The wait is over. Tonight you will see, either in person or on national television, the first game of the 2004-05 Stanford season and the Trent Johnson Era. The Cardinal will officially be the visitors in this evening's face-off with local USF, who is also led by a new head coach. Jessie Evans is opening up his era with the Dons after seven years as the head man at Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns made the postseason four times, including an NCAA berth last March. Their style under Evans is being brought to the Bay Area, with an emphasis on fast pace.
"We like to get up and down the floor," Evans explains. "We like to pressure. We like to change up defenses."
That fast-paced and unpredictable style of play will be difficult for Stanford's preparation, given the absence of games under Jessie Evans to scout with this USF roster. The Cardinal coaches are also unable to effectively scout senior guard John Cox, who sat out all of last year and is playing this season under a rare sixth-year exemption from the NCAA. The 6'5" guard was All-WCC two years ago, averaging better than 15 points per game and can play any of three guard spots. Evans compares Cox to Chris Mills, who the first-year USF man coached during his nine-year stint as an assistant at Arizona with Lute Olsen. He's a bigtime scorer and player who has been bottled up and is ready to have a big coming out party in Oakland.
"He's a great team player who makes everyone else better," the coach comments on Cox. "He shares the ball and tries to get uncontested shots."
You will often see USF playing a three-guard lineup, with their admittedly small froncourt ("We're not very tall and we're not very athletic."). What the Dons lack in size they make up in experience. They return their backcourt from a year ago, with six-foot seniors Andre Hazel and Jason Gaines. Both are athletic and heady players who can cause trouble on both ends of the floor, and both can play the point. If you see them out on the court together, you might expect Stanford to counter with Chris Hernandez and Jason Haas in the same backcourt. Hazel is a player to watch closely tonight, as he looks to show himself well against his former coach. The USF senior played two years at Nevada under Trent Johnson before transferring to a junior college for one year, where he did not play, and then San Francisco last year for his third season of college eligibility.
Interestingly, both Hazel and Gaines have gone through injury problems this fall, not unlike the ailments that have hit many of Stanford's players. Hazel dislocated his shoulder but appears mostly recovered now, while Gaines broke his hand and is on the mend.
Jessie Evans jokes about how daunting the task will be for his frontcourt to match up with Stanford's big men, though we reported to you yesterday that the Cardinal come in less than 100% with 6'11" starting power forward Matt Haryasz suffering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The darkhorse for the Dons in matching up with the Cardinal is sophomore Alan Wiggins, Jr. The 6'8" forward is the son of the great and late Alan Wiggins of San Diego Padres fame, and you of course recognize the Wiggins name on The Farm this year with sister Candice Wiggins making huge waves as a freshman guard for the Stanford Women's Basketball team. The brother carried none of the hype that his sister received in high school, but Evans is singing his praises today as the most improved and underrated member of the team. Wiggins managed just 2.8 points in 11.8 minutes last year, but with his off-season improvements and mesh with a new head coach, he is now a starter.
"I love his attentiveness. He's a very coachable kid - a sponge," Evans describes. "He can run, jump and defend. He has quick feet and soft hands. I like kids who don't have all the answers, who are willing to learn like Alan."
The most massive player USF brings to the starting frontcourt is senior (JC transfer) Tyrone Riley, who presents carries 245 pounds on his 6'7" frame. Though he sounds like slightly miniature version of Rob Little with that build, he loves to play away from the basket with active energy. He put up 2 1/2 three-point attempts per game last year and hit 35% of them. Though he can shoot from outside, he actively crashes the boards, leading the team a year ago with 7.0 per game. Though he gives up four inches to Haryasz, he outweighs the Stanford junior by 15 pounds and will be a great challenge on both ends of the floor.
