Q&A: Basketball's Andrew Vlahov (1987-'91)

It took two years for Andrew Vlahov ('91) to go from Australian exchange student in Oregon to helping Stanford reach the Tournament for the first time in 47 years. In his four seasons on The Farm, Vlahov established himself as an emotional team leader and one of the Pac-10's best defenders. Putting the power in forward, Vlahov was kind enough to open up to Cardinal fans with this interview.

Stanford's ongoing five-season absence from the NCAA tournament is the second-longest such drought in program history. The Bootleg caught up with a player who helped end the longest streak.

The Bootleg: Your junior year, Stanford won for the first time at Pauley Pavilion when you scored a career-high 20 points. So what was it about playing UCLA on the road that was so difficult? You guys had no problem beating them at home or in the Pac-10 tournament at The Forum. How would you characterize the sway that the Bruins had over you guys?

Andrew Vlahov: Being from a foreign country, I had no sense of the history. It didn't matter to me. My freshman year we played against Reggie Miller, Pooh Richardson, et cetera. UCLA always had talent and a supportive home crowd. If there was some kind of sway that existed, it wasn't in my mind. They were just another opponent.

By 1990, we had developed a good rivalry with them and personally I had one going with Don MacLean. I used to love watching him reach for the tissues when Adam Keefe and I played on him. He was a good player, but I believe he had a mental problem with Keefe and me. We generally won that match-up and that was pivotal to winning that game. As far as scoring 20 points went, it was fun. When you play with better-scoring players, they should have priority. I just managed to chip in a little bit extra that night.

TB: To this day, you're one of a select few foreign-born players for Stanford. How did they discover you? What do you remember about your first time on campus?

AV: I was on a scholarship in Eugene, Oregon playing for South Eugene High School. At the time, one of the assistants for the Oregon Ducks was Barry Collier, who saw me play a few games. When Mike Montgomery got the head coaching position, Barry Collier got one of the assistant coaching positions. Barry convinced Mike that I was worth pursuing. Mike flew to Perth, Australia to meet my parents. I subsequently flew back later that year and made four recruiting visits: Both Oregon schools, Santa Clara and Stanford. I had already visited University of New Mexico while still in Eugene. I had offers from all schools, but Stanford was the obvious choice. Not because of its reputation, but because of the way I was welcomed by the team on the visit. It felt like I was in good company, and I was. Plus, my Dad said Stanford or stay in Perth!

TB: Like the United States, Australia is a nation of immigrants. Where are your ancestors from? When did they come to Australia?

AV: My mother was a refugee from Latvia that fled during the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states. My father's side came from Croatia. My mother arrived in Australia in 1948, and my father was actually born here, but his father came in 1918 to help build the railroad. They both arrived with nothing and made it.

TB: Talk a little bit about your professional basketball career in Australia and what you're up to now. For any teammates you haven't talked to in a while or fans, what do you want them to know?

AV: I played professionally in Australia for 12 years, and then owned the team during the last three years of my playing career with good friend Luc Longley. Not the greatest business decision ever, but it taught me a great deal. I was either going to go back and get an MBA or throw myself in at the deep end with concrete boots. It was an amazing experience and I think I learned more than I could ever in a classroom. I then sold the team six years later and started an events and sports marketing business, which I also just recently sold into a much larger group. Currently, I am with that group working on the next big project.

TB: Who was the best player you played against in college? Best coach? Most fun coach and team to beat?

AV: Best player was Sean Elliott. Very difficult to guard, especially when having to chase him off multiple screens and being half the athlete he was. Best coach would be Montgomery. I don't think people appreciate what he had to work with and how he maximized the outcomes for our group. He is highly intelligent, despite him always telling me he was just a "blue-collar guy".

TB: Do you feel responsible for any of the success that Stanford and Montgomery enjoyed in the ensuing years?

AV: Partially. We had a great unit in 1989 that should have gone further in the NCAA's [but lost in the first round to Siena]. Disappointing that we didn't, but that is life. Winning the NIT [in 1991] was also a great highlight as that team was finely tuned and understood its roles perfectly. I am glad I was able to contribute and build a platform for further successes of the program.

TB: In the last five years, Stanford is a good team at Maples Pavilion but positively awful (12-32) in conference on the road. What is about being able to perform away from home that separates the good teams from the lousy ones?

AV: The single difference that young players are not able to reconcile is that the mental aspect of the game becomes so much more important. At the professional level, where physically the field is quite even, the advantage comes from what is between a player's ears, in my opinion. Mental toughness seems to be a diminishing skill-set of this younger generation. They have had it too easy and never had to "fight" for what they need, let alone what they want. It breeds softness. My advice would be to get our guys into an uncomfortable environment every preseason and re-create a culture of toughness both mentally and physically. That 1989 team had guys on it who would kill you if it meant winning games, and that is generally what happened at practice.

TB: Do you consider yourself a Stanford guy? How satisfying was it to see the team do so well throughout the '90s and into the new millennium?

AV: I am not sure what the definition of a Stanford guy is! I have my own definition. I would like to think that the brotherhood at Stanford is strong, and is in fact getting stronger. I missed the last reunion and I was very disappointed about that. The camaraderie of reconnecting with old and new is extremely important to not only tradition, but for future generations of Stanford athletes.

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