Stanford Basketball Eyes Big Dance

With a massive new television deal highlighting the return of all 12 of its coaches, Pac-12 basketball is on a decided upswing. And with the majority of its already-promising perimeter talent coming back, Stanford's team looks to mirror the projected improvement of the conference.

On Tuesday, coach Johnny Dawkins and guard Aaron Bright combined with their counterparts from all 11 other league schools at the Pac-12 Networks' shiny new studios in downtown San Francisco to provide the first taste of the 2012 basketball campaign. The media projected the Cardinal to finish fourth in the conference behind Arizona, UCLA, and California - but ahead of last year's regular season champion Washington.

Stanford expects continued success after its 26-11 (10-8 Pac-12) 2012 season ended on a high note. The Cardinal cut down the nets at New York City's Madison Square Garden following an NIT Championship.

"Offensively and defensively, we know our roles," Bright said. "I think it will definitely carry over to this next season."

Despite losing leading post presence Josh Owens (11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds) to graduation, the Cardinal are confident in a bevy of returning young talent that should spearhead the team - particularly on the perimeter.

Dawkins immediately acknowledged his club's depth, which is highlighted by returning leading scorers Chasson Randle (13.8 points) and Bright (11.7 points). While those two will man the guard positions, fellow returners Anthony Brown (8.1 points), Dwight Powell (5.8 points), and Josh Huestis (5.3 points) are all versatile forces who will be counted on to reach their potential this season.

"We have seven or eight kids that all need to view themselves as starters," Dawkins said.

The case of the six-foot-six Brown is perhaps the most intriguing. The junior has shown flashes of tantalizing inside-out capability, but has yet to register a spectacular season. Dawkins revealed that Brown played a chunk of last season with a broken foot and torn labrum, perhaps explaining his inconsistency. He's 100 percent healthy now, a fact that should make Cardinal fans salivate.

Dwight Powell, who also played banged up last season, will be counted on to demonstrate physical readiness on top of his already-solidified status as an athletic presence inside. The 6-foot-10 junior averaged only 17.5 minutes per game as a sophomore, but his playing time should drastically increase as Stanford looks for steady post muscle inside following Owens' graduation. Last year, the Cardinal struggled on the glass against the more physically imposing teams in the Pac-12 - particularly on the road. Washington, for one, mauled Stanford 47-32 on the glass on the way to overwhelming victory. Increased strength and inside nastiness from players like Powell will be key to reversing this recurring problem.

"I think this year, [Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown] are both very confident," Brown said.

Six-foot-nine Grant Verhoeven, who Dawkins says may still be growing, may help provide that needed interior backbone for the Cardinal along with fellow 6-foot-9 newcomer Rosco Allen. But even despite Verhoeven's NBA pedigree and renowned big man motor in high school, both he and Allen are only true freshmen that may need more strength training and seasoning before they're ready to make major impacts on the Division 1 level.

But Stanford may be a good spot for young post players to develop a nasty college-level physicality quickly. That's because the Cardinal have hired former interior great and two-time NBA champion Mark Madsen as an assistant coach. Dawkins says that his big assistant, who's only three years removed from his professional career, has already been throwing his muscle around at practice.

"He really gets after it," Dawkins laughed.

This rough-and-tumble approach is also of potential benefit to the promising inside-out threat Huestis, whose potential was lauded by multiple coaches at Pac-12 Media Day. UCLA's Ben Howland said that he saw the junior as a potential breakout standout player in the conference.

"We think Josh Huestis will end up being one of the best defenders in our conference and maybe even the country," Dawkins said.

It's the prospect of that kind of positive development that makes Stanford basketball look like a team on the strong upswing entering 2012. If Dawkins' club can find a way to fortify its interior sooner rather than later, the Farm Boys have the perimeter talent to bring their program back to prominence.

As far as former Cardinal coach and current Cal head honcho Mike Montgomery is concerned, the Cardinal are already right back there. Without even being asked, he brought Dawkins' squad into the conversation.

"I think Stanford is going to be really good," he said.

The 2012 season begins with a 1 p.m. Sunday home exhibition against UNC Penbroke and tips off in earnest on November 9 against the University of San Francisco at Oakland's Oracle Arena.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. HHe can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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