This article originally appeared on ZU News.
Peter Bond sits alone in an office built for two. Half of the office is vacant; an empty desk and bookshelf just beginning to gather dust. The room is too quiet, the atmosphere too raw.
Leslie served as head coach for 12 years and was a part of the program for a decade prior to that. He announced his resignation on April 23, assuming the head coaching position at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas later the same day.
Leslie expressed his gratitude for the APU community and athletics department, saying he made lifelong friends and unrivaled mentors in his 22 years here.
“Although I am very excited to begin this next step in my career, I know that the hardest part of this transition is saying goodbye to so many people that I love dearly,” Leslie said. “Azusa Pacific is an incredibly special place that is filled with amazing people.”
Leslie finished his APU coaching tenure with a 266-121 (.687) overall record. He led the Cougars to nine 20-win seasons and three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, including a trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in the program’s first season of NCAA playoff eligibility.
Leslie’s departure came as a surprise to the APU community, including Bond.
“When I first found out, it was quite shocking. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting it,” Bond said.
“I’m going to miss him much more than just as my boss. I’m going to miss him as a friend. I’ve spent more time with him over the last 15 years than anybody else in my life. It is going to be a missing piece of almost half my life, but I know he’s going to do well and he’s doing what’s best for his family, which is really important.”
Bond met with his players soon after the announcement, doing what he could to be there for them.
“Within a team sport, there is a lot of talk about being selfless and doing what’s best for the team and what not … in this situation everybody’s first reaction is, ‘Oh man, how does this affect me?’ I told them that is totally normal. When guys came to me and were kind of shocked, that’s what I would lead with because I know it would make them let their guard down,” Bond said.
Bond empathized with the players because he has been in this situation before. In his junior year, former APU men’s basketball head coach Bill Odell resigned without warning, leaving Leslie to take over the program. Just over a decade later, history repeated itself, with Bond taking the reins this time around. However, Bond said he wasn’t sure if he would be selected.
“I didn’t know,” Bond said. “I knew that during my time here, I had represented myself well, I had represented the program well and we’ve done good things that I had a role in. But I didn’t want to assume that it was a given, that once he left I would take over.”
After the athletics department announced Bond as the new head coach, he said he received many congratulatory texts and calls. While he appreciated this, Bond said he told people that he still had a lot of work to do.
“I want to make sure that I do every step of that process well,” Bond said. “I was really intentional in that process to prepare, to plan, to still continue to do things well.”
Prior to being named head coach, Bond was the men’s basketball assistant coach and director of athletic development for 11 years. He was also a member of APU’s basketball team while he was a student from 2004-08.
Bond was humbled to be selected for the position.
“I felt honored because of how much APU means to myself and my family … in a way, I kind of grew up with APU being held up on a pedestal,” Bond said.
“To be able to take over a role like this, I just felt a lot of pride and honor in being chosen to do that, mixed with excitement and some nervousness. There was a whole array of feelings.”
Bond met his wife Erin Halma at APU. Halma was a star on the Cougars’ softball team. In addition, his two sons have both grown up as huge APU fans.
Bond is already making plans for how he will lead the Cougars next year. Last season, the Cougars finished third in the PacWest Conference with a 20-11 overall record, falling to Point Loma in the PacWest tournament semifinal. Bond looks to take the team deeper into the postseason behind the strength of six returning seniors.
“I anticipate our upperclassmen having a huge impact,” Bond said. “I think having guys who are not only seniors but have been in the program for a long time, they know they’ve got an opportunity to do some very cool, very unique things in a basketball career. You only get a college basketball experience one time. I feel like guys are really embracing that and know this is their last shot to make something special happen.”
Bond said the top trait that will elevate the squad to the next level is teamwork.
“A really good team cares about one another. They want to perform and hold themselves to a high standard for the guy next to them,” Bond said. “Everybody wants to perform well as an individual because we’re competitive and that’s what we desire, but when there’s a care for one another that runs deep, it takes everybody’s level up because they’re holding each other to a higher standard.”
The team will also bring in three freshmen and one transfer. He is excited about each of them, from their physical traits to how hard they play. His face lit up when he described what each new player brings to the team.
“I have high expectations for the team, but a lot of that comes down to that I know what they’re capable of,” Bond said.
Bond said his squad for next year might have more talent than APU’s 2014-15 team, which went to the Elite Eight. However, he said that team had an extremely high basketball IQ and this team will have to work a lot on that in order to go deep into the postseason.
In order for the team to do that, Bond said the work begins now. While the team will not practice together over the summer, due to NCAA rules, Bond met with each player and discussed their workout plans for the offseason.
“The four month summer gives them a good chance to grow as players, to grow physically,” Bond said. “I want the players to have specific goals and a plan for how they’re going to get there … I was very intentional with them about that.”
Bond said he wants his players to keep each other accountable, to communicate with each other what their plans are and if they’re following through on them. He wants the team to keep each other in line but to mainly support each other’s success.
“I want to really have the guys know what I expect of them, but also what they’re going to expect of me,” Bond said. “I want to coach them, but I want to have them go out on the floor and have full confidence in themselves and know that I have full confidence in them. That’s part of my strength. I’m going to be pretty even keeled. I’m going to put in the work ahead of time. When it comes to game time, I’m going to be there for them, but I’m not going to lose my cool.”
While the players are practicing at home for the summer, Bond will find look for someone to take over his old positions. He said he has received a huge amount of interest from people all over the country.
“Honestly, I’ve been a little taken back by how many people are interested in coming here and coaching in this program. People from all over the place — East Coast, Midwest, local schools — I know we’ve had some tough times at APU, but it’s still very much a popular destination,” Bond said. “There are a lot of people wanting to leave what I view as other very good schools to come here. I think that really speaks highly of what we have going here, not just as a basketball program, but also as a university.”
Bond hopes to name the new assistant coach by June 1, but it might take longer. Until then, the other half of the office will remain empty.