The term "summer vacation" has little to no meeting for the 13 players on this Stanford Basketball team. After a long spring quarter of strength & conditioning, twice-weekly individual workouts and an unending string of pickup games, you would think a 20-year old basketball player would have his fill of off-season training. That's a solid three months of improvement in both the physical and skill departments - surely enough to carry a team returning all but one player from last year's 24-9 crew.
Instead, the team spent the entire month of July on campus, during the hottest part of the summer, and turned their work up another notch. The boys lifted 2 1/2 to 3 hours each day, and then played pickup games for another couple hours. There were strength gains, improved conditioning and subtle changes to the style and aggression of several players' games. Some of the players went home during August, though several stuck around on campus. The group that stayed locally through August included Justin Davis, Joe Kirchofer, Matt Lottich, Nick Robinson, Jason Haas and Rob Little. The remainder of the team returned at the end of August and beginning of September, and this past week were completely united for a few weeks of work before the start of school on September
But the one gaping hole that comes in the summer is the absence of skilled instruction. You ask any savvy 'baller, and he will admit to you that pickup games seldom give you the help that comes during coach-directed scrimmages. Even during the two game sessions each week that are currently being conducted between Stanford's and Santa Clara's player, the gains may be superficial.
"There's no defense, we don't run our plays and there are no refs," redshirt sophomore point guard Chris Hernandez comments.
The absence of coaching can actually cause some players to take a step back during the summer period. Players may receive individual coaching for two hours each week during the spring and early fall, outside the parameters of the NCAA-defined season, and they do more good than fans appreciate. Specifically, some players lost their shooting stroke during the summer when they had to do without the Stanford coaches.
For sophomore power forward Matt Haryasz, jump shots in July were just a little off. But missing by a few inches consistently is still missing consistently, which was a disappointing shift from his hot-shooting spring. During the individual workouts and pickup games of the spring quarter, Haryasz was turning a lot of heads with his deadly stroke from 12 to 18 feet. But he simply couldn't find it in July.
"I'm going through a weird period," the 6'10" sophomore told The Bootleg two months ago. "I'm just not hitting my shot all the time. It's something I'll have to go home and really work on in Page (AZ)."
And shoot he did during his month-long stay at home during August. Haryasz took 200 shots each day, primarily shooting from 10 different spots on the floor from mid-to-long range. Contrary to your suspicion (or hope), however, those shots did not take him outside the arc. "I don't think this team and this offense needs me to be able to shoot the three-pointer right now," the maturing big man opines.
Early results are encouraging, with Haryasz hitting shots with great regularity from the high post the last couple weeks. "My shot just feels so nice right now," he describes. "It feels soft."
The once-lean big man has also made huge gains in strength, pushing his weight up to 216 pounds by the time he departed at the end of July. Continued work at home with strength & conditioning coach John Murray's program paid more dividends, as did a healthy regiment of home cooking from mom. He has weighed in this week at 220 pounds, the highest of his life, though any given day of workouts in the summer heat can take away five pounds in a few hours. Nevertheless, this is a bigger and stronger Haryasz, which should pay off on the floor.
"I feel like I've gotten a lot stronger," he says. "I'm able to hold on to a lot more rebounds than in the past."
There is also a change in his offensive game, as the skilled shooter is putting the ball increasingly on the floor. "I've worked on my dribble-drive, which the coaches have told me they would like to see," Haryasz explains. "I've also figured out that you'll get hurt less if you're the one flying in there. There are benefits to being more active and aggressive."
Another young player looking to improve his shooting touch is freshman Tim Morris. The combo guard from Georgia is an unknown quantity to most Stanford fans, outside of what has been written here and in The Bootleg Magazine. There are several attributes to enthusiastically celebrate about this 6'4" athlete, who excels every bit in his strength as with his intelligence. Morris is a good leaper and great rebounder, but his greatest asset is his slashing quickness.
"My strength is creating off the dribble," he explains. "I'm one of the few guys out here who can do that - just based on quickness and athleticism."
But the aspect missing from this exciting freshman's game in July was clearly his jump shot. You have to remember that Morris was the tallest player on his high school team, which necessitated his play close to the basket. With a small and quick lineup, Whitefield Academy was known for running its opponents up and down the floor, not necessarily shooting them into oblivion. But as with anything in Morris' life, it just takes a little bit of hard work to overcome any challenge.
So like Haryasz, he spent much of his time home in Georgia during August shooting endless jumpers. "I was just trying to groove," he elaborates. "The main part is repetition and memory. I worked a lot with my dad, but I had also worked with [former NBA great] Mark Price in the early part of the summer, and I took those lessons and really worked them last month. Now I'm releasing the ball higher, getting more extension and getting my wrist cocked."
The last few months have also improved Morris' physical condition, which is saying something given the type of strength he brought out of high school. "It's the best I've ever felt - stronger, quicker and more explosive. I didn't want to stop working out when I went home, either. When you're in a groove, you want to keep working. I actually worked out with my high school team on conditioning, but I did the exact same lifts I learned here. I just didn't have all the equipment," the 215 pound freshman allows. His cardiovascular condition however might surprise you. "It's not even close. I'm about 75% with that conditioning of what I was in high school. It's just a different world from what we did at Whitefield. It was like track because we had to sprint up and down the floor all game, playing press defense and pushing the ball as fast as possible on offense."
The final dimension for this freshman's adjustment has come off the court, getting used to a new group of teammates, as well as a new set of surroundings. "Chemistry was a big part of why I came out here early," he offers. "Everybody's getting a feel for how I can fit in, how I can contribute. But basketball aside, it was also a really new thing to be here for a month. That's the first time I had been away from home for so long. The novelty has worn off for me, big time, though. I won't be so wide-eyed like all the other freshmen when they get here next week. If this were my first time coming out here alone, I wouldn't be as focused on what I have to do. The new place, freedom and all that goes with that - it's a big adjustment."
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