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Pac-12 men’s basketball primes for season at Media Day

Stanford vs. Seattle University

Senior forward Dwight Powell (33) was Stanford’s player representative at the Pac-12 Media Day. (LEIGH KINNEY/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford senior forward Dwight Powell and head coach Johnny Dawkins were among the 12 player-coach tandems that descended on the Pac-12 Networks studio last Thursday for the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day. The event was in anticipation of the upcoming season, which officially tips off on Nov. 8.

The Media Day is typically an opportunity for members of the press to ask a wide variety of questions to the players and coaches, ranging from the politically comical to the competitively incendiary. On being asked for his take on the end of the government shutdown, Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson—brother of First Lady Michelle Obama—replied, “You see the stuff I have to put up with?”

His response elicited laughs from members of the press, while new USC and former Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield was grilled on a comment he made in practice last week about the “slow” UCLA Bruins, his new crosstown rival.

“It will add more fire to the battle,” said Trojan guard J.T. Terrell, defending his new coach. “I’m hoping for a better game now.”

Some of the notable faces at this year’s event included coaching newcomers Enfield of USC and Steve Alford of UCLA, in addition to a few of the conference’s most outstanding players from a year ago: All-Pac-12 guards Jahii Carson of Arizona State, Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado and C.J. Wilcox of Washington.

Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek and Colorado’s Dinwiddie were particularly complimentary of Stanford’s talent when speaking about the Cardinal’s contingent.

“Powell is an NBA forward,” Sendek said, while Dinwiddie noted that Powell and junior guard Chasson Randle were two of the better players in the conference.

Despite being one of the most experienced teams in the country, the Cardinal, which finished last season with a 19-15 (9-9 Pac-12) record, was picked sixth in the preseason media poll behind Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon and Cal.

The team returns four of five starters and all but two scholarship players from last year’s squad. The Cardinal is led by Powell, Randle, senior forward Josh Huestis—an All-Pac-12 First Team Defense honoree last season—and senior point guard Aaron Bright. The four returning starters bring back combined averages of 48.3 points, 21.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.3 blocks, and 3.2 steals per game.

Powell recognizes the abundant wealth of talent and experience returning for the Cardinal this season and intends to capitalize on it.

“We haven’t won at the level we have wanted to so far in my career,” Powell said, “so we’ve taken a long offseason to develop on the court, to grow closer together, and as well off the court, to try and develop that synergy and create a culture of winning.”

“We have definitely spent a lot of time with our group both on and off the court and developing some synergy,” Dawkins added. “[We’re] excited about our way of playing, excited about the way we’re enjoying the process and looking forward to continuing to get better throughout the next couple months.”

The team had gained media attention for undergoing a Navy SEAL training program during the offseason. Powell certainly believes that it will pay off for the team in the future.

“I definitely think it was beneficial,” Powell said. “First and foremost, it was a challenge that maybe not all of us thought we could get through, but we did. And we did so as a team. I think we can take away a lot from that going into our season and in the preparation for our season, as far as no excuses and fighting through adversity and fighting through pain, but all together. So, yeah, we got a lot out of it.”

Powell is clearly hungry for more this season as the Cardinal seeks to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2007-08 season. That year, the team reached the Sweet Sixteen behind future NBA stars Brook ‘10 and Robin Lopez ‘10. Powell, who returned for his senior season rather than declare for the professional draft, in the same mold as fellow student athletes Shayne Skov ‘13, Ben Gardner ‘13 and most famously, Andrew Luck ‘12, said it was important to him to return for his senior season.

“Coming in with [my class], we had a lot of goals of things we wanted to achieve and we needed to achieve to deem our career as collegiate athletes successful,” Powell said. “And not all of those things have been accomplished yet. So coming back, personally, for me, it was extremely important.”

If the Cardinal is going to achieve some of those goals this season, the team will need to be better at closing out close games. Despite leading the league in scoring and three-point field goal percentage during conference play as well as finishing second in scoring margin, Stanford finished just 3-7 in Pac-12 games last season decided by single digits.

What might the team do better to translate some of those points into wins this time around?

“We definitely have a new way of playing and a new way of also thinking,” Dawkins said. “That’s been something that’s been our approach from the preseason up until now.”

Dawkins, Powell and the rest of the Cardinal will hope they can put the team’s new mindset to good use when the team opens its season Nov. 8 against Bucknell, an NCAA tournament team from a season ago.

Contact Daniel Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.