"Center Court" w/ Center Matei Daian (#15)

Our Men's Basketball Writer Kevin Danna brings us another "Center Court" conversation, this time helping fans get to know intriguing 6-10 sophomore center Matei Daian. Read on to learn how the Eastern European native has been developing and how he views his expected role heading into the 2009-10 campaign.

"Center Court" w/ Center Matei Daian (#15)

The Bootleg: We are here with Stanford Basketball's 6-10 sophomore center Matei Daian. Matei, coming from Romania, tell us your story of how you first got in touch with Stanford University and how you eventually became a Cardinal.

Matei Daian: So, I always wanted to leave Romania and study abroad.  If I could play basketball as well, that would be great, but in the end, if I had to choose, I would have gone abroad to study even if I wasn't able to play.  So applying to the U.S. was particularly interesting for me because I could play basketball and go to school at the same time, which is what I had been doing in the past.  I had been talking to some universities, and initially I thought I was going to a prep school, and then I was contacted by the (former) staff at Stanford.  They saw the films I had on the internet and they asked for more game film, and I gave it to them.  They said they were interested in me and that I should apply to Stanford, so I did.

The Bootleg: How difficult was it for you to make the transition from Eastern Europe to the West Coast?

Matei Daian: I've been thinking about it, especially over the summer, and it wasn't easy.  I'm looking at these freshman right now and I feel like life is so easy for them, and it didn't seem like that for me, especially the first month I was here.  But I feel like now I am close to being completely adjusted to living in America.

TB: Obviously, your transition to the classroom has been pretty easy, winning the team's "Academic Excellence" Award.  Talk a little about how you're able to perform so well in the classroom - does it come easy to you, or do you really have to hit the books hard?

MD: I think I hit the books pretty hard.  I was always very interested in academics, so I had the mindset when I came here that I would work as hard as I can because I started with the idea that everyone else would be more accustomed to the system than I.  I started in a parallel education system, so I knew I had to work harder than everyone else just to stay at the same level with them, and I guess it went better than I expected.

TB: So according to your profile on gostanford.com, it says you're considering majoring in either economics, engineering, or computer science - subjects with extremely rigorous courseloads.  We know you're just beginning your sophomore year, but have you thought any more about which direction you might want to go out of those areas?

MD: Yes- I've been taking so many classes, including this past summer, and I'm moving so far in some particular directions but I don't know what I want to do and so I have this feeling that I'm taking some classes and they might prove useless, but in truth no class is useless because you're at Stanford.  But I think for now, don't take it for granted, I'm thinking about majoring in Economics and minoring in Computer Science.

TB: You were also a soccer player back in Romania- what position did you play?

MD: Goalie.

TB: I assume you're a big fan of the Romanian National soccer team?

MD: I'm a big fan of the Romanian soccer team, I'm kind of disappointed with how they have played of late. But I guess that shows you I am a "real" fan, hanging with them when they aren't doing as well (they didn't qualify for the World Cup in 2010).

TB: You competed in the U-18 & U-20 European Championships in Spain, Bulgaria, and Romania.  Talk a little about your experience playing in those countries and how your teams performed.

MD: Well, that was the closest to the U.S. basketball level that I could get to that was being played out there.  I think those experiences were very useful to me for my development as a player and also for my recruitment.  If I were to show people my games in Romania, which were kind of low-quality, colleges most likely wouldn't have been as interested in me as when I showed them some more competitive European games, so I feel that helped a lot.  I played two times in Division B, and one time in Division A, and the difference was pretty big.  In Division B, we played countries like ours - we did decently in Bulgaria and in Romania we were supposed to win it, but things didn't go as planned. Nevertheless, we were one of the top teams in the European Championships in Romania. When we were in Madrid though, that was a rough experience.

TB: Since you've played in both Europe and America, how would you compare and contrast the styles of basketball that are played in the two locales?

MD: In the U.S., it is more physical and the speed of the game is higher, and players here are physically better.  In Europe, there is greater emphasis on teamwork and running plays. It's more about getting your man open for a shot, ball movement and movement without the ball - more than in the U.S. I would say.  But I think overall, I think overall the Pac-10 Conference can compete with major European basketball leagues.

