Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins has a team that won the NIT a season ago. Prior to their semifinal game, they received a pep talk from Ravens linebacker, Ray Lewis. Recently, in a return gesture of kindness, the Cardinal sent Lewis their own video of inspiration following his possible season ending injury. But what will the Cardinal do with the momentum gained from last year's success?
Even the tiniest bit of success builds expectations and the Cardinal are now picked to finish fourth this year. Well, having Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle, and Dwight Powell certainly helps. Coach Dawkins believes these three allow the Cardinal great versatility, "We have the ability this year to play different lineups. What we have told our players is, we have seven or eight kids that we need to all view themselves as starters."
Depth has never hurt a basketball team and the Cardinal would seem to have plenty of it. Dawkins had nothing but rave reviews of Josh Huestis ("We think he's going to end up being one of the best defensive players in our conference and maybe in the country."), Rosco Allen ("He can step out and shoot the 3, but he also can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. And I know he's still growing."), and Grant Verhoeven ("He's physical, he's rugged, he has a good understanding of the game, and I'm excited about his upside.").
Of course, missing amongst these rave reviews was the health of Dwight Powell and exactly what he could bring to this team. He's big and talented and as Aaron Bright enlightens us, "he's playing a lot more confident right now. I think he knows who he is as a player."
In Berkeley, Mike Montgomery would have you believe it's business as usual; and perhaps winning is business as usual for Monty. He believes he's "got the pieces to be successful" and that it's now just a matter of putting them together.
One of those pieces evidently needed to lose himself before becoming a bigger part of the puzzle. Richard Solomon was lost for the latter half of last season for academic issues which, according to Montgomery, was a good thing, "I think that in a lot of ways, that might be the best thing that ever happened to him, because he's much more mature. He's taking care of his business." And when 6'10" athletes take care of their business, look out. Couple that with the confidence (and over the summer, weight) gained by David Kravish in Solomon's absence last year and suddenly we're looking at a solid frontcourt.
With the frontcourt seemingly settled, it's arguably frightening that the strength of this Bears team lies in its backcourt. Allen Crabbe is good, real good, and he very well could become the conference's Player of the Year. Lofty expectations for the junior but his biggest role could be in helping to fill the emotional void left by Jorge Gutierrez. As Crabbe puts it, "Honestly, we all know that nobody's going to be able to completely fill his shoes and what he left here at Cal. But I just feel like it just leaves opportunities for the upperclassmen to step up and into that role to be leaders on and off the court." Those veterans include Justin Cobbs, Brandon Smith, Bak Bak, Robert Thurman, and the maturing Solomon, a good core to hold the leadership of any basketball team.