Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 4, 2011

Stanford's youth movement is on the rise

With nine freshmen and no seniors, Cardinal prospects can only get better in time

by Rick Eymer

Anthony Brown became the third of nine freshman to start for Stanford's men's basketball team over the weekend. The Cardinal youth movement is in full swing.

Brown joined Dwight Powell and Aaron Bright as freshmen starters this season. John Gage, Josh Huestis, Robbie Lemons, Stefan Nastic and walk-on Chris Barnum have all seen action.

Nastic is out for the rest of the season with an injury and Andy Brown has yet to see any playing time, having been forced to sit out three consecutive years (including his senior year in high school) with a torn ACL.

Gabe Harris is the only true sophomore on the team.

Without a senior presence on the team, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins has had to be particularly patient with his young players as they learn from mistakes, trying to make the big play when it's not there and generally run around the court without much direction.

"You have to find a balance," Dawkins said. "You have to know how hard to push them and when to pat them on the back and encourage them. There are moments when they are unsure of themselves and moments when they are doing really well."

Stanford completes its first four-game conference homestand in nine years with Saturday's 3 p.m. contest against Arizona State, and the freshmen are different players from the first time they played the Sun Devils in Tempe.

"I don't feel like a freshman any more," Anthony Brown said. "I started feeling that way when the Pac-10 season started. It was the second half of our schedule and I think I earned some respect from my teammates."

Brown is indicative of the rest of his classmates. Powell began the season as they most polished of the group, but both Bright and Brown have shown significant improvement.

Gage and Huestis are getting more playing time and Lemons doesn't seem so lost any more.

"There's not a finished product anywhere," Dawkins said. "But all the kids have been contributing. Stefan, unfortunately, in injured but he was in our rotation. John and Josh show you glimpses of what they can be and I'm excited about how Robbie is progressing."

Brown came to Stanford as a highly prized recruit in a class that was supposed to be the school's best basketball recruits in a long time. All they needed was time, and their time is at hand.

"Every kid is different but for some of these freshmen it's become a long season, with a lot more demands on their time in terms of the offseason, the preseason and the regular season," Dawkins said. "Like any player, they hit a wall not only athletically but also with the rigors of academics. All that together can be draining mentally and physically."

Even junior team leader Jeremy Green tried to do too much, playing through an illness on the road in an intense, overtime battle. Overcome from fatigue, he slumped to the ground moments after the game ended.

"You see things like that and it becomes crystal clear," Dawkins said. "You want to stay healthy, eat properly and get your rest. There are no do-overs. Once these games are played, they are gone forever."

The leadership roles have fallen to Green and fellow juniors Josh Owens, Jack Trotter, Jarrett Mann and Andrew Zimmerman by default. In many ways it's been a little unfair to them. They're still trying to learn themselves.

"Excluding Jeremy, no other player has a reference point to how good he can be," Dawkins said. "There is still some uncertainty with them too."

Something that Brown and other freshmen take into consideration.

"This is the first time I've ever played without a senior," Brown said. "The juniors are acting like leaders but they still don't know it like seniors who are in their last go-around."

Brown served notice he could be a star with his breakout performance against Oregon State last weekend. Now he wants to show he can perform on a consistent basis.

"When I came here I set goals for myself and one of them was to start," Brown said. "I was projected as a top recruit and I was going to make a significant contribution."

He's beginning to reach his goals, even though it took a little longer than he expected. He wasn't as patient as he might have been. His father, Quentin, proved to be a big help.

"When I didn't start right away I called my dad," Brown said. "He's my problem solver. He told me it's all a process and that I just have to continue to work."

The advice proved prophetic. He made his start against the Beavers and played like he wanted to stay in the starting lineup.

Brown's father was also his first coach, his first teammate and his first best friend ("I call my mom too," he's quick to point out). He's also been to a majority of Stanford's games, home and away.

"He coached me when I was six or seven," Brown said. "We used to go to the park every day and just play, shoot around and work on things. Saturdays we would play against older guys and I think that has helped. Playing with my dad helped a lot."

Brown is convinced this freshman class will help Stanford recover some of the lost luster from the days of the Lopez twins, and that could happen sooner rather than later.

"John and Josh are very talented," Brown said. "You see that when they get their minutes. Aaron is one of my best friends; I love pushing him and having him push me. We definitely value practice because it's a chance to get better. It's a talented group and I think we can up the level for everybody else."

Green and Owens, the team's top two scorers, have combined for about 41 percent of Stanford's offensive production. Brown and Bright are third and fourth in scoring. The seven freshmen who have scored combine for about 39 percent of the offense.

Next year, Dawkins sees a 100 percent return. This is only the beginning.

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