Giovacchini, Stanford easy to admire

Stanford's senior point guard Tony Giovacchini is exactly the type of person that makes it so tough for Arizona fans to dislike the Cardinal much. He is friendly, intelligent, classy and perpetually smiling.

Yesterday, at the Stanford press conference, I got my chance to see firsthand whether or not these Cardinal guys were as likeable as I had thought prior to meeting them. Most of the media gathering flocked over to All-American Casey Jacobsen's locker for interviews and sound bites. I, however, decided to go over and talk with Giovacchini, who was sitting all alone in his locker stall.

Giovacchini is a solid but unspectacular starting point guard for the Cardinal and to be honest, before talking with him the most memorable Giovacchini moment I had in my mind was of Richard Jefferson volleyball spiking one of his shots into the 33rd row of Maples Pavilion last year.

When that subject was brought up, Giovacchini showed why he is such a good guy. Instead of saying "no comment" or downplaying the somewhat humiliating moment like most 22-year-olds would, Giovacchini simply laughed, shook his head and said, "What was I going to do? I can't jump like (Jefferson) can."

He even went on to say that it was Arizona guard Jason Gardner who made that play possible. "Gardner made a play on the ball and that forced me to kind of cross the ball over my body and then when I threw the ball up…whoa! You look at a guy like Richard Jefferson and you realize what a great athlete he is. I didn't even really care. I'm sure he's done that to a lot of people."

Although Jefferson left Arizona early for the NBA and will not be on the court when the two teams meet tonight, Giovacchini says not to expect anything less than another Stanford-Arizona classic.

"These games are always really intense," he said. "They're a lot of fun to play in and both teams have so many great players. It's been a unique experience because last year we were able to win on each other's courts."

The general feeling between the two teams is one of admiration and respect for each other. Both teams play with class and display the kind of fundamentals and basketball IQ that makes Arizona and Stanford perennial contenders for Pac-10 championships and deep runs into March. Giovacchini echoed the sentiment about how both teams have a mutual respect for the other, unlike Arizona-UCLA or Stanford-UCLA where animosity runs rampant between the players.

"We have a lot of respect for (Arizona)," Giovacchini said. "We know how good and talented they are and how hard they play. We both lost a lot of guys from last year to professional basketball but I'm not surprised at all at how well Arizona has played this year."

At this point, I had to ask Tony if he was just being diplomatic because there weren't even very many die hard Wildcat fans who thought Arizona would win some of those early season games with six freshmen, a redshirt junior and only one returning starter.

"Well, maybe I was surprised with the way they won but not that they beat those teams (Maryland and Florida) that week," the senior from Salt Lake said. "I never expect anything less from Arizona. Those were great games and I expect to see another one (tonight)."

Giovacchini's best quality for the Cardinal may be that he rarely makes a mistake and has a very good assist-to-turnover ratio (2:1). Some people point to Stanford's lack of a star point guard as a potential Achilles' heel in what could be a run towards the Pac-10 title and past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Giovacchini averages around three points and close to three assists per game, not exactly All-American type numbers but even he realizes what goes into making a good player and recognizes his limitations.

"I know I'm not like Richard Jefferson and that I'm not as athletic as some of these guys are," he said. "I can't jump that high or run that fast but I try to do my job and do my best to minimize guys like Jason Gardner. Something as simple as making him shoot from a foot further out or making him take two dribbles instead of one, that's what I have to do."

Giovacchini says that while Gardner will have to be "minimized", it is Luke Walton that most concerns the Cardinal.

"The general feeling within our whole team is that (Walton) is the MVP of their team," he said. "He makes them better. He had that triple-double against USC and how many people ever get triple-doubles in college basketball?"

Smiling, Giovacchini continues, "That guy has caused us a lot of problems in the past. He is an improved scorer but he also creates a lot of points from his assists too."

One gets the feeling that Giovacchini could make a great coach with time. Call him the Cardinal version of Josh Pastner, except Tony is actually someone who is on the court when the game is still in doubt.

The guy has what it takes to succeed in just about whatever he wants to do. He knows that pro basketball might not be an option for him but he will be leaving school this summer with a degree from Stanford University and the experience of playing for a school that has been ranked number one in the country for much of the past two seasons.

It is players like Tony Giovacchini that make Stanford hard to dislike. He is exactly why you can't hate Stanford the way you can a Don MacLean and UCLA. Arizona and Stanford plays the first part in what could be a three-part trilogy tonight. Win or lose, it's hard not to admire guys like Giovacchini and the rest of Mike Montgomery's program.

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