Widgets Magazine

Lakshman: Stanford’s high standards

Imagine being hired for a new job across the country and settling into an office right next door to a Pac-12 Coach of the Century, down the hall from the leader of second-winningest football program this decade and just a stone’s throw away from several other coaches either fresh off of a national championship, guiding future Olympians or both.

No pressure, right?

That was the opening message Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir delivered on Monday in his introduction of new head men’s basketball coach, Jerod Haase. While Muir’s words were delivered tongue-in-cheek as a way to keep the mood light during what should be an optimistic, celebratory event, there’s no doubt in the truth of his underlying message: Stanford Athletics demands excellence in nearly every possible manifestation of that word.

As is typical during an introductory press conference, Coach Haase did not have much to relay in terms of specifics, but Stanford’s newest head coach did deliver his vision for what he hopes to accomplish on the Farm: compete for championships and succeed in the classroom while doing it.

It’s a mantra that should remain largely uncontroversial and even par for the course amongst anyone familiar with Stanford Athletics. Lately, however, there have been rumblings that maybe we have been trying to optimize over the wrong objective function when it comes to men’s basketball. Maybe our expectations for what the men’s hoops team can accomplish is just too high?

I’ve been chewing on this argument quite a bit after my colleague Do-Hyoung Park made a very compelling case in yesterday’s paper that former head coach Johnny Dawkins was held to an unfair standard of success during his Stanford tenure, a standard which Haase seems to have inherited.

I agree with Do’s overarching premise that winning at Stanford is hard with a host of challenges absent at most coaching gigs around the country. I also share his sentiment that using Mike Montgomery as justification for demanding success from the current head coach holds less water with each passing year as the Golden Age descends further into the realm of archives and anecdotes.

But why should that mean that fans and administrators should lower the expectations for men’s basketball when they are striving for the same goal as quite literally every other sport on campus? And what’s even the alternative? Throwing wild parties to celebrate NIT berths and allowing Maples to rot under the mold of apathy? What’s the point in fielding a varsity team if your aim isn’t to be among the best?

Admittedly, it would be futile to set forth expectations that are blatantly infeasible. I could easily set my goals for spring quarter to center around growing seven inches and dunking a basketball like circa-2000 Vince Carter. That ain’t happening and (sadly) I know it.

However, envisioning Stanford winning Pac-12 titles and making deep tournament runs isn’t nearly as pie-in-the-sky. Do points to Stanford’s frighteningly low admissions rate of 4.7% as the emblem of a labyrinthine admissions process that dissuades top-flight recruits from even navigating. It’s worth noting, though, that peer institutions across the country have all experienced similar precipitous declines in admissions rates. Duke — arguably the best basketball program in the country — just admitted under 9% of regular decision applicants without scaring off another crop of McDonald’s All-American recruits.

Moreover, Stanford has brought in quite a bit of talent over the past few seasons while also participating in the sweepstakes for big fish such as Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow. During his tenure, Dawkins produced four NBA players in Landry Fields, Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and Anthony Brown and the Cardinal currently rank fifth amongst Pac-12 teams with five players in the Association.

Even Stanford’s current roster is nothing to sneeze at with Pac-12 first team performer Rosco Allen and a number of players tantalizingly close to putting it all together including Marcus Allen, Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey. Simply put, Stanford can find talent. It may not find or want a treasure-trove of one-and-done players, but that may also be an advantage. Rosters of upperclassmen-laden talent have fared well in the NCAA tournament with Dawkins’ 2013-2014 Sweet 16 run, behind a starting five of three juniors and two seniors, no exception.

The Pac-12’s recent shellacking in the NCAA tournament suggests that this is a wide-open conference up for grabs and there’s no reason to doubt why the right coach can continue assembling talent and then win a lot of basketball games. Sure, Stanford basketball may not have the monopoly on combining academics and on-field success like the football program does, but a number of Stanford teams don’t have that privilege and they have fared just fine.

Speaking of football, it also struck me that you could take Do’s article, substitute “hardwood” for “gridiron” and change the date from 2016 to 2006 and you would have essentially the same argument — except only stronger. If the rise of the football program and the continued dominance of women’s basketball and countless other sports have taught me anything, it’s that you should not underestimate the power of the Stanford student-athlete and the ability to tap into a deep cultural well of excellence.

It’s way too early to tell if Coach Haase can lead the men’s basketball program towards these aforementioned goals, but I’m convinced that he will try his best — a mindset we should all applaud. There’s absolutely no reason to settle for anything less.

 

For tickets to watch Vihan and Do’s (probably lackluster)  grudge wrestling match following this article’s publication contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Vihan Lakshman

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at' stanford.edu
  • Candid One

    VL, sorry, Do wins hands-down! At this stage of your blossoming career, your forté is reporting…remarkably good. As an essayist, especially when Do takes the pithy position, your focus is lacking, too much fluff–unlike when you’re reporting. Keep working on both.

  • Winston Shi

    This is probably too late for you to actually notice I posted this, but I’m concerned that you criticized Vihan without actually taking on his points. I get that you (and Do) both believe that Stanford is structurally not cut out to compete in basketball*, but I would have hoped that if you were going to call Vihan’s work “fluff” you could earn that pithiness first.

    *Perhaps not to the extent of maddogsfavspiks’ claim that Dawkins will be hired by Duke after Coach K retires and win a national championship. But then again, nicer words have never been said about Johnny Dawkins.

    With that in mind, I have no interest in publicly dancing on the grave of the Dawkins era. I hope he does well at UCF.