By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford men's basketball season opens with a splash this weekend as the Cardinal plays three games in five days, all at home, beginning with Friday night's 7 p.m. tipoff with Central Arkansas.
Despite losing its leading scorer from last year to the pros, Stanford has raised expectations this year under coach Johnny Dawkins, who is entering his fourth season.
Those expectations start with senior center Josh Owens, who is poised for stardom. He led the team in rebounding (6.5) last year and added 11.6 points a game on 58 percent shooting. He'll be counted on for inside offensive and defense.
Owens and the three other seniors, Andrew Zimmerman, Jack Trotter and Jarrett Mann, were named team captains. All four have played a pivotal role in moving the Cardinal forward.
Jeremy Green was eligible to return but chose to take his chances in the NBA draft. He was not selected and currently remains unsigned. The entire league, meanwhile, remains in lockout limbo.
"We have very good leadership," said Dawkins, "probably the best leadership that we've had since I've been there. This senior class makes sure that we're all on the same page and all understanding the culture that we want to have at Stanford."
Their imprint on this year's team will likely manifest itself in the way the current sophomores hold themselves on and off the court. A year without seniors meant Owens and the other current seniors were forced to grow up a little faster. Last year's freshmen class had to do the same.
Dwight Powell, Anthony Brown and Aaron Bright were the most notable of the newcomers, and John Gage, Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic (injured most of the year) will likely make their presence felt this season. Robbie Lemons is also part of that blue-chip class.
Powell earned Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honors last season after making 26 starts and appearing in all 31 games. Brown was also an all-freshman pick as he worked his way into the starting lineup. He's the top returning 3-point shooter, making 42 of them last year. Bright also started a handful of games and played in all of them. He made 31 3-pointers and developed into a solid guard.
In addition to making more starts (47) than any other Pac-10 team, Stanford's freshmen logged the highest percentage of minutes played (41.7) and accounted for the highest percentage of scoring (40.3).
Gabe Harris and Andy Brown comprise the junior class. Harris made a couple of starts last year and appeared in a majority of the contests. Brown is a model of perseverance. He's missed three years of basketball (including his senior year in high school) because of a torn ACL and yet he continues to work hard.
Chasson Randle is the jewel of the freshmen class. The highly-regarded combo guard will be given a chance to run the team from the start of the season.
"When I first saw Chasson I thought he was a winner," Dawkins said. "He comes from a winning culture and he's versatile. Whether it was taking the ball to the basket and creating shots for himself or his teammates, he has that innate ability to make plays."
Other newcomers include Wade Morgan and Jack Ryan.
Stanford was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, its highest projected finish since 2007-08, when the Cardinal was tabbed for fifth and finished second.
2011-12 MEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Friday vs. Central Arkansas, 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 vs. Fresno State, 8 p.m.
Nov. 15 vs. Colorado State or Southern Methodist, 8 p.m.
Nov. 18 at UC Davis, 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 at Preseason NIT, TBA
Nov. 22 at Preseason NIT, TBA
Nov. 23 at Preseason NIT, TBA
Nov. 25 at Preseason NIT, TBA
Nov. 28 vs. Pacific, 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 at Seattle University, 7:10 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. North Carolina State, 1 p.m.
Dec. 17 vs. San Diego, 5 p.m.
Dec. 19 vs. Bethune-Cokman, 7 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. Butler, 6 p.m.
Dec. 29 vs. UCLA, 8 p.m.
Dec. 31 vs. USC, 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 5 at Oregon, 6 p.m.
Jn. 7 at Oregon State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 12 vs. Utah, 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 vs. Colorado, 1 p.m.
Jan. 19 at Washington State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Washington, 3 p.m.
Jan. 29 at California, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 vs. Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 vs. Arizona, noon
Feb. 9 at UCLA, TBA
Feb. 12 at USC, 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m.
Feb. 19 vs. Oregon, 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Colorado, 6 p.m.
Feb. 25 at Utah, TBA
March 4 vs. California, 2:30 p.m.
March 7-10 Pac-12 Conference Tournament, Los Angeles