A man walks into a restaurant.
The restaurant is just another landmark enduring the frigid Minnesota winter. The man, a car-drive away from his Minneapolis home, has recently decided to return to his undergraduate alma mater for business school. He’s rather plainly clothed, apart from a cardinal-red cap emblazoned with a varsity letter S.
Another man steps into the restaurant. This one, Mike Schrage, is a five-hour plane fight from the prestigious Bay Area institution where he works. He’s in the town on recruiting business—Schrage is an assistant coach for the Stanford men’s basketball team.
It was then only by coincidence that Schrage crossed paths with the man in the cap. He had already seen the teenage talent he traveled thousands of miles to scout. But he couldn’t help but also recruit the man in the cap—Mark Madsen.
Nearly two and a half years after the chance encounter, the former Cardinal power forward Madsen, now 36, plans to work alongside Schrage on Stanford’s coaching staff.
“I had other options,” said Madsen, referring to a potential career in business after having earned his MBA from Stanford this past June. “But, really, it was a no-brainer. I get to coach at Stanford, I get to learn under [head] coach Johnny Dawkins, and I get to be around these great players. Okay. Check the box. I’m in.”
Returning to coach college basketball may have ultimately been a “no-brainer” for Madsen, but he hasn’t felt so resolute since his days as a student-athlete. As a graduating senior with a degree in economics from Stanford in 2000, the two-time All-American had been set on returning to coach college basketball after a professional career.
“‘They Call Me Coach’ [by John Wooden],” Madsen said. “I read it in college, and I read it in high school too. I loved the book. In the back of my mind, I thought I wanted to be a basketball coach in college.”
However, ambivalence has characterized the better half of the past two years. Since retiring from professional basketball in 2009—a nine-year career which included two championships with the three-peat Lakers—Madsen had seriously considered coaching at the junior college and even high-school levels, which were more “obscure” and required less traveling.
In the end, it was not his existing ties to Stanford but rather his newly formed ones that proved to be the determining factor.
“Over the past two years, basically, the relationship between coach Dawkins and me has flowered,” Madsen said. “My relationship with the program has continued to grow and build.”
Last summer, Dawkins invited Madsen to join the team on an 11-day exhibition circuit to Spain, only the Cardinal’s second tour in the past decade.
“I think it was on that trip that I really just felt the passion for the game, how much I love Stanford and how much I love basketball,” Madsen said.
Nearly two months into his new role, Madsen anticipates his responsibilities to be threefold: to “push the guys,” to share basketball insights and to foster a dually fun and professional atmosphere.
Although the man known as “Mad Dog” is remembered as a player for his competitive energy and aggressive play, he believes he will not need to impart this mentality to any of his players. According to him, they already have it.
“We have a lot of guys who are already extremely aggressive, who are already extremely intense when the game starts,” he said. “In terms of raw talent and raw ability, I would take our guys any day. Talent-wise, I would take our guys. Heart-wise, I would take our guys. For their ability to compete, I’m taking Stanford guys every day.”
Under Dawkins, whom Madsen considers his coaching mentor, the assistant coach hopes to emphasize defense, rebounding and communication. These three skills propelled Madsen himself to college career averages of 12.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game, not to mention his memorable slam dunk to clinch a Final Four berth for the Cardinal in 1998.
However, most of all, Madsen intends to instill lessons of respect in his players—applicable to situations both on and off the court. His favorite story to tell begins with an equipment manager in the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, Clayton Wilson.
“Any Joe Schmoe walking out in the street might think, ‘Oh…equipment manager, that job is pretty clearly defined,’” Madsen said. “But guys would jokingly refer to Clayton as the assistant general manager. That’s how much influence he had in the organization, with the players and in the community.”
And, in retrospect, this perspective is something from which Madsen believes he would have benefitted as a young buck vying for a roster spot in professional basketball—and something he hopes to impart to not only star players destined for the NBA but also his less talented players.
“As you move forward in your professional careers, realize wherever you go to visit, be courteous, be cordial and get to know not just the head coach and the general manager,” Madsen said. “Get to know every member of that organization, knowing that every person in that organization is vital.”
Madsen now figures to be one of those vital pieces in the Stanford men’s basketball program.