Despite being 7'1", Tim Young, Stanford's redshirt sophomore center, is remarkably down to earth. While endearingly self-deprecating off the court, Young may need to be more assertive on it. "A part of you has to be selfish to be a dominant player, and I have to learn that," he says. As a freshman in 1994-95, he averaged 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, all the while displaying an uncommon combination of power and finesse. Last year, though, with the Cardinal expected to be a national contender, Young's back gave out after only five games, and he was sidelined for the season with a bulging disk. Behind sublime point guard Brevin Knight, who returns for his senior year, Stan lord scrapped its way to a 20-9 record and made ii to the second round of the NCAAs. But Young slid into a pronounced funk that had him questioning his abilities.
It turns out the year off was the best thing that could have happened to him. Young fortified his back, gained a few pounds of muscle and was rejuvenated not just by hiking in the Grand Canyon and writing poetry but by a stint on the USA Basketball Under-22 Select Team, which played the Dream Team this summer. "Tim has fallen in love with playing basketball again," says coach Mike Montgomery. "He's stopped worrying about the pressure and the expectations, and this preseason is the best I've seen him play." That's big trouble for the opposition because Stanford is a deep team with the right kind of players to complement the potent inside-outside duo of Young and Knight.
Coming off a year in which he averaged 15.5 points and 7.3 assists, Knight is ready to stake his claim as the nation's preeminent point guard. Always a devastating penetrator, Knight has upgraded his jumper. "If he's making that consistently," says Montgomery, "the other team's got no chance." The three-point shooting of Dion Cross, who graduated in the spring, will be missed, but wingmen Rich Jackson and Kris Weems are both dynamic slashers and ace defenders. The front line, fortified by newcomers Pete Van Elswyk, a 6'9" transfer from South Carolina, and Mark Madsen, a multitalented 6'8" freshman just back from his Mormon mission to Spain, could be the Pac-10's most physical and packs considerable firepower.
As usual, Stanford will play smart, make its free throws (the Cardinal was fourth in the nation last year, with a school-record 75.8%), win 20 or so games, and get to the tournament. To reach the next level, though, the Cardinal will have to stand on the shoulders of its center. The guess here is that Young won't flinch.