The Matt Haryasz Makeover

With his recent run of success, it is easy for excited Cardinal fans to forget the inconsistency and struggles that <b>Matt Haryasz</b> endured the first two months of this season. You could track some of his struggles to the weakness and pain in his foot with his plantar fasciitis, but there was another quieter story behind the scenes that transpired and engendered his turnaround.

He has enjoyed fantastic success with 16.0 points and 10.7 rebounds on average over his last nine games, but it was a season of great unrest and disappointment for Matt Haryasz before his last month-plus of rising results.  The last dismal game he played before that stretch was a forgettable foul-filled fiasco at Haas Pavilion on January 15, when he played a season-low of 11 minutes and scored just two points while grabbing a meager three rebounds.  After that contest, Haryasz held his lowest averages all season in scoring (8.4 ppg), rebounding (7.7 rpg) and field goal percentage (41.1%).

The shooting percentage was a grave disappointment to not just the player, but to the Stanford coaches.  The 6'11" junior should be able to operate with far greater efficiency in both the low post and high post.  While he was often plagued with foul trouble in his more difficult games, Haryasz was equally unproductive in practices as he was when the bright lights came on.

"He was missing a lot of shots - more than we and he knew he should be missing.  He was inconsistent in practice, which made him inconsistent in games," comments associate head coach and post players specialist Eric Reveno.

A quick look at his scoring this season tells the tale:  Double digits against USF and Tennessee, followed by six points against BYU (3-of-10 shooting from the field).  18 points against Louisville, followed by nine at Santa Clara (3-of-10).  12 at Michigan State, followed by two at Denver (1-of-6).  12 against UC-Davis, followed by four against woeful Dartmouth (1-of-5).  11 against Montana, followed by four and six at Washington State (2-of-9) and Washington (2-of-5), respectively.  The regular oscillation in his performances was enough to set your watch by, but it was not at all what we expected out of Stanford's "next great big man" in his breakout junior season.

"Our team struggled at the start of the season, and I took a lot of that on my shoulders," Haryasz explains.  "I was beating myself up early in the year.  I wasn't playing the way I wanted and expected."

Whether you have watched him on television or you are a season ticket holder who has observed him up close at Maples Pavilion, it is clear that there is no more visibly emotional player on this Stanford roster than Matt Haryasz.  He flails his body in frustration at each foul.  He is the first to chest-pump or smother a teammate at timeouts after a big play.  And he is the unofficial liaison between the team and the Sixth Man Club, constantly exhorting the courtside student section to a multiple of their decibel level.

While the students and alumni revel in the talented big man who wears his heart on his sleeve, having emotions bubble so close to the surface has its problems.  When things were not going well through the preseason and start of Pac-10 play, Haryasz beat himself up viciously.  In contrast, take the case of classmate and recently fallen standout Dan Grunfeld.  Coaches and teammates universally recognize that no other player has been as focused, controlled and on an emotional even keel as the junior wing.  It is no accident that Grunfeld was the only player to enjoy truly consistent success this season, shooting a miraculous 50.0% from the field as a shooting guard while scoring only twice in 22 games below double figures.

"I think his demeanor and temperament have improved.  I think he's matured," says head coach Trent Johnson about Matt Haryasz' recent turnaround.  "He can get really fired up, and I love that about him.  But he has to settle down."

Though his starting power forward has made strides in that area, Johnson can point to events as recent as the past weekend against the Los Angeles schools - for evidence that Haryasz is still a work in progress.  The big man mauled the Trojans with 23 points on Thursday but followed Sunday with 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from the free throw line against the Bruins.  Johnson was so concerned about the emotional keel of his forward/center that for the last couple minutes of the first half, he made the most frequent offense/defensive substitutions we can ever remember for a player with one foul in the first half of a ballgame.

"Matt had a lot of open looks but he was going too fast," Johnson comments.  The head coach has preached since he was hired last spring that Haryasz needs to "slow down," and that continued into the 24th game of this season on Sunday.

Though the Berkeley game was his statistical nadir and his play turned around the next week during the road trip to Los Angeles, it was a couple weeks prior that Haryasz was at his worst emotionally.  Stanford had floundered through a disappointing non-conference slate, including painful losses to the likes of Santa Clara and Tennessee.  To make matters worse, the Card were swept their opening weekend at WSU and UW.  Haryasz took the losses personally looked toward home for help.  It was a phone call to Page (Ariz.) to his mother and father that helped put him on track.

"I had hit a wall, and they told me I have to be tough.  'Pull yourself through this,'" Haryasz remembers.  "Just be positive.  I have a tendency to be hard on myself."

The current surge Haryasz is enjoying started with the L.A. roadtrip in late January, but in practices the turnaround was apparent to coaches and teammates earlier.

"The results you see in games are not typically the first signs of change for a player.  Game performance lags, not leads, what we see from a kid in practice," says Reveno.  "Matt was doing better in practice two weeks before the UCLA game."

"He made a concerted, notable effort to change his practice intensity," the coach continues.  "He rededicated himself in practice, and that showed up in games.  I wasn't worried with how he played against against the Arizonas or Cal because I already saw the change in practice.  Athletics does not build character; it reveals character.  For Matt, it wasn't going well, so he redoubled his efforts.  It tested his character."

The scoring has lifted for Haryasz, with nearly twice the scoring (16.0 ppg) in his last nine games than he averaged his first 13 (8.4).  But Reveno is perhaps more proud of rise in rebounding for his post prodigy.  Only once in Haryasz' last nine games has he recorded less than nine boards in a contest.

"That's something we've seen with all our NBA guys," Reveno comments.  "They have an average game, and at the end you see they quietly have 10 or 12 rebounds.  Curtis Borchardt did that.  You saw Josh Childress do that, too.  Haryasz has not had his best games every game the last several weeks, but you look and he's still done the job on the boards."

You know the junior from Arizona takes great pride in his rebounding with his reactions to his personal and team stats.  After the UCLA game Sunday, he pounded the table in the media room as he began the post-game press conference, when he saw that he came up one rebound short of double figures.  He openly expressed his heartfelt disappointment that the Cardinal came up one rebound shy of the Bruins, though the game was a lopsided and demonstrative win for Stanford.

Though it is true that Trent Johnson altered the offensive positioning for Haryasz on the floor and tailored the offense more to his play in the high post in January, and the big man cannot deny his better scoring, rebounding and defense that came with a stronger foot after his early season bout with plantar fasciitis, it is the mental and emotional game that has dictated his success and failure this year.  We are watching the beginning stages of a maturation for Matt Haryasz, and it still has plenty of growth ahead.  When he figures out the focus, patience and emotional channeling his game needs, he will be capable of besting his current season averages (11.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) on an "off" night.  The affable Stanford big man may not reach that point until his senior season, but he is on the right road and having fun getting there.

"I just feel a lot more positive about myself and things right now," he says.  "All I can say is that I'm enjoying the fact that we're playing the way we are right now."

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