Stanford rebuilds with young roster
Johnny Dawkins has little time to ponder the great challenge he faces in rebuilding Stanford's proud basketball program. Dawkins is too busy teaching and doing all he can to make sure his young roster figures out his system in time for the first game. He realizes that will be a work in progress all year. And he knew what he signed on for when Cardinal athletic director Bob Bowlsby lured the former top assistant at Duke to the West Coast to lead another school with a storied sports history. "I count on those kids who are returning to become better players," Dawkins said. "We don't want to just have a team, we want to have a program. In doing that you have to instill some certain kind of core values with your group that we can roll with. That's what we're trying to implement now." Landry Fields is the lone proven veteran for the Cardinal's second-year coach, who has all of eight scholarship players heading into the season - and that includes two former walk-ons who earned scholarships this year. Stanford announced late Wednesday that sophomore guard Jeremy Green has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Green was a promising underclassman who appeared in all 34 games last season as a freshman, averaging 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. He shot 45.6 percent from 3-point range. "I'm confident in the kids we have. I think they have a lot of potential," Dawkins said. Yet Dawkins doesn't pretend to hide the fact Stanford will face its share of bumps along the way. The Cardinal will need to catch some breaks to compete with the top-tier teams in the Pac-10 and they are expected to finish at or near the bottom of the conference. This team already took a big blow when it lost top recruit Andy Brown to a season-ending knee injury on the second day of practice. Gone are three starters and a key reserve from last season, when Stanford went 20-14 and reached the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational. "We lose a lot of experience. We're still trying to put in our system from the standpoint that it takes time to instill what we're trying to do with our kids," Dawkins said. "They have to pick you somewhere. For us, we realize, we're not picked very high. That doesn't mean we can't have a terrific season. I wouldn't let anything someone says determine my fate. We have to go out there and determine our own fate." With this team largely being at an even level and inexperienced, Dawkins expects competition for playing time to be stiff. He will look to Fields to set the example, in practice and in games. The captain is coming off a breakout junior season in which he was the Cardinal's third-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game and also averaged 6.6 rebounds and made 42 steals. He was a standout in a San Francisco summer league. "Last year I was able to hide a little bit with three senior starters and leading scorers," Fields said. "This year I'm taking over that role. ... We were here all summer together and even last spring, so I'm really proud of the (young guys) for that. They understand what it was like last year and that a lot more is expected of them." Bowlsby brought Dawkins to the West Coast last year to replace Trent Johnson, who left for Louisiana State. Dawkins was a longtime Duke assistant under Mike Krzyzewski and a former All-American at the school, where he had been on the coaching staff since the 1997-98 season. He's played for a national championship and won it all as a coach. He knows it will take a while to build something at Stanford that's anything close to what the Blue Devils have - but he's in this for the long haul. Coach K groomed him for this, and many considered - and still do - Dawkins the Duke coach in-waiting. Now, Dawkins is more comfortable in that first seat on the bench. He got a full season of recruiting in, too, saying, "it's good to be able to start the race with everyone else." He believes tweaking things will happen over time, as he gains more time on the recruiting trail and can bring in even better players and add depth. And as his players become more experienced. These days, assistant coaches scurry in and out of Dawkins' office to talk. Dawkins pops out to make copies or visit with a player who stops by. "It was a whirlwind last year for me, because so many things were new," Dawkins said. "This year there are some things that now I'm adjusted to and familiar with, which helps you. You have to continue to get better at what you do. Part of that is having the stability that your surroundings are now familiar and you're comfortable in them, and you can grow and do the things you want to get accomplished." Fields, for one, can sense everything running more smoothly in Dawkins' second year in charge. And wherever Stanford ends up, Dawkins is most concerned with the way his team plays each time out. "I think if you have any kind of pride in what you do, I think our kids say, 'Look, I think we can be better than people expect us to be,"' he said. "It's one thing to think that. It's another thing to go out there and accomplish it."