For Cardinal seniors, it's now or never | November 8, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 8, 2013

For Cardinal seniors, it's now or never

Getting to the NCAA Tournament is the immediate goal, something that has eluded this talented class

by Rick Eymer

For seniors such as Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and Aaron Bright, there's a feeling of unfinished business. They came to Stanford with dreams of championship trophies and NCAA tournament bids.

While it hasn't quite worked out they way they envisioned, the Cardinal men's basketball team has seen its share of good days. There's the NIT championship two years ago and an overall record of 60-42 through the seniors' first three seasons.

When Stanford opens its season Friday night, hosting Bucknell in a nonconference game at 7 p.m., Cardinal players will be playing for something that has evaded them until now.

"The sole focus is to be successful and go deep into the NCAA tournament," Powell said. "We feel we can accomplish more than we have."

Powell has accomplished quite a bit at Stanford. He had a huge impact on the program last year, earning the Pac-12's Most Improved Player Award and first team All-Pac-12 honors. He averaged a team-leading 14.9 points and was second with 8.4 rebounds.

In addition, he played with the Canadian National Team over the summer, comprised largely of American collegiate players. Powell was a starter for the team that won the Four Nations Cup, winning all nine of its games.

"I was able to work on things and see immediate results," Powell said of the experience. "That helped me work on specific things and being able to test them."

It was also an experience that carried over to Stanford, where he will be expected to be a vocal leader. He and Huestis were named Cardinal team captains.

"We spent a lot of the offseason on the little things," Powell said. "Like team dynamics, communication and a focused set of goals."

Powell and Huestis worked well together last year. Huestis was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. He blocked 71 shots last year and scored 10.5 points a game to go with his 9.0 rebounds per game.

"The NCAA tournament is the goal we all came here with," Huestis said. "We are not going to be satisfied unless we can make a deep run into the tournament."

Huestis also spent his summer in extra-curricular activities. Along with junior guard Chasson Randle, Huestis was invited to try out for the U.S. Junior National Team. Although neither made the team, Huestis said it was a valuable experience.

"Everybody there was ready to do whatever they could to help the team," Huestis said.

Huestis spent the majority of the summer at Stanford, working out with his teammates. He likes the commitment and desire.

"We can see the potential of this team and we're tapping into that," he said. "It's definitely very positive. This could be a special season."

The season could very well be defined by how quickly Bright and Randle can find their rhythm. Randle scored 37 points, on 13 of 16 from the field, in Stanford's exhibition win over Seattle Pacific last weekend.

Both guards had mediocre seasons after combining to help the Cardinal win the NIT title (Bright was named tournament MVP). Randle was second on the team in scoring at 13.6 and Bright was fourth at 9.3, yet neither broke 40 percent from the field.

"Chasson has worked on his game in general," Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. "He's not as banged up and he's in a good place. Aaron is healthy and playing with a lot of energy."

Dawkins used Bright off the bench in the exhibition season and expects him to bring instant energy to games.

"I see him being a key factor to our success," Dawkins said. "He can give us a spark off the bench. He gives us a second option at point guard and allows us to move Chasson around."

Center John Gage and guard Robbie Lemons complete a senior class that gives Stanford its most experienced group in some years.

Perhaps the biggest addition this season is the return of redshirt junior Anthony Brown, who missed last season with an injury.

"He's huge for us," Dawkins said. "He can score, he defends and he gives us depth."

Redshirt junior 6-foot-11 center Stefan Nastic, who started against Seattle Pacific, also will be important for Stanford.

"He's done a good job finishing around the basket and he's rebounding the ball," Dawkins said.

The Cardinal will be without sophomore guard Christian Sanders for the season following hip surgery. Sophomore forward Rosco Allen remains on the injured list with a stress fracture. Sophomore center Grant Verhoeven returns as a backup at the post.

Other juniors include guard Jack Ryan, guard Wade Morgan and forward Elliott Bullock.

Guard Marcus Allen played 14 minutes in the exhibition, most by a freshman. Along with twin brother Malcolm, they are part of a strong freshmen class that Dawkins hopes can fit right in. Freshman 6-10 center Schuyler Rimmer and 6-9 forward Scott Woods will add depth.

The season, however, revolves around the seniors.

"I'm excited for them and their expectations," Dawkins said. "They want to leave a legacy and they realize it goes by fast. The urgency kicks in and they want to bring closure to what we do."

Bucknell won 28 games and went to the NCAA tournament last year. The Bison also knocked off Arizona in the first round of the NIT two years ago.

BYU comes to town for an 8 p.m. visit Monday, its first visit to Stanford since 1969, the year Maples Pavilion opened.


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