Dawkins' Thoughts: Pre-Arizona

With a split at the Arizona schools this week, Stanford basketball will remain on pace to qualify for its first NCAA tournament since 2008. Johnny Dawkins provided The Bootleg with some deep insight about the state of his team.

Quick notes: Stanford basketball's weekly presser. Italics are our words; everything else is his. Answers are ordered thematically, not chronologically, for reading ease.

On improvement and the search for consistency:
"We're playing better together. Our chemistry is better. You mention off and on, and assist-to-turnover – part of that is us making buckets, but it also assisting other people, good ball movement, guys taking shots in rhythm. We've been successful defensively all year, so it's good to see the ball go in for our guys."

To me, and I imagine many fans (and the coaches), the most puzzling thing about this team is the game-to-game variance. I understand college players aren't as consistent as professionals, but 10-2 home versus 4-6 elsewhere, or 26 percent three-point shooting out of conference, and nearly 20 percent better in conference – what gives? I tried to ask questions centering on this theme throughout the presser, and we were rewarded with some revealing answers.

On explaining inconsistency:
"You can demand defense all you want, but offense gives you energy, pep in your step. We've been grinding on D the whole year, but we were not rewarding ourselves on the offensive end. There was a lid on the basket and it's great to see the lid be removed."

"We are still in the process of becoming. We are still an unfinished product. What seniors do we have out there? Andy [Brown] is not really a senior. Gabe is a senior who comes off the bench. So some is overall leadership from upperclassmen as you mature from freshmen to sophomores to juniors, you want to see more consistency of play and I think you're starting to see that. When you see Josh, you can book it in terms of what he's going to do. With Dwight, you're starting to see that too."

"Chasson is a sophomore and has had some tough games, but regardless of how we played, we didn't win those games and we weren't gaining confidence. We lost close games versus Missouri, Minnesota, at North Carolina State, we just viewed those as losses and gained no momentum. They took time and we gained no traction."

There's an upside to the variance, of course: If this is a top-25 team on potential and the squad starts playing to that level, every preseason goal is still obtainable. Dawkins discusses this.

"We realize the importance of each and every game as we continue. For the conference title, we'll have to play great every night and the kids respond to that. It's been exciting where every game our backs are against the wall and we're in a situation where every time we go out, we have to play with a sense of desperation.

"We have five games ahead against opponents with a chance to chip away, but if we go out every day and try to get better every day, every practice, the rest will take care of itself. One thing I will say is that we have been steadfast in our experience battling adversity, and the kids grow from that experience."
(The "five games" references that five of Stanford's remaining nine opponents are ahead of the Cardinal in the Pac-12 standings.)

On his keys to winning on the road:
"To win on road in a hostile environment, there are important things you can control. You need a tempo that you are comfortable with. You need to value the basketball. You can't throw it away because those lead to easy baskets. And you have to be stingy defensively, you have to be a defensive-minded team. So make it difficult for teams to score, value the basketball and control the tempo."

On Arizona:
"They're very talented, terrific senior leadership. Solomon Hill is one of the best players in the conference. They go as he goes. He's been to an Elite Eight, and right there for conference championships, a heck of a player.

"They have a lot of young talent, and their kids are playing with confidence and playing together. Nick Johnson has improved his ability to score, and is shooting the ball better, taking the ball to the basket strong.

"Mark Lyons is a very good player, steady them at the point guard position. The young man can come in, control the team and run what's going on."

On Arizona State:
"I know Herb Sendek does a terrific job and is a great coach, and I have heard how well Jahii Carson playing, putting up big numbers and is one of best players in the nation."

Dawkins started with the disclaimer that he hasn't really scouted for ASU and only focused on the next game. Some coaches would have glared and left it there; nice of him to give even a generic answer.

On only playing the Arizona schools once:
"Only once in a season doesn't change the prep at all. We still have to compete against them. It makes it different because they don't have the chance to come back here, but the prep is the same.

Upon further prompting, Dawkins said "I'm old school. I believe you should play everyone twice to determine who the true champion is."

On Chasson Randle's growth:
"When Chasson is struggling, he puts a lot of weight on his shoulders. It's coming from the best place a player can have it come from, his heart. He's going to look at himself if we lose: ‘It's my fault. I didn't do enough.' I say it's on us, it's the wrong approach, we win and lose together.

"The USC game was him hitting bottom. [Randle finished with zero points in a last-second loss.] USC and Minnesota didn't go way we want and that affects people. We can talk about "go on to the next play" and I talk to him that the sun still comes up, but kids have to fight through those things and learn how to manage adversity. He hit his bumps early. USC was rock bottom for him. When's the last time he didn't score a point? He had no place to go but up, and his poise since has been a catalyst for us again. I'm happy for him." 

Cerebral Stanford students seem to be more prone to overthinking/overstressing/perfectionism than most, and it makes sense that Stanford basketball players wouldn't be immune either. Randle is not the first basketballer to feel the pressure either. Trent Johnson would talk about his kids pushing too hard a lot as well.

"Chasson and I have had good talks throughout the process. We have all been there, so that he is not only one battling. And I think some things came to light for him. I gave him a stat sheet and said how do you think you're playing? [Dawkins slumps his shoulders to imply that Randle didn't think he was playing well.] And I gave him the numbers and he was like ‘Whoa!'

"He can't still be carrying baggage [from a slow non-conference start]. That's long gone and he's been terrific. He was ‘Oh my gosh!' and continued to go from there, and that was four or five games ago."

On being able to coach Randle:
"Do I see myself in him? Absolutely. I see the struggles as he goes through you attacking to creating opportunities to make players around me better. That's a mindset change in the way you think. With the willingness to learn he has, I have all the confidence in the world he can make that transition."

On his continued growth and the possibility of a future as an NBA point guard:
"I think he can, but I think that's down the road for him. His D has been good. Chasson is a good defensive player on the basketball, though has to improve off the ball."

"He's 6-foot-1, 180, 175. He's going to be a point guard for his career, but it's how you develop. I wasn't always on the ball, and had to learn how to play the position. It takes time and patience to develop those attributes in time. He's a very good point guard for us, but off ball, he's terrific. He and Aaron in the backcourt are terrific together for maybe 20 min, and he has to run the point at other times because he and Aaron are each others' backups."

A credible reason to think that Randle may enjoy a steeper learning curve over the remainder of this season and the rest of his college career than a typical underclassman, as he continues to learn the point guard position.

On Randle's baseline pass to Josh Juestis versus Oregon State for a corner three:
"[Acknowledges it was a difficult pass], the baseline out-of-bounds pass to Josh, but it had some velocity. He got it there. I thought it might have hit the backboard, but he threaded the needle. They do practice that so I'm not as concerned.

"It's called a bailout. Any time we're in real trouble, you have to make yourself available opposite of [the ballhandler stuck in the corner]. Credit to Josh, to make himself available."

On Andy Brown:
"I think he will be back next year. He wants to be a coach and should be. I think he'll be terrific. I've enjoyed coaching him all these years and there's definitely coaching in his blood. He could appeal for a sixth year because of the three ACLs, and those are all things we'll discuss at the end of the season."

On Anthony Brown:
"He's doing great in rehab, out of braces or casts and moving around. He can't do much of course with regards to basketball, but it's good to see him heavy into the rehab and he looks good. We miss him, of course. We were counting on him to have a breakout year and he has been missed, but to the kids' credit, we've moved on."

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