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M. Basketball: High hopes for Stanford as Midnight Madness approaches

Success brings many things, some positive, some negative. It has the power to inspire and motivate, elevating a team’s play, but also the ability to create unnecessary stress and pressure. For head coach Johnny Dawkins and his Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team, it has brought one thing in particular: higher expectations.
Stanford ended an up-and-down season on a high note last year, bringing home the school’s second ever National Invitational Tournament (NIT) title. After an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament against an overpowering UCLA Bruin squad, Stanford went on an improbable run in the NIT, taking home the title for the first time since 1991.

Sophomore Chasson Randle (5) hopes to lead Stanford back to national relevance this season after the Cardinal finished 2011 strong and won the NIT title in March. (Stanford Daily File Photo)

The 2011-12 season saw the Cardinal reach new heights under Dawkins’ leadership, recording its highest win total since he was hired after the 2007-08 season. Additionally, Stanford managed to win more games in March (seven) than ever before, hitting its stride just in time for postseason play.
This season, the Card will look to build on last year’s success, reaching new heights and, ultimately, an NCAA tournament bid. Stanford has not been relevant on a national level since Brook Lopez (drafted 10th overall) and twin brother Robin (drafted 15th overall) left for the NBA in 2008. Following a grueling offseason, the Cardinal’s season tipped off this past Friday at Maples Pavilion, where the team had its first official practice of the year.
Stanford’s roster remained relatively intact over the summer, as many of the key pieces from the 2011-12 campaign returned for another year. Despite losing starting power forward Josh Owens, the team’s leading rebounder who recently signed with Charlotte Bobcats as a free agent, along with bench players Andrew Zimmermann and Jack Trotter to graduation, much of the Card’s nucleus returns this season. This is highlighted by the star-studded backcourt of sophomore Chasson Randle and junior Aaron Bright. The duo wreaked havoc on opposing defenses last year, averaging 13.8 and 11.7 points, respectively, to lead the team.
Dawkins was impressed enough with their play from last season, as well as their outstanding work ethic throughout the summer, to name them captains of the team. The pair will look to lead the way for Stanford this season, as the Cardinal pursues a title in the wide-open Pac-12 conference.
Also returning for the Card are forwards Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell. Huestis set the tone defensively for Stanford last season, recording a team-leading 1.2 blocks per game. Brown was a weapon both slashing to the basket and from beyond the arc. The junior knocked down 42 3-pointers for Stanford last season, a number that he will surely be looking to improve on in 2012. Additionally, Brown’s 8.1 points per game was enough for fourth on the team, behind Randle, Bright and Owens.
Powell, a fellow junior, will be another integral part of Stanford’s campaign this season. At 6 feet 9 inches, Powell will use his height, quickness and overall athleticism to dominate opposing forwards in the paint once again. With another year under their belts, these three juniors will look to contribute to Stanford’s offensive attack and defensive prowess.
The Cardinal has an unusually difficult nonconference schedule this season to kick off the season, something that the team views as an opportunity to make a statement early on. The first stretch of the season includes games against Belmont, Missouri, N.C. State and Northwestern.
However, the Card’s season kicks off for the Stanford fans this Friday, Oct. 19, when Stanford plays its annual Cardinal-White scrimmage at 6 p.m. in Maples Pavilion. It’ll be a good opportunity to see if the squad is ready to make some noise on a national level for the first time since 2008.