Whatever is in store for Stanford under new coach Trent Johnson, it will involve hard work.
"I eat and sleep this 24 hours a day," said Johnson, who took over in May when Mike Montgomery left to accept the Golden State Warriors' head coaching job. "Sometimes, that's not healthy."
Not healthy for Johnson, his players or the opponents? "I worked this summer to get my legs ready to go," said senior center Rob Little. "Coach Johnson said, 'Get ready to run.'"
Whether hard work can make up for the departures of Pac-10 Player of the Year Josh Childress (No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft by Atlanta), forward Justin Davis and guard Matt Lottich remains to be seen. Those three players were key to the Cardinal's ascent to a national No. 1 ranking during the 2003-04 season.
Johnson, a former Montgomery assistant who led Nevada to the Sweet 16 last season, will be following in the footsteps of a legend on The Farm. Montgomery guided Stanford to the NCAA tournament the last 10 years and coached a postseason tournament team in 16 of his 18 seasons.
Johnson is reluctant to offer judgment about his team's prospects before seeing his players perform in a game.
"I have to see each individual and that's the bottom line," Johnson said. "I just hope that nobody tries to do too much. There is a system in place with some subtle changes. I have never been one to go into any year evaluating players by what some other coach has said."
FRONTCOURTStanford doesn't have star power to replace Childress, but it has a good nucleus on the front line in Little and junior forward Matt Haryasz.
"Little has shown he is a very versatile player and now he has to prove he can be more consistent," Johnson said. "Haryasz is as talented as anyone in the league. He will have more opportunities."
Whether they can fill the rebounding void left by the departure of Childress and Davis remains to be seen. Stanford outrebounded its opponents by 6.8 boards per game in 2003-04.
Depth could be a problem. Little (9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Haryasz (6.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) are the only returning big men who have seen significant playing time. The hope on The Farm is that incoming freshmen Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt can have an immediate impact. Prowitt, out of The Potomac School in McClean, Va., is considered to be a Mark Madsen-style player.
Little said Stanford will play at a faster pace to accommodate its roster. "This won't be your typical Stanford team," Little said. "Specifically, we can play two wings who can shoot, and then I would be the only inside player, per se. I'm looking forward to it. Last year, we didn't have a fast break, and I think that hurt us. Teams didn't respect our running game, and when we played quicker teams, they were able to save their energy."
BACKCOURTJunior Chris Hernandez developed into arguably the top point guard in the Pac-10 last season. He led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (46.0) and free throw percentage (91.4).
"I inherited Chris," Johnson said. "My God, what a leader. He's a tough competitor, a winner."
Junior Dan Grunfeld and senior Nick Robinson are 6-6 wings who will be asked to assume some of Childress' scoring load.
"Grunfeld can shoot the ball, but now he has to prove it in a game situation," Johnson said.
Adding depth in the backcourt will be Tim Morris, who redshirted as a freshman last season.
FINAL ANALYSISAlthough Stanford might lack star power, it has a solid nucleus of players who have tasted plenty of success. Most important, it has veteran leadership in the most two important areas, Little at center and Hernandez at point guard.
Depth could be a concern for Johnson, along with any nagging problems that often accompany coaching transitions.
The preseason schedule isn't too grueling -- Michigan State looms as one of the major tests -- and the Pac-10 is coming off one of its weakest seasons in years. If the Cardinal can snap out of the shock of Montgomery's departure, it should be one of the top teams in the conference. Defending the title, however, seems unlikely.