“Crazy thing is….it’s true. All of it.”
There once was a time when Stanford Basketball ruled the campus. Students camped out for tickets to the biggest games, they rushed the floor after big victories, and Stanford cut down nets. Nets at Maples, nets in St. Louis, and they rose to the number one ranking. Yes, Stanford was once the top-ranked team in all the land. There was a waiting list for season tickets.
And then it was gone.
One of the craziest parts of covering Stanford Football and Basketball has been trying to convince the students who cover the team now that there was such a time. For the most part, I think they humor me and nod, but I keep telling them, as amazing as this Golden Era of Stanford Football has been, no game at Stanford Stadium has come close to the best moments at Peak Maples.
And that brings us to the start of this next chapter of Stanford Basketball and the only real question that matters: Can they make the glorious past the program’s future? Let’s take a look at what Coach Jerod Haase and his staff will be confronting along the way as well as the steps they’ve already taken to get there.
Step One: The Vision
Coach Haase assembled his staff and among the first moves they made was to decide upon the three core values of the program. These attributes would be the foundation upon which every decision was made, every prospect is recruited, and every drill is determined. After brainstorming and talking through several ideas, “tough, selfless, and invested” emerged as the cornerstones of this staff’s vision.
Why does this matter? First of all, it provides the framework for what the coaches are trying to build. That they took the time to verbalize and crystallize their intent for the program is a sign they themselves are truly invested in what is going to be a process that takes more than one season. Secondly, it provides a very reasonable rubric by which to evaluate the team and the program.
The wins are not necessarily going to arrive this season. But is this team tougher, more invested and more selfless than it was last year? Moreso in February than it was in November? It is absolutely fair to expect that in Year One.
Stanford’s coaches know change isn’t going to happen overnight, but they also knew they had to do something to establish the fact that a new era was beginning. When Cardinal players returned to Maples after some time off after summer quarter, they walked into a totally redone locker room, one that emphasized the values the program hopes will carry them into another era of success.
A new paint job isn’t gonna change the core of a program, but it’s a start.
Step Two: Recruiting
Stanford inked two members to the class of 2017 this past week. The Cardinal was in on some other top recruits like Jase Febres and Daejon Davis, but in Kezie Okpala and Oscar da Silva, it’s clear what Coach Jerod Haase is looking for as he attempts to rebuild the Cardinal. At 6’8” and 6’9” respectively, Okpala and da Silva represent a trend toward positionless basketball that college seems to be embracing.
We can’t say definitively that Stanford will be making a tactical or personnel commitment to these kind of versatile players. After the all, the Cardinal is also pursuing big man Olivier Sarr and 6’2” point guard Matt Coleman. Ultimately, this is the battle ground that is going to make or break this staff, just as it is across the nation. Coach Johnny Dawkins never found his Johnny Dawkins, and that more than any of his shortcomings as a coach was his undoing.
Part Three: Season One
This season comes down to one real simple factor, making this perhaps the easiest preview ever. For Stanford, the bottom line is going to quite simply be whether or not this team can shoot the ball. There are other factors this season, but ultimately last year’s team was undone by a deficiency in the most crucial skill in the game.
24.5% of Stanford’s points came on three-point shots last season. That total was 286th in the nation last year. This is a big deal, because with Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis returning, Stanford’s going to see double teams in the post, and that’s going to lead to open threes. On nights when those threes are falling, the Cardinal is gonna be competitive with pretty much every team on its schedule.
So the question now becomes who is going to make those threes? Dorian Pickens took the second most threes on the team last year and shot a very respectable 35% last year. If he can maintain or improve on that clip with the increased shot volume he stands to produce. Another candidate is Marcus Sheffield, who shot 37% in a very limited 41 attempts. Finally, there’s Marcus Allen, who was only able to muster a 24% clip but who almost certainly will get a number of looks for a couple of reasons.
First, that percentage is going to make Allen’s man a viable option for doubling down in the post, and secondly, the fact that he is an absolute blur with the ball in his hands means his man is going to give him plenty of airspace for the jumper. Expect Allen to spend a great deal of time with the ball in his hands as the shot clock winds down, as he is by far the most explosive perimeter player Stanford has at this point.
One aspect of the Cardinal’s play that should have fans encouraged is the increased ball and player movement Coach Haase intends to emphasize. It’s not a flawless metric, but Stanford’s percentage of assisted baskets last season (49.6%) was 239th in the country, and it’s 48% in Pac-12 play was the lowest in the league. On a team that didn’t have NBA-level creators, the inability to generate system buckets was the death knell.
Coach Haase’s UAB team last year assisted on nearly 65% of its buckets, third best in the nation. In C-USA play, the Blazers assisted on 63% of its field goals, best in the league. Stanford isn’t gonna get all the way up to those lofty numbers in year one, but you can book a trip out of the Pac-12 cellar in this category.
In talking with the staff this past summer, there was no way to get around the elephant in the Stanford Basketball office: This team has suffered way more than its fair share of injuries during the previous administration. Now, obviously some of that is up to the Fates, but there are aspects of team health that are within the control of the program, and it seems clear the new staff is paying a very mindful eye on limiting the workload and sustaining the health of this team through the season.
There is almost no way, when considering the above factors, that Stanford’s not going to be better in 2016-17. Admittedly, that’s not a high bar, but given the impossibility of reaching the program’s ceiling in year one under Coach Haase, it should be an encouraging if occasionally rocky first season of Stanford basketball. It should be one that offers a new hope to this generation of Cardinal fans that the force that was Stanford Basketball is awakening, and that the future may indeed verify that all those stories of what this program can be are all true.