Haryasz and Little have size advantages in this game, and they need to take advantage much better than what we saw last Saturday in the exhibition against Concordia. With Haryasz' foot injury, the most pressure lies with Little. The senior center has to assert himself early in this game and set the tone for physical and aggressive offensive play in the low post. USF will want to move the game to the perimeter on both ends of the floor, where they are stronger, but Little needs to capitalize and dominate. He also has to keep himself out of foul trouble, given that Haryasz' minutes may be limited and the 6'11" junior cannot provide much of a backup role in the center position.
An Opener Worth Watching
The Cardinal tip off against the Dons with a projected 8:36 PM (Pacific) start time, but get to the Arena early or tune your television at 6:00 PM if you can. Santa Clara and North Carolina will face off in the first game, and Stanford fans have a great interest in both opponents. The Card will play the Broncos in nine days at the Leavey Center, the next and only time you will see Stanford play in the Bay Area the next four weeks. Trent Johnson and Roy Williams are projected to duel this Tuesday, as well, if both Stanford and Carolina win their first games Monday in the Maui Invitational.
We will take closer looks at these two teams when the respective games approach, but you can get an advanced scout with both tonight. In the Tar Heels, you will see a consensus Final Four projected team, which has Roy Williams openly giddy. Their famed junior class has matured each year and this season is poised for superstardom, though you will not see one of the brightest stars in action tonight. Point guard Raymond Felton is sitting out a one-game NCAA suspension after he played in a noncertified summer league game. That will not likely change the outcome of this game, where the Tar Heels are still favored by 16 points, but it will change the complexion of the team. Felton is the unquestioned quarterback for Carolina, and Roy Williams has struggled to name the replacement point guard. The UNC head coach said yesterday in Oakland that he may wait as late as this morning, after the team breakfast, to make a gut call on who he would start.
The options are freshman point guard Quentin Thomas, sophomore transfer point guard Wes Miller and senior shooting guard Melvin Scott. There are drawbacks to all three, but Thomas may get the nod not just because of ability, but also geographic considerations. The 6'3" frosh will be making his college debut in his hometown, where he starred at Oakland Tech and was ranked by Scout.com as the #1 point guard in the West last year. Roy Williams has a great history of recruiting the West Coast, dating back to his days at Kansas and continuing with this freshman class at UNC. Joining Thomas is Washington superstar forward Marvin Williams, who flirted with a jump to the NBA straight out of high school this past spring.
But the Carolina coach first found Thomas by chance rather than design. He was scouting and recruiting Leon Powe as a junior during the 2001-2002 when a lanky sophomore point guard caught his eyes. Fortune smiled on UNC that day, which is a story painfully familiar to Cardinalmaniacs™. Roy Williams only by blind luck found 2005 combo guard Bobby Frasor this past spring when he was in the stands at an AAU event scouting a loaded team from Texas playing against Frasor's Illinois Wolves. The prized Stanford point guard target blew up with a near-perfect shooting performance in the game, hitting 7-of-8 three pointers - and only missing that final shot late in the contest. Williams did not even know the name of Bobby Frasor before that game, but afterward followed him around the event and soon thereafter offered. Stanford was Frasor's favorite, but the full press from Carolina combined with the departure of Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery to the NBA cost the Cardinal their best guard recruit in the class.
Quentin Thomas will have his high school jersey retired by Oakland Tech at halftime of the UNC-Santa Clara game tonight, which repeats the ceremony of a year ago when then-freshman Leon Powe had his jersey retired by the Bulldogs during last year's Pete Newell Challenge. Another Tech alumnus will be in the house tonight, when Armondo Surratt sits on the USF bench. A 2002 star at Tech, Surratt surprised by jumping across the country to attend Miami but transferred back the Bay Area last spring after the Canes fired their head coach. He has to sit out this season and will become eligible in the 2005-06 season with two more years to play.
Santa Clara head coach Dick Davey is shedding no tears over the loss of Felton for tonight's game, unable to heap enough praise on the Tar Heels. At the same time, he bemoans how overmatched his Broncos will be. There may be some truth, though there is also plenty of gamesmanship endemic to college coaches.
