As I looked down from press row high above Maples Pavilion, I saw Mike Montgomery in the building and Ernie Kent roaming the opponent’s bench. For a brief, fleeting moment, it was like 2001 all over again.
But it wasn’t 2001. It was actually two weeks ago, when the Cardinal knocked off Washington State in the Pac-12 opener. Montgomery was on the call for the Pac-12 Network, and Kent was coaching the Cougars. Another way I knew it couldn’t have been 2001? The empty seats and half-full sections that pocked the arena were a dead giveaway.
Maples Pavilion. Yes, you remember the place. It’s right there off Campus Drive. The parking lot and the office complex across the street aren’t there anymore; it’s now the new biz school. The arena’s famous bouncy floor is gone, too. But the place has a California Pizza Kitchen stand now, so that’s progress, I guess.
Judging from the attendance over the past few years, a few of you haven’t been to Maples Pavilion in a while. That’s understandable. After all, the product on the floor and the atmosphere in the building haven’t been as good as they were back in the days when the Card were a national power. It’s probably a bit unfair to compare, but that’s where the bar still seems to be for most Stanford fans.
And those were great days, to be sure. Back when Stanford men’s basketball was legitimately one of the hottest tickets in town. When Dick Vitale crowd surfed the Sixth Man Club. When A-list celebrities sat courtside—oh, hello Tiger Woods—and when students camped out days in advance to get inside. When Maples Pavilion was one of the centers of the college basketball universe.
Those days are gone. They’re probably not coming back (and if they do, it won’t be the exact same). And, save for the Lopez Twins Era, many fans haven’t come back, either.
But if you’ve been staying away from Maples, the next week might be a good time to make a return. Defending national champion Connecticut comes to The Farm on Saturday. Next Thursday, the Arizona Wildcats come calling. Oh, and the Stanford team itself isn’t bad, either.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Card are 12-4. Although win-loss records can be grossly inflated in college basketball, that’s still a pretty good mark. Along the way, Stanford has knocked off two ranked teams and gained credibility among the college hoop pundits. They’ve also played some pretty exciting ball. Sometimes, like against UCLA and U$C, a little too exciting.
When Chasson Randle is on, he is one of the more electrifying players in the Pac-12 (ask the Golden Bears for their thoughts on this). Anthony Brown’s all-around game has been evident almost every night. Rosco Allen and Marcus Allen have provided sparks off the bench, and Robert Cartwright has impressed with his defense. It may not be pretty to watch for 40 consecutive minutes, but—in its own way—it is an entertaining team to watch.
If it has been a while since you’ve roamed Maples, not everything will be completely foreign to you. You’ll still see some familiar touches. The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, for instance. That’s a good thing, by the way. Say what you want to about those folks (and most of us have), but they are at their best in a basketball setting.
When they play “Swingtown” during Stanford player introductions, I get goose bumps. Every time. Guaranteed. Even now. When I hear that song on the radio, I think it’s time for Stanford basketball. Then I start singing along. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
The Sixth Man Club is still there, too. They’re not quite as creatively vocal as they once were, and they haven’t shown up in the numbers they once did. But then again, many of you haven’t, either.
Still, the ones who do show up tend to do good work. Johnny Dawkins went out of his way to give Sixth Man Club props after Stanford’s upset win over Washington (“without them I don’t know if we win the game”). So apparently that group can still influence games and help provide a home-court advantage. That’s exactly what a student section is supposed to do, by the way.
Now, they have a long way to go to reach the heights they did the last time UConn came to Maples in 1999. The Sixth Man Club spent that entire afternoon mercilessly (and, at times, cruelly) razzing Huskies guard Khalid El-Amin. But it’s still nice to know that the 2015 version of the Sixth Man can bring it when necessary.
We know what Maples Pavilion looks like when every seat is filled, when high-profile opponents are in town, and when the Stanford team itself is watchable. It’s been a long time since all three of those items have come together. And, while I’m not expecting any Nick Robinson-type moments (#1 Maples moment of all time. I don’t know how that can possibly be topped), it would be nice to see a living, breathing, jumping, sold-out Maples again.
See you Saturday. And again next Thursday. Welcome back.********** ********** **********
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