TB: You saw limited action in 2008-2009, but in one game against Arizona State in Tempe you came off the bench and played some big minutes, holding Jeff Pendergraph scoreless and grabbing a rebound in an eventual win over the 21st -ranked Sun Devils.  With Will Paul and Elliot Bullock unable to play in that game, you came through in a big way.  What was going through your mind when Coach Dawkins looked at you and said "Matei! Get in there!"

MD: I was very happy, first of all.  It was hard not to play for so long, but I was kind of expecting I was going to play because Coach Dawkins and the other coaches were telling me the week before to get ready, because this might be my chance.  I can't say that I was nervous, I was just eager to get in and get a feel for the court.

TB: You were able to stay in the area over the summer and work out and play pick up.  What facets of your game did you work on the most over June, July, and August?

MD: I worked on shooting the most. I think I would say I'm a better shooter than I was the year before.  I also worked on footwork, under-the-basket footwork, and I think my overall conditioning level is much higher, thanks to all that over-the-summer conditioning.

TB: I, and probably everyone close to the team, noticed the vast improvements that you made from the first team workout in September to the end of the season.  What parts of your game do you feel have improved the most?

MD: (thinking) Most improved… I feel like the game was kind of fast for me when I first got here; now I feel like the game has slowed down.  I can understand what is happening on the court, I can judge different plays a lot better.  And I feel like I have improved overall - I've been home and seen practices of teams I used to play for, and I can't believe that's the way I used to practice before coming here.  If I don't realize I'm improving, it's because everyday I'm playing against such good players like Landry Fields - who hopefully is going to the NBA after this year- and playing against him, maybe I don't realize how much I'm improving, but actually I am.  It's definitely a great basketball experience I'm having at Stanford.

TB: Looking forward to this season, what do you see as your primary role for the team, and how do you think you will contribute?

MD: Coach Davey told me I'm getting better - now, I don't know who is starting right now because practice hasn't started yet for real, but I'm actually hoping to play and to be able to help Stanford this year.  That's my personal goal.

TB: Though this season is merely 2.5 weeks old, in what areas do you see improvement from the team's workouts over last year?

MD: I think defensively we're going to do a good job.  I feel like last year we kind of did a good job defensively-  we had those three games we lost by one point, and that took us down a lot.  I feel like ninth-place in the Pac-10 was an unfair position for us - I think we were better than that. And this year we are going to be as strong defensively as we were last year, and the plays that we're going to run on offense are pretty good from what I've seen so far.

TB: Your age and walk-on status, having now earned a scholarship for the upcoming 2009-2010 season, aren't the only things that have changed coming into this year - you also switched numbers from 52 to 15.  Has 15 always been your number and it was just a case of Lawrence Hill having it and then you got it, or was it something else?

MD: Lawrence was one of my best friends on the team during my freshman year. Adjusting was so much easier thanks to him. However, that wasn't the actual reason for my choosing #15. I chose it because, growing up, 15 was always my number and 15 was my father's number as well.

TB: Here's a question I like to ask everyone- what do you think it will take for Stanford to be successful this season and get back to the postseason for a 17th-consecutive time?

MD: The most important thing, I believe, is toughness on the court.  That's how teams are successful in the Pac-10 and that's what defines them - toughness on the court.  I feel like we can be tough enough to make it to the NCAA tournament, but as they say, "less talk, and more action."

TB: All right! Thanks for your time Matei, and I'll see you around pretty soon.

MD: No problem, Kevo.  Thanks.

About the Bootleg's Newest Author: Kevin Danna, Stanford '09, started out as a student manager-in-training for the Men's Basketball Team on October 14, 2005, and has lived and breathed Stanford Basketball ever since. From doing laundry to filming practice to working summer camps, he has been involved with many facets of the Men's Basketball program.  Upon retirement from his manager position on March 25, 2009 at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, Kevin took an undeservedly prolonged break from any kind of work and eventually got his degree from The Farm in Spanish.  Shaking off the cobwebs of five months of laziness, Kevin has started working as a play-by-play and color broadcaster for gostanford.com, calling home contests (in English) for several Stanford sports.  He also hosts a sports talk show on 90.1 FM KZSU from 9-10pm every Tuesday entitled "The Sports Zoo", as well as a music show called "408's Finest" immediately following sports talk from 10pm-Midnight.  An alumnus of San Jose's Bellarmine Prep, Kevin proudly admits that he currently lives at home in San Jose with his parents and cat.

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