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Wild, Wild West
Jack McCallum
January 16, 1995
Spurred by strong showings by Cal and Stanford, the Pac-10 is enjoying a resurgence
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January 16, 1995

Wild, Wild West

Spurred by strong showings by Cal and Stanford, the Pac-10 is enjoying a resurgence

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Bozeman won't apologize for being a great recruiter. "We used to have a philosophy here of, We'll take whoever Arizona and UCLA don't want," he says. "I don't think that way. My philosophy is, We'll get in on everybody."

At any rate, this year's Cal team is a deep group that plays cohesively. "We have low egos," says Fowlkes. Tremaine, that's always better than high egos.

Low egos, too, seem to be prominent across San Francisco Bay in Palo Alto, where Stanford is off to its best start since the '36-37 season, Luisetti's second. The Cardinal seems to dwell perennially in a basketball purgatory, never bad enough to be called bad, never good enough to be called good. Its top performers are invariably fine scholastic performers who were not quite good enough to be recruited by the top schools. Shooting guard Dion Cross grew up playing high school ball against Corliss Williamson in Arkansas—after Williamson won the MVP medal at the state tournament in his senior year, he hung it around the neck of Cross, whose team. Parkview High, had won the title. But the home-state Razorbacks were not interested in bearing Cross. Similarly, senior forward Andy Poppink, who hails from Tecumseh, Mich., 20 miles from Ann Arbor, describes himself as "a Fab Five by-product." He thinks a moment and corrects himself: "Make that a Fab Five by-pass-product."

But this year's Cardinal team, unlike most previous incarnations, has talent, size and some of that "flavor" Bozeman talked about. The size comes from 7'1" freshman Tim Young, a lefthander from nearby Santa Cruz, who attended Stanford's summer camps beginning when he was a 6'4" 12-year-old. Young has it all—smooth turnaround jumper, determined work ethic, shot-blocking instincts, considerable athletic ability. In other words, he's no Greg Butler, the player who usually comes to mind when the subject is Stanford centers. Young has a chance to become one of the country's outstanding big men, and his teammates should be able to ride him a long way. Off the court they'll have to find alternative transportation, though. Young has never gotten his driver's license and pedals around campus on his bicycle. "I just don't feel comfortable driving," says Young, a shy kid whose basketball and musical tastes are a bit retro (he has a Larry Bird fixation and listens to the Beatles and Paul Simon).

An opposite personality type is sophomore point guard Brevin Knight, whose emotional playground style gives the Cardinal something rare—a player for opposing fans to hate. Knight is unquestionably Stanford's flavor. Like his good buddies Cross and Poppink, Knight is a player who was passed over by the home folks, except that his story hits, well, much closer to home. Knight grew up, almost literally, on the campus of Seton Hall in South Orange, N.J. His father, Mel, was a Pirate assistant under Bill Raftery and for a time the university's associate athletic director, and his mother, Brenda, is still the secretary to the dean of arts and sciences.

But though he attended P.J. Carlesimo's summer camp and worked on his Knight moves on campus for years, the Hall never called. Nor did any other Big East team. The snub had much to do with his size (he was 5'8" and, as he puts it, "a whopping 150 pounds" as a high school senior), but that didn't ease the hurt. While Poppink and Cross still loyally look for the Michigan and Arkansas results on TV, Knight says, "I could care less about Seton Hall's games." Knight's worst moment as a collegian came last season when Stanford lost to the Pirates 75-69 in the Seton Hall Tournament.

And how did you play, Brevin? "I was horrible," he said last week.

That prompted Cross to look up from his plate of eggs and bacon. "Yes," he agreed helpfully, "he was horrible." Knight glared at him, then smiled.

Knight, despite being limited by a stress reaction to his right tibia (an injury that could become a fracture if he pushes it too hard), hasn't been horrible at all this season. He had 20 points, three assists and two steals against the more ballyhooed Cory Alexander in a 64-60 win at Virginia on Dec. 22, and 26 points and nine assists in a 95-78 win over Wisconsin on Dec. 27. In a conference replete with terrific quarterbacks. Knight (who has grown to 5'10" and a whopping 165 pounds) is the third-best point guard, a full step behind Arizona's Damon Stoudamire and a half step behind UCLA's Tyus Edney. Montgomery remembers a recruit saying to him, "Coach, I like it here, but I don't know any of your players." It's a common problem at Stanford, but Young and Knight might change that.

They also want to change the atmosphere at Stanford. To these guys, Hank Luisetti has no more relevance than Hank Williams. "I'm not interested in a guy who played in the '50s," says Knight. Uh, Brevin, Luisetti played in the '30s. "Well, then I'm really not interested." The players long for their team to be the No. 1 athletic attraction on campus; right now Knight thinks it's football, while Cross votes for women's basketball. The smallish 7,500-seat Maples Pavilion can be a tough place for opposing teams, but it doesn't always reach its pit potential. "The atmosphere killed me when I first got here," says Knight. "I guess that was one of the things they forgot to mention during recruiting." Poppink, a fourth-year junior, is philosophical about it. "You get used to everyone hitting the books while you're playing," he says. "The worst thing is, all that studying kills the curve."

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