By Stephen Ren
Basketball season is finally here. If you believe the numbers, last year marked a successful but otherwise unremarkable season for Stanford men’s basketball, where the team garnered eleven conference wins compared to their six in the year before. This was Stanford’s best Pac-12 record since 2008.
And yet, it was so much more than just “the best season in a decade” – it might very well have been the most exciting, the most unexpected season in that span of time. That final “11-7 Pac-12” record simply does no justice to how much of a roller coaster last season was, and how much potential and excitement this upcoming one offers.
The season started off looking like the Titanic eyeing down an iceberg. Head Coach Jerod Haase was entering his second year at the helm of the ship. The Cardinal were playing with a skeleton crew – three of the starting five were injured, and another was on academic probation. Things started to get shaky after the Cardinal lost to Eastern Washington in their third game of the season. Stanford simply came in cold and sloppy on execution against a hungry and hot-shooting Eagles team.
Playing against the reigning national champions in the University of North Carolina the next week did not help to boost morale. The 24 point loss marked the start a four game losing streak for Stanford, which included three losses in the three games in the PK80 Invitational. Spirits reached rock bottom when Stanford lost against Cal on New Years Eve, leaving the team little to celebrate as they headed to the holidays.
Then came January. Magical January. It could have been New Year’s resolutions, or maybe Santa just came around a little later than usual, but whatever the case may be, the Cardinal came into 2018 with renewed hunger and urgency.
It started off with the first game of the new year, at home against UCLA, when the Bruins came to Maples Pavilion seeking to spoil the holiday festivities on the Farm. Unfortunately for them, senior Dorian Perkins rose up to the occasion, defending home court with a career high 26 points and lifting the Cardinal to victory in double overtime. A shocked pack of Bruins looked rattled as they exited the arena, and it seemed that they were really missing their [Lonzo] Balls this time.
Coming fresh off the win, Stanford had to defend their home court against second-seeded USC. The Trojans led for most of the game, but Stanford never let them pull away, slowly chipping against their lead until it was all tied up with just over a minute to go. The game seemed over when the Trojan’s Jordan McLaughlin put in an aerobatic reverse layup with 1.7 seconds left. Then this happened. Daejon Davis launched a cannonball of a shot from half court. As the horn blared, it hit the back of the iron and sunk into the basket for a 77-76 Stanford victory.
Whatever fire the Cardinal found within themselves raged on for the next week, as they took down Washington, Washington State, and Arizona State. They almost beat top-seeded Arizona the following game, but fell just short, unable to connect on a game winning three in the last seconds of the game. This burst of vigor helped the Cardinal tie for third in the conference. For a while, it looked as though they might make a legitimate push to win the Pac-12. In the end, they didn’t.
Returning Players to Watch out For
Stanford will return two of their five starters from last year – their young core in sophomore point guard Daejon Davis and sophomore forward KZ Okpala. The team is exceptionally young this year, with 11 of the 15 players being freshmen or sophomores.
Daejon Davis (Sophomore, Point Guard) – The young prince returns to embark on his sophomore campaign. A dynamic point guard, Davis will take on more of a leadership role for the team this year, controlling the pace and being the general on the floor. He is a scoring threat from anywhere on the court, finishing well through contact and shooting over 40% from three-point land last season. He also has great vision and passing ability. In his freshman campaign, he averaged 10.7 points and 4.8 assists per game, which included the aforementioned clutch half-court game winning three against USC.
KZ Okpala (Sophomore, Forward) – The 6-9 California native stands poised to be a huge scoring force this year for the Cardinal. During his freshman season, he averaged 10 points per game despite battling injuries. As several members of the team have left this year, a much larger share of the scoring burden will be placed on Okpala, and he has more than enough talent and athleticism to deliver.
Josh Sharma (Senior, Center) – A dominant defensive force in the paint, Josh Sharma has 84 career blocks, including 27 last season. Being the defensive veteran of the team down low this season, he will have a lot more responsibility in protecting the paint and grabbing down boards.
Oscar da Silva (Sophomore, Forward) – The big man who can do it all. Da Silva represents the role of the modern stretch four admirably, a defensive forward who can shoot the three and score in the paint. Think Kevin Durant, but German. He set a Stanford freshman record last season from behind the arc, shooting 55.8% from three. He is also a defensive force, recording 30 blocks, the second most on the team.
Of course, the other side of the sentence “returning two of their five starters” reads “they lost three starters”. While the young core rise up to the spotlight and adjust to their roles in the team, the presence and experience of the veterans will certainly be missed.
Reid Travis (Power Forward) – The 6-10, 245 pound Minnesota native will not be returning to the court this season for the Cardinal. The senior last year was the star and leader of the team and a consistent force in the paint, putting up 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Due to an injury in his sophomore year, Travis was granted a final year of eligibility from the NCAA, with which he will finish off his collegiate career with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Dorian Pickens (Guard) – Averaging 15.1 points per game last year and shooting over 40% from three, Pickens was a consistent producer for Stanford. He also exploded in the game against UCLA with 26 points, helping Stanford start off the new year with a huge win over the Bruins, marking the beginning of their five game win streak.
Michael Humphrey (Forward) – A consistent starter for the Cardinal, Humphrey put up 10 points and 7.3 rebounds a game last year for the Card. He has reached the end of his NCAA eligibility, but will play basketball professionally in Russia.
The first game of the season will be this Tuesday at 7PM EST in Maples Pavilion against the Seattle Redhawks. Stanford has won their last 8 season openers, and is 85-18 in openers all time. Heading into the game, Stanford holds an all-time 5-0 record against the Redhawks, although their last matchup was nearly six years ago, where Stanford took the win 68-57.
Contact Stephen Ren at rensteph ‘at’ stanford.edu