"We're slow, small and can't shoot," Davey poignantly sums up for his squad. "North Carolina might be the best team I have ever seen on tape that Santa Clara has played."
Davey and Williams both agree that the Tar Heels are exceptional in their ability to run the floor this year. The 13-year Bronco coach compares UNC favorably with the old run & gun teams that Loyola Marymount fielded in their heyday.
"They get down the floor as quick as any team I've ever seen," Davey praises.
Dick Davey is now hailed as the "Dean of Bay Area Basketball" after Mike Montgomery left Stanford, but the elder statesman of college hoops in Northern California has few options he can employ against the fast attack machine of UNC. Santa Clara's strength is their guard play, and the style of play we see tonight might play right into Carolina's hands. The greatest lament for Davey is that he has no post game to which he can turn to try and even things out. His one player with size on the roster, 6'11" Canadian center Sean Denison, is out with a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal of his foot. That forces Davey to employ a small lineup against a deep and versatile UNC team, not too dissimilar from what USF has to do tonight against Stanford.
The Broncos should still be some fun to watch tonight, and a serious test for the Cardinal next weekend. They field a senior backcourt of Doron Perkins and Kyle Bailey - both Alaska natives - who Davey thinks could rival the Steve Nash-Marlon Garnett duo that dazzled in the mid-1990s. They are smart, athletic playmakers who will carry this team, but the big question is outside shooting. Davey watched with horror at his team shot a WCC-worst 41.5% from the field and 33.8% from three-point range.
- Roy Williams is the first coach to bring two different teams to the Pete Newell Challenge. His Kansas squad played and beat California two years ago, 80-67. That was the only loss for the Bears in their six appearances in the event. This marks only the second time in the eight-year history of the Challenge that Cal did not play; in 2001, USF was the other Bay Area representative. Organizers have announced that Cal will be back in 2005. Only scheduling conflicts kept them from playing this year, despite the best efforts from both parties. Attendance will no doubt suffer without the pull for the local East Bay population.
- Though Cal is out, this year marks the first time that three local teams have played in the event.
- Stanford holds several records for this event, including most team points (87) and most individual points (34 - Matt Lottich) scored last year against Gonzaga. Jason Collins holds the record for most rebounds, with his 15 in the famed game against Duke. Stanford set team (12) and individual (6 - Curtis Borchardt) marks in 1999 in blocked shots against Mississippi State.
- This year marks a return for Trent Johnson to the Newell. He was an assistant with Stanford back in 1998 when the Cardinal made their first appearance in the event, defeating Temple in a sluggish low-scoring affair. Johnson speaks fondly of Pete Newell and has repeatedly publicly thanked the legend for coming to Reno in Johnson's first year as head coach at Nevada to conduct a free clinic, along with Tex Winter and Lynn Nance.
- Stanford Associate Head Coach Eric Reveno has a close professional relationship with the Hall of Fame coach, as well, serving as an instructor at the Pete Newell Big Man Camp each of the last six years.
- Pete Newell is more well know in the Bay Area as the coach that led Cal to the 1959 NCAA national title, though he cut his teeth in his first coaching job at USF in the 1940s. Newell won the NIT national title in 1949 with USF; the NIT at the time was the more prestigious postseason tournament than the NCAAs. The Jesuits at USF hired Newell only begrudgingly - their sights were set on former Stanford superstar Hank Luisetti, innovator of the one-handed shot. To this day, Newell adamantly declares that Luisetti was the greatest player in the history of college basketball.
- This is the first year that the Challenge has been played in November. The earliest date in its previous seven years was December 20, consistently played during the Holidays. Scheduling for the teams involved necessitated this early date, which best worked with their road trip out West for the Maui Invitational. For UNC, Stanford and USF, tonight will tip off their season. Santa Clara has already played three regular season games, however, in a tournament in Albuquerque (N.M.)
- The last time a first-year head coach at USF faced Stanford, the Dons scored an upset and their first win for Phil Matthews in 1995 at the Cow Palace. It was a horrific game to watch.
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