By Mark Soltau
Mark Madsen never envisioned returning to Stanford to help coach the men's basketball team. Like a lot of things in life, timing was everything.
The former two-time Cardinal All-American, who helped lead Stanford to the NCAA Final Four in 1998, was living in Minnesota and was preparing to head back to Stanford to work on his MBA at the Graduate School of Business. A friend of Madsen's happened to be in a local burger joint and struck up a conversation with Cardinal assistant coach Mike Schrage, who was visiting. They called Madsen.
As it turned out, there would be an opening on the Stanford staff following the 2011-12 season with the retirement of Dick Davey, so Schrage asked Madsen if he was interested. Soon, Johnny Dawkins, The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball, got involved and Madsen was hired as a graduate assistant. He accompanied the team on its tour of Spain last September and bonded with the coaching staff and players.
Madsen spent nine years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, and earned two championship rings playing with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He did a little coaching in the D League, but figured business school was his best option.
"The funny thing is, I don't know if I could have drawn it up any better," said Madsen, who will work primarily with the Cardinal post players this season. "I wasn't sure if I would get into the Graduate School of Business, and I wasn't sure if there would be an opening on staff. So I feel very lucky."
In his playing days at Stanford, Madsen was nicknamed "Mad Dog" for his enthusiasm, ferocious defense and competiveness. At 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, the selfless power forward never shied away from contact and was often a bull in a china shop, out-muscling opponents in the paint with his size 18 shoes.
"I'm going to really try to help out with the nuances of the game," Madsen said. "In the pros, defense was my thing. This is already a tremendous defensive team and I hope to be able to add to that."
Madsen has plenty of experience to draw from after playing with O'Neal in Los Angles and Kevin Garnett in Minnesota.
"I hope to be able to share some of what they did in the post with our guys," he said.
Madsen stays in touch with O'Neal and will never forget the advice he gave him during a Lakers' playoff game against Garnett. Madsen started at power forward and his job was to guard Garnett, a perennial all-pro.
"Before the game, Shaquille came up to me and said, 'Hey man, don't try to do too much; don't try to do too little.' That's a simple thing to say but it was profound."
What is the best coaching advice he has ever received?
"The one thing Phil Jackson used to always say was that every person in this room has talents and abilities that can help this team win," he said. "And when he said it, it meant so much to me because I just realized, 'Hey, I have unique talents the same way Shaq and Kobe have. I have the ability to get offensive rebounds and can sprint back on defense pretty fast for a big guy.' Those two things are obscure, but it made me even more confident in doing them after hearing him say that."
Madsen remains in great shape and looks like he could contribute to the Cardinal cause immediately. He has scrimmaged with the players in practice, but only to a point.
"In the half court, I'm fine," said Madsen. "If we go fullcourt, I'm not able to keep up with these guys. They're great players and their skill level is extremely high."
Madsen has also been involved in the recruiting process.
"It's just a lot of fun to go in these gyms and see these guys working hard," he said. "I love being around young people and the game. I've been lucky to conduct home visits with coach Dawkins and coach (Charles) Payne. Where the student/athlete was sitting, I was there years ago. It's fun to be on the reverse side."
As for the comparison between playing and coaching, Madsen said the latter gives him more joy.
"I asked Kurt Rambis (former NBA head coach and player and Santa Clara standout) what he liked better and he said he loved them both," said Madsen. "There's something about playing that's special and magical, but in some ways I love coaching more because in college, I shot basically three shots and one of them was a layup or dunk. To see our guys with the assortment of skills and gifts that they have, I get excited and feel good inside."
Stanford will host UNC Pembroke on Sunday (1 p.m.) in an exhibition game before opening the season Nov. 9 against USF in Oakland.