Let's get right to the heart of the matter: Stanford basketball's big men aren't perceived quite the way they should these days, and it's a matter of importance how this perception carries to Stanford recruits. It's time to dispel the myth.
The myth is that Stanford is a plodding team that runs a no-fun offense structured to mitigate individuals' talents. As this pertains to post players, the recent macroevolution at Stanford has been completely missed by the public eye, hiding from the national view perhaps one of the most forward-thinking centers of development in the country. The myth says that Stanford plays its big boys down in the low post, banging all day with their backs solely to the basket. The perimeter stuff is supposedly left only to the wings, especially those with such a knack for scoring like Casey Jacobsen. The truth is that Stanford works hard every day to perfect the high post game with its big men, maximizing their abilities facing the basket.
Case in point, look at Stanford's top three scoring post players from just last year's roster: Jason Collins, Jarron Collins and Curtis Borchardt. All three have shown the range to play away from the basket, and thus have effectively had a green light to stretch the defense and shoot from mid and long-range. In the 2000-01 season, these three combined to shoot 44% from behind the arc. If those three were a team, they would have led the entire NCAA last year, while averaging 6'11" and still dominating in the low post. As it stood, these sharp-shooting big men, plus some lethal wings, guided Stanford to the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the country. The bigs on the Farm don't just bang - they bomb.
As a collective trio, they are impressive, but they have remarkable individual stories of development and realized potential as well. Jarron could have been a star center anywhere in the country, but was a forward at Stanford and played primarily facing the basket outside of the paint. His lethal jump-shot around 14-feet was unstoppable by opposing power forwards, to the tune of a 56% conversion. If he was just a banger in the paint dominating smaller guys, you'd expect that percentage. But he honed his range at a level that the NBA couldn't ignore, as evidenced by the Utah Jazz' selection in this June's NBA draft, a move signaling their hopes and plans for Jarron as the successor to Karl Malone.
For Jason, the story is even more striking. Jason has an inch on Jarron, and a bigger body perfectly suited for banging with not just the premier posts in college, but also the biggest of the bigs in the NBA. The only limitation for Jason at Stanford had been his consecutive years of misfortune, where early injuries forced him into medical redshirts his first two seasons. As he regained his form in his first full year, he inched his way back toward stamina and strength for the diverse role of a Stanford post player. A post with bad knees but burgeoning potential. Good health and exponential progress with the Stanford coaching staff enabled him for a truly breakout year the following season (2000-01). His ability to dominate defenders in the low post was not much of a surprise, but he made a quantum leap in his range. Whereas he shot just one three point attempt (missed) in his first season, Jason absolutely broke out with a 46% year from deep, and 61% year from the field. In his most classic game, he shot 4 of 5 from downtown and 13 of 14 overall. With his body and obvious low post skills, it is hard to imagine any other coaching staff in the country who could have enabled that marked increase. From 0% to 46%!
How is it that these great giants are so adept facing the basket? Certainly, their innate abilities have been core to their productivity, but their growth has been engendered by a style of play at Stanford that has really come on in the past two seasons. Hidden to all but a few souls in the hoopaholic community is the hard work Stanford displays in daily practices at running the break to create the best high post situations for these guys. I've watched as much as half of a practice spent honing the execution of Stanford's fast break, in scrimmages and 5-on-0 drills. As with all schemes that Monty runs, the goal is to create the best possible scoring opportunities. In Stanford's fast break, the goal is to put a defense on their heels and create high percentage openings. If the ball-handler can get to the hoop, he will, but more often the lone/couple defenders will deny. That should then leave an open wing and/or a trailing post player arriving at the top of the three-point arc. The ball-handler knows to look for one of those options, and the recipients are expecting that shot.
Statistics will back-up the success of this coaching philosophy, and again challenge the myth of the plodding Stanford offense. The Cardinal executed to the tune of 83.3 points per game last season, 6th best in the NCAA. More importantly, the integration of tough defense that keys fastbreak, high percentage offensive opportunities was revealed in a 18.9 point per game margin of victory, 2nd best in the entire country. To reinforce just how efficiently Monty's plan translates, look no further than the team's 51.3% field goal percentage, #1 in the nation. The greatest showcase of this execution would be the classic comeback victory against Duke in December. Stanford stepped up the defense, with the fruits of that labor coming in fantastic offensive opportunities. A combination of fastbreaks, set offense, transition offense and point-of-attack plays converted no less than 14 straight possessions into buckets in college basketball's game of the year.
The follow-up question may ask why this hasn't been as prominent in Stanford teams past. The simple answer is that Monty guides the offense toward the strengths of his players, and runs the plays they can best execute. Prior to guys like Jason, Jarron and Curtis, the Card just hasn't had a cast of bigs with that range. When these talents came on board, Monty ran the offense to give them the best chances to shine. As the next big man with range looks to Stanford, he will have that same opportunity. The only question is "Who?"
Other programs will surely tout their own successful big men, with national recognition for their scoring away from the basket. One such example is Notre Dame and recently departed Troy Murphy. An All-American in his own right, he was a forward who scored at will from long range. Interestingly, Murphy and the Collins Twins all greatly elevated their perimeter games from the 1999-2000 to 2000-01 season. They, along with the elite in college post players and many NBA posts, have gotten these results with the help of the Pete Newell Big Man Camp each summer in Hawaii. A primary focus of the camp is the footwork necessary for a post player on the perimeter. A lot of stock is placed on the range of a big man these days, so the value of this work is a big draw for the best of both pro and college. You and many others around the country may know of the Newell Camp and the great work done there. But few realize that one of the prominent teachers at that camp is Stanford assistant coach Eric Reveno, who brings his Newell teaching skills to Stanford practices every day. Imagine if Murphy had come to Stanford...
The only disappointment in all of this for Stanford fans is the fact that there is this disconnect between perception and reality. There are a myriad of reasons why there is such a gap, one of which is ironically Stanford's outstanding defensive work. A primary tenet of a Monty team is the essential defensive ethic in his players, which was manifested in a new NCAA record two seasons ago for team defense (FG%). The unknowing fan someho