He had traveled across the Mississippi River just once in his life, and that came a few weeks prior when he played with his South Carolina Ravens AAU team in the Kingwood Classic in Houston (Tex.). So it was an unprecedented journey for Byron Faison to fly 3,000 miles from his Sumter (S.C.) home last week for an official visit to Stanford. The flight was long, and it was delayed, but the East Coast visitor turned his mood around 180 degrees when he was met at the airport by a friendly face.
"I thought when I arrived I wouldn't know who to look for or they wouldn't recognize me, but Coach [L.J.] Hepp and Carlton [Weatherby] were right there waiting for me," Faison relates. "From that first moment at the airport, I knew Stanford was going to be a place I would fall in love with. Already I was thinking, 'this might be the place for me.'"
The next two days did not disappoint.
"I thought the place was real nice, even when it was drizzling the first day," he comments. The second day it cleared up, and I was in awe of how beautiful everything was. It was nice seeing the whole campus. I went to some class courses with Taj Finger. Tim Morris showed me the dorms and how everybody manages their time during school. The campus was amazing, but my favorite part, to tell you the truth, was probably the gym. Going around in Maples and seeing everything was a great experience."
"They have one section just for the students, where they don't have seats and make them stand the whole time," Faison adds. "I like that. It shows that they have real school spirit and really support the team."
He also couldn't help but notice a difference in the attitude on The Farm toward his beloved roundball. Back home in South Carolina, the pigskin rules supreme.
"Out here, it's football country. Football is a lot bigger than basketball," Faison bemoans. "I like that basketball is big for them out there."
The guard recruit had a chance to play some hoops while he was on his visit, both Thursday and Friday in his new favorite arena. He surprised himself with how tired he was, both times playing at Maples, after a long cross-country trip and agendas packed from dawn to dusk. But he excitedly talks about the chemistry and fun he enjoyed with the players.
"The team is real close together - like a family," Faison describes. "All the players are real cool. Chris Hernandez is real cool - I liked playing with him."
One of his favorite activities during the trip was a simple gathering with the players and coaches to watch the Game 6 battle between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, when the Suns came back in dramatic fashion to win in overtime. It was an electric game, with an atmosphere on The Farm to match.
"When Steve Nash started hitting those shots, we were just going crazy," Faison shares. "Everyone was just hollering. We had lots of fun, and not just the players - the coaches were getting after it, too."
That evening was just one of the opportunities for the South Carolina recruit to get to know the Stanford staff in a more personal and intimate environment. Previously, Faison's interactions with the Cardinal coaches have been primarily over the phone, and he says he gained a new understanding during his 48 hours on The Farm.
"When I first saw Coach Johnson, I thought he was so serious. You see coaches on TV, yelling and hollering," Faison describes. "But he can definitely joke around, then he buckles down when he needs to. He never goes around the truth."
"I really like Coach Johnson. He's a good man," the recruit adds. "He treats players like his own sons, which would be nice to have when I'm a long way from home. All the coaches were great."
The overall impression Faison felt during his visit was also different from what he expected.
"Being at college is more like being out in the real world. I thought it would be more like school. You go to class but then you have your time, when you can play ball or study or do whatever you need to do," he describes. "It's just a real nice place to be at. Over there, at Stanford, they have a lot of athletes, but they treat you like individuals there because you are students and not because you can play basketball."
"I could see myself going there and having great role models all around me to help me grow," Faison continues. "When people told me that Stanford was a great place, I heard that but just didn't know what to expect. Then you see for yourself and it blows your mind."
These superlatives are not a total surprise coming from Faison, given his strong affection for Stanford we have seen and reported for the last month-plus. The Cardinal were already his clear leader, but there is at least one upshot to his exuberant experience on The Farm.
"Now I'm going to work even harder to get the right score and get accepted," he declares. "The trip motivated me to really improve on my second SAT."
Faison is scheduled to take the SAT next weekend, and he is supposedly taking the June ACT as well. With the Stanford official visit now in the books, and the Cardinal an unquestioned favorite ahead of all other suitors, we expect little news the next several weeks for the Crestwood High School student-athlete. We will check back later in June to see what comes of his standardized test scores and Stanford admissions application.
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