Pac-12 Senior Days: Stanford and the Team That StayedPosted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014
Much of the college basketball dialogue has turned to things like one-and-done and transfers. Is it good for the game or is it bad for the game. Mark Cuban went so far as to say the game itself is bad for the sport (I loosely paraphrase). While Cuban’s sentiments aren’t necessarily accurate, they do share the same general tone about the longevity and fluidity of a college career. So on Saturday, when you see Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic and John Gage take the floor for the last time in Palo Alto, note that you’re seeing something special and certainly unique. They’ll stand there short two members of their 2010 recruiting class, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown, who will both play in 2014-15 as fifth-year seniors after sustaining injuries. They will, of note, all be there together. But think about that for a second. Approximately five years ago, Johnny Dawkins sat in six different living rooms with the promise of a Stanford education and a team. On Saturday, years after these kids committed to their coach, their school and, most importantly, each other, they’ll leave as they arrived: together.
So yes, what will transpire Saturday afternoon is rare and I think, in some regards, it trumps whatever success or otherwise they’ve had. It’s yet to be determined if any of these young men will participate in the NCAA Tournament. It was indubitably a goal that may yet come to fruition. And that’s why I’ll be paying such close attention to Saturday’s contest. They just didn’t show up on Wednesday. Collectively the seniors were 12-of-36 from the field; Powell fouled out and the seniors accounted for eight of 12 turnovers. Show up they did not but stick around they have. As the conversation has whipped around and past them, they’ve embodied all that we’ve wanted and cherished about college basketball. You guys… they stuck it out. Dwight Powell nearly bolted for greener (read: $$) pastures and a chance at the NBA. When I had the opportunity to talk to him at Pac-12 media day, he told me he came back to take care of unfinished business with his guys. That 15th-ranked class has done what everyone wants to say everyone else isn’t doing. And everyone appears to be having success (Lyons, Mark; Marshall, Jermaine; All, Oregon) in doing such. So what does it say about us, or those pining for what the Cardinal have done, that we pay them little attention? Or that we’re disappointed in their lack of success? Or, perhaps worse, expecting it? Sometimes success isn’t always the result but the journey to getting there.
What of the journey? Powell entered as perhaps the most heralded. He and Brown were the only four-stars. They played sparsely that first season, but effectively. As did Bright, Huestis and Gage. Nastic wouldn’t see the court much, but during that first season, the promising class showed promise and then 2012 happened. As a pack of sophomores with freshman Chasson Randle and senior Josh Owens, they stumbled through conference play but got pissed off just soon enough to run through the National Invitational. Champions. Powell was injured through much of it, underperforming to an extent, but that’s what bad backs are for. The stage seemed set for 2013 and a return to the Dance, the Cardinal’s first since 2008. It didn’t happen. Their conference record regressed and so too did Bright’s play. Nastic still wasn’t contributing much, and Gage was being groomed as a role player. Brown missed most of the season with a knee injury. The Cardinal would be bounced in the second round of the NIT despite Powell’s monster junior season. And so the doubters came in. We asked (I asked) what would be different about this team? Now that they would be seniors, they’d be experienced, and they were at the end. How would 2014 be different from all of the other seasons? And has it? This year they sit squarely on the bubble with nearly the identical overall and conference records to a season ago.
So squarely on the bubble they sit. Some say they’re dancing, other say they’re out. Either way, with a chance to be invited for the first time in their continuous careers, Johnny Dawkins’ 2010 recruiting class will have their fate in their own hands. Here’s to hoping the team that stayed won’t be leaving any time soon.