In his third season as head coach of Stanford men’s basketball, head coach Johnny Dawkins is attempting to defy the odds and accomplish a very overdue goal–bringing Maples Pavilion, and Cardinal basketball, back to life.
Stanford has gone without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, a season that ended with a devastating loss to Texas in the Sweet 16 and the departure of two campus icons, the 7-foot twins Brook and Robin Lopez, along with head coach Trent Johnson. Now, one year removed from any postseason competition (the Card earned a CBI berth in 2009), the Cardinal will rely on just a handful of returning players and a slew of promising freshmen in hopes of making March memorable again.
Leading the team this year will be junior shooting guard Jeremy Green. Playing second fiddle to then-senior and current NBA starter Landry Fields, Green quietly averaged 16.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and earned a place on the All-Pac-10 second team. However, he hit just 38 percent of his field goals, a number that will undoubtedly need to rise if the Cardinal hopes to succeed.
Center Jack Trotter and point guard Jarrett Mann, also juniors, join Green as the team’s only returning starters. Trotter, while still overmatched against strong and skilled post men, played with far greater comfort and confidence than was present in his freshman year. He finished the season averaging seven points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and was second to Fields in total blocks.
Mann, meanwhile, continued to struggle with his shot, but grew into his role as a facilitator and was among the conference’s leaders in assists per game with 4.5. However, he averaged nearly one turnover for every assist and will need to work on his decision-making and jump shot in order to play a key role in the starting rotation.
Fans from 2008 will see a familiar face in the lineup this year, as junior and fan favorite Josh Owens makes his comeback after missing all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition. Owens will provide much needed frontcourt depth and athleticism, and despite the inevitable rust that comes with injury, he should receive serious playing time at the power forward position.
Junior Andrew Zimmermann, who is entering his second year in Cardinal red after transferring from Santa Clara, will share these minutes. He is regarded highly by Dawkins, and has been named a team captain alongside Green and Owens. Zimmermann is a gritty player that thrives as a rebounder and post-defender, but is continuing to develop an outside game.
Stanford’s returners will undoubtedly need to step their game up a notch for the Card to make it out of the Pac-10 cellar, but perhaps the most important component of this year’s squad is the top-20 recruiting class that Dawkins lured to the Farm.
The freshman bunch, ranked No. 16 by Rivals, spans four positions and should make an immediate impact.
Dwight Powell, a 6-foot-11 Canadian import, leads the group. The power forward is a highly touted recruit whose highlight reel has had Stanford fans eagerly awaiting his arrival. He has the ability to play as a traditional four with his knack for scoring in the low post. He also excels on the perimeter with rare three-point shooting and passing ability. At just 215 pounds, he’ll need to bulk up to prevent himself from becoming a defensive liability. However, he should still see action in a shallow frontcourt that is begging for playmakers.
Anthony Brown is the other ESPN 150 name that could make an instant impact. Although incredibly young, the 6-foot-6 small forward from Huntington Beach, Calif., instantly becomes one of Stanford’s best perimeter players, and may start from opening day. His jump shot rivals that of any player on the team, and he is an above-average passer. While replacing Fields’ contribution at the position is hard to imagine, Brown could quickly become the next Cardinal star and fill the void.
Power forwards John Gage and Josh Huestis and center Stefan Nastic bring unique skill sets as big men. All three have notable midrange games and will help stretch the floor with their length and touch. That said, both Gage and Nastic are still very raw, and will need to develop strength on the defensive end before seeing significant playing time.
Huestis is a bit of a sleeper after obliterating the competition during summer camps and tournaments before his senior season. He is the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Montana, and was dominant in high school. However, at just 6-foot-7, he doesn’t have the body of a true four, and may find trouble in the post against bigger opponents. Keep an eye on how Dawkins handles the Huestis situation and expect him to switch between the three and four throughout the season.
Rounding out the list of new players is 5-foot-11 Aaron Bright. Described as a true point guard, Bright brings something to the team that has been missing for years in Stanford’s floor generals–good decision making. Bright has a superb feel for the game, and is able to pass and finish with both hands. He’s undersized, but could eventually take over as the team’s primary point guard as the season progresses.
While no one is questioning the talent of the freshmen class, the Cardinal has a difficult task ahead. The Pac-10 is looking to rebound from an abysmal season and should see growth at the top of the conference. Washington, Arizona and UCLA–all traditional powerhouses–should improve dramatically, while regular season conference champion Cal is expected to decline rapidly after losing much of its talent.
Although the heart of Stanford’s season begins when it opens up Pac-10 play against Cal on Jan. 2, it will face a few very difficult tests early in the year. The team travels to Indianapolis on Dec. 18 to take on national runner-up Butler, a team that almost edged out reigning champion Duke last April. Just four days later, the Card heads to Stillwater, Okla. to face Oklahoma State, a Big 12 powerhouse that boasts one of the country’s best home-court advantages.
While those games will ultimately gauge Stanford’s ability to hang with the nation’s elite, the Cardinal must instead remained focus on its season opener against San Diego this Monday. The Toreros struggled last season, but diehard basketball fans may remember their upset over Connecticut in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal will need to bring its best effort in order to avoid falling into a 0-1 hole after just one game.
Tipoff for the Nov. 15 game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Maples Pavilion, where the new-look Cardinal will take the court for its first regular season matchup.