In the early 1990s, Stanford Basketball experienced a dip after graduating a couple crops of big time talent. First the Cardinal lost the Todd Lichti/Howard Wright class, but the Adam Keefe/Andrew Vlahov regime picked up right where they left off. After the NCAA Tournament season of 1991-92 and Keefe's NBA Draft selection, however, the Cardinal fell off a cliff. After five straight postseasons, which included an NIT championship and the school's first two NCAA Tournaments since World War II, Stanford suffered a 1992-93 season that finished dead last in the Pac-10 and 7-23 overall.
Resurrecting the program was unheralded point guard Brevin Knight, and the story of his unmatched impact on the rise of Stanford Basketball is told in our current (February) issue of The Bootleg Magazine. Knight brought quickness and playmaking on both ends of the floor that immediately lifted the Cardinal to a fourth-place finish in the conference his freshman year. He ignited a string of 11 straight NCAA Tournaments for Stanford and a national standing as one of college basketball's elite programs.
The Cardinal are once again in a rebuilding phase. Two seasons ago marked the first time since 1995-96 that Stanford finished below second place in the Pac-10, and last winter saw the Cardinal miss the Big Dance for the first time since Knight's freshman year.
It was rather fitting that Knight made a surprise visit to Maples Pavilion last Saturday to speak with the current Stanford players before a practice. The Charlotte Bobcats point guard laid wisdom and support upon the young Cardinal squad.
"He came in and opened our eyes to how well the program used to be. We're not in a huge hole right now, but we're not where we want to be," says sophomore forward Lawrence Hill. "He said he was rooting for us. He'll call when we lose to talk to Coach J and say, 'What's going on?' He just let us know that he's there for us. He made sure that we were keeping things in perspective for what this season should be for the Stanford Cardinal."
More than his quickness, Knight importantly carried with him from East Orange (N.J.) to The Farm a swagger. His attitude toward winning was fresh and brazen, and it revolutionized the mentality for individuals and the whole of the program. In speaking with today's team, Knight impressed upon them that attitude.
"He said to establish an identity that when teams come to our court, they know that they are going to lose. When we go to their courts, they know that they are going to have to fight with everything they've got to win," Hill relays. "That's something we didn't have at the beginning of the season at home. Hopefully we can keep up what we are doing now because what he said is exactly how it should be."
"That was the major thing that was shocking. I haven't even thought about it that way," Hill continues. "You should have that aggressive attitude about winning games, and that was something he was born with. I have to learn that, so I'm glad to have him tell us about that."
"It was more moving to hear it come out of a previous Stanford player's mouth," says sophomore guard Anthony Goods. "It was just hearing how they were able to reach success, and how he said before he came in, they weren't doing too well. Then everybody had a desire to win, and that changed it all around. He was saying how our team is just as talented as the teams in the past. If we're good enough to go out there and beat UCLA, then we should go there and beat UCLA."
24 hours later, the Cardinal climbed back from a 17-point deficit and upended the #2-ranked Bruins.
"I was moved. I thought that was really big of him. I held on to what he said," Goods describes. "It meant to me: 'If you have the talent, just go out and do it.' It's not a matter of thinking that UCLA is the number three team or this team is the number one team in the nation. Just go out there and compete. Just believe in yourself because people have been underestimating us all year."
Hill also carried Knight's words with him to that nationally televised Sunday showdown.
"It just put more light on being aggressive. We lost sight of that in the first half but got it back," says Hill, who scored a game-high 22 points in the win, including seven straight during a 15-0 second-half run. "I did think about him at the end of the half. We were going into halftime, and I was thinking, 'These guys are pushing us around. Brevin probably wouldn't let this happen. We need the whole team to have that mentality.' Maybe our whole team had that thought, and that's why we came out and played well."
The role of inspiration and purpose that Knight played in Stanford's acclaimed win over UCLA last Sunday harkened back to his historic scorching of the Bruins exactly 10 years ago. The then-senior scored a game-high 25 points (next highest was 14) in the Maples Massacre, a 109-61 beatdown of the Bruins that was the worst loss in their program's history. Knight shot 6-of-7 from deep and 8-of-11 from the field, to go with six assists, five rebounds, two steals and countless glares at the cowering visitors.
"Coach J said about him during his intro before he started talking that he had never seen a player with such swagger who was able to back it up on the court as well," Goods shares. "I think that's part of Stanford Basketball - playing with that fire and that passion. I thought at times during the second half, that's what we brought to the table. That fueled our comeback victory. As long as you play with that fire and that passion, you can't ask for too much more."
Bigger than the inspiration Knight provided for the current Cardinal for that single game last week, his message helped to mold a young team that is still forging its identity. For a highly successful NBA veteran 10 years removed from college to take the time and care to deliver a passionate message to these youngsters, the impact was palpable.
"We looked at him and saw somebody who has been successful in the league. He's up here telling us about his great games and the leadership he experienced with his teammates. I think that helped us put things in perspective," Hill offers. "It was more of a teaching experience. Our team is young. Everyone should hear that from alums and guys who have been through."
"It means a lot for him to take time out of his season, after all that he's done," Goods echoes. "He's in the NBA. He's getting paid. He doesn't have to come back and talk to us."
"When you're in the program, you underestimate how many people still follow Stanford Basketball after they leave," the guard continues. "To find out that he was paying that much attention to our program and to realize that we are a reflection upon past teams and that we have to carry on a tradition, it shed some knowledge on the tradition that was here before us. That was big. It kind of motivated us to carry on that tradition."
Hill describes Knight as a "role model" for not only his collegiate and professional basketball success, but also for the person he is. The respect and affection held for the Cardinal alumnus is clearly genuine.
The kids on the current team are like Knight - also destined to represent the school and program well after they finish. But when they look at the 10-year NBA veteran, they foremost envy his basketball talents. While they know none of them quite resemble his unique abilities and playmaking style, they can adopt his attitude.
"I wish I had his feet. I wish I had his quickness. I wish I had his handle," Goods says with a chuckle. "I wish I had a lot of his talent. But I can only be Anthony Goods. What I would like to adapt is his fire and passion for the game. I probably won't be as talented as him, but I definitely can learn from his approach to the game."
And that makes the visit seven days ago from Brevin Knight one that this young Cardinal squad will carry with them for much longer than the famous UCLA win that next day. As the program rebuilds and reloads, Knight's winning attitude is again spreading through Stanford Basketball.
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