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Leading Men
Grant Wahl
January 15, 2001
With a victory over preseason No. 1 Arizona Stanford moved to the top of the rankings with a 13-0
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January 15, 2001

Leading Men

With a victory over preseason No. 1 Arizona Stanford moved to the top of the rankings with a 13-0

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Stanford coach Mike Montgomery has a reputation as a straitlaced kind of guy, which may explain the collective shock in the Cardinal locker room last Saturday after Stanford's breathtakingly efficient 85-76 win at Pac-10 nemesis Arizona. As everyone dressed for the bus ride to the airport, Montgomery, changing his trousers, calmly revealed a whole new side: white boxer shorts covered with—egad!—silk-screened lipstick smooches.

"Coach Montgomery, what in the heck—?" exclaimed center Jason Collins. "Are those your lucky drawers?" Montgomery grinned from ear to ear. Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly introduce the full Monty.

"I love Coach," guard Casey Jacobsen cracked. "This game was so important to him. He's money?

So, too, it turns out, is the Cardinal, which has a 13-0 record, including a come-from-behind win last month over then No. 1 Duke and last week's triumph over the preseason No. 1 Wildcats in Tucson. That victory, coupled with Michigan State's loss to Indiana on Sunday, moved Stanford to the top spot. With the Cardinal's toughest Pac-10 showdown out of the way, the preposterous notion of an undefeated season has suddenly become a topic of discussion in Palo Alto. Sort of. "It's pretty unrealistic," Jacobsen said last week, "but right now our team shows no sign of losing, unless we lose our focus."

At the very least the Cardinal is the clear favorite in its conference, a team blessed with weapons at every position. There are the increasingly ferocious Collins twins, 6'11" Jarron and 7-foot Jason, who dominated the post against Arizona, combining for 41 points and 21 rebounds while holding the Wildcats' most consistent player, Michael Wright, to 14 points and a single rebound. There's Cardinal swingman Ryan Mendez, who repeatedly pierced the Arizona defense and scored 20 points. There's also Michael McDonald, the underrated point guard, whose assist-to-turnover total for the season is a you-can't-be-serious 66-17 "The game is still a skill game," says Montgomery. "We're shooting the ball well, and if you defend, board and shoot, you're going to be pretty good."

Nor does it hurt to have a budding star like Jacobsen. It's not just that the 6'6" sophomore leads Stanford with 17.8 points per game while shooting a remarkable 47.9% from three-point range, or that he had 26 points and the game-winning shot in the thriller against Duke. Jacobsen also makes his teammates better, either by creating opportunities for them when he's double-teamed or simply by providing an example. "I've benefited tremendously from watching Casey," says Mendez. "Here's a guard who's getting to the hole, who's getting fouled, and I'm like, What if I try to drive a little bit more?"

One sequence at the end of the first half on Saturday neatly summed up the differences between share-the-wealth Stanford and the 8-5 Wildcats, who often play like gifted but undisciplined jazzmen, each riffing on a different tune. Trailing by seven points, Arizona milked the clock, only to have guard Gilbert Arenas chuck (and miss) an off-balance trey. McDonald took the outlet pass off the rebound and found Jacobsen streaking unguarded down the wing, whereupon the player his teammates call Iceman (no, not after George Gervin but after Val Kilmer's bleached-blond fly-boy in Top Gun) buried a three-pointer at the horn to give Stanford a rally-killing 10-point advantage. Never leave your wingman, indeed.

If Jacobsen's lyrical smoothness makes it seem as if he was born and raised to play basketball, he was. When each of Von and Becky Jacobsen's four children—Adam, 26, Brock, 23, Casey, 19, and Derek, 13—reached the fifth grade, his parents asked him if he wanted to make the commitment to earn a Division I athletic scholarship. All of the boys said yes, and all of them picked basketball, springing Von, a former San Diego State guard who played two seasons in Europe, into action. "If you decided to be a good player, he'd push you to go full out and do it the right way," says Adam. "He didn't force us to do anything, but once we made the decision, he would say, 'O.K., I have a pretty good plan.' "

Whatever you want to call it—the Program, perhaps, or, given the boys' initials, a one-family ABCD Camp—Von's plan included all sorts of things: year-round AAU basketball from the fifth grade, no vacations, no sleepovers at friends' houses, and regular visits to the weight room and to various "shot doctor" shamans. It meant that Casey attended Adam's and Brock's high school games, at which he locked onto their every move. It meant that Von, a builder and carpenter, would leave for work long before sunrise, the better to come home at 3 p.m. each day and drive his boys to practices and games. It meant, in short, that nothing was done halfway, not even the family's outdoor basketball court.

When Casey was two, Von began clearing the avocado trees on the family's three-quarter-acre lot in Glendora, Calif., and built his sons the Xanadu of backyard basketball courts—or, as the family now refers to it, the Taj Ma-Hoop. It's a sprawling concrete half-court, complete with a three-point line, a key and a square backboard (with breakaway rim) emblazoned with the word TARTANS, the nickname of Glendora High's teams. At night two sets of stadium lights shine down on the court. "It looks best then, and that's when we played on it the most," Casey says. During high school, two-on-two games involving Casey, his friends and his brothers would go as late as 3:30 in the morning.

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