
Mallette said taking a charge and being able to sacrifice his body for the rest of the team translates to winning.
The effort goes both ways — whenever he sees someone dive for a loose ball, he’s motivated to do it too, Mallette said.
How Mallette Ended up at Pepperdine
Mallette was a McDonald’s All American nominee and a three-star recruit — receiving offers from Eastern Washington, James Madison, Long Beach State, Pepperdine and Penn State, according to 247 Sports.
Mallette originally committed to Penn State, but said he quietly withdrew his acceptance after Penn State fired their head coach due to racist comments made toward another player.
Mallette said he and Head Coach Lorenzo Romar have a strong relationship. Since his sophomore year of high school, he saw Romar throughout AAU tournaments. When then-Penn State Head Coach Pat Chambers got fired, Mallette committed to Romar, Mallette said.
“Coach Romar is one of the best humans ever,” Mallette said. “A lot of people don’t really understand what it’s like to talk to him about anything. I’m not just a basketball player to him, I’m a person.”
Mallette said he and sophomore guard Mike Mitchell Jr. played together in seventh grade, and seeing Mitchell Jr. commit to Pepperdine helped convince him to commit to Pepperdine, too.
As a recruit and player, the most important thing to Mallette was the relationship with the coach, Mallette said.
“I spend probably most of my time [at Firestone Fieldhouse],” Mallette said. “Having that relationship with your coach, not just as a player, but as a person, is so key.”
Mallette said he really values the idea of community. Seeing Rianna Dizon, Pepperdine senior and NewsWaves sports anchor at Pepperdine, still following his own journey, brings value, Mallette said.
Reflecting on Last Season
The team struggled during the 2021-22 season due to a variety of reasons, including injuries, players leaving the team and starting four freshman, Mallette said.
Mallette said it was a challenge to transition to collegiate basketball in training camp when he first arrived in Malibu his first year — everything was happening so fast.
It got so bad to the point where Mallette even considered redshirting his first year because he thought he wasn’t ready, according to a Q&A he did with Pepperdine Athletics.
“Last year was the worst and best year of my life,” Mallette said.
Though the losses weighed heavily, Mallette said it was still a valuable learning lesson.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Dang, how are we going to figure this out? How am I going to figure this out?’” Mallette said. “But, on the flip side of that, you’re going through that and you’re learning when to adjust to different situations.”
Mallette said he recalled a quote from NBA legend Kobe Bryant and reminded himself it’s totally OK to have emotions.
“We’re all human, but we have to be still in those emotions and don’t let them affect the decision you make or your reactions,” Mallette said.
Mallette said he remembers what it feels like to lose those games last year.
“Seeing those guys in the locker room cry — the blood, sweat and tears from last year — ‘How can we, as a group, change that? How can each guy do their job to the best of their ability?’” Mallette said.
The one thing he looks forward to this season is how the team can improve as a unit, Mallette said.
“When adversity hits us in the mouth, we don’t crumble,” Mallette said. “We continue to fight, claw and just scratch back.”
Mallette said although the scoreboard matters, what also matters is how the team is developing as young men, in the classroom and out there on the court.
Men’s Basketball starts their season Nov. 7 vs. Rice at Firestone Fieldhouse.
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