Coach Dawkins likes his guys to be
clean-shaven, but you’ve been able to buck the trend this year. What
It’s just I guess something he kind of let me do as a
senior leader. Last year, we talked a lot about Matt Howard at Butler, kind of being
just a guy who gets things done. Didn’t really care about looking good, looking
pretty. It was kind of like a game that was messy but he just got things done.
And so I think that’s kind of what he saw this summer - kind of letting me
be that guy, and that’s the way I play. So he kind of let my appearance follow
that route, just as a symbol to guys that we’re not here to be cool, we’re not
here to be the pretty boys; we’re here to get work done, and that’s kind of the
look, I guess.
TB: When do you plan on shaving the beard? I’ve heard your
girlfriend and mom are not fans…
AZ: So I’m going to trim it down. It
probably won’t disappear, but it will be clean-trimmed. I’ll probably go to the
barber and have him make it look nice. But I think as long as I have the hair,
the beard will probably stay.
TB: So after the season?
AZ: Yeah, after the
season, I’ll trim it down quite a bit so that it’s a cleanly-kept beard.
You’ve shown off the mid-range and three-ball a lot more than in years past.
Have you been given more of a green light, or have you just gotten more
comfortable from that spot on the floor?
AZ: It’s just a comfort thing; something
I’ve been working on. In high school, I didn’t really shoot a lot outside
- I know I could, but it wasn’t a part of my game. So all four years of
college that I’ve played, I’ve tried to develop it more and more. And it’s
something that finally I’m feeling more and more comfortable; I get a lot of
shots up in the summer and the off-season. So I’ve just been more comfortable
taking that shot when it’s open.
TB: You’re the second WCC transfer on the
Cardinal in the last few years, making the drive 30 minutes north from Santa
Clara. What was the biggest adjustment for you as a transfer?
AZ: So the biggest
adjustment is two-part I guess. The school part is that you build a friend
group as a freshman - you build a group of freshman friends, you build
your class friends, the people who are in your major, and when you transfer into
a new place, a lot of those friendships and relationships are already
established. So having good teammates and also some transfer friends really
helped me transition in that sense. But as people graduate, I’m starting to
realize how much I miss those connections that you make early on as a freshman.
And then the second part, which has to do with basketball, is just the game is
different every night. In the WCC, there’s good competition, but it’s not as
competitive every night with every team, and so every day you’re going to see a
6’10 guy, a 6’8 guy who is big, strong, athletic. In the WCC, you might see a
6’7 guy, a 6’6 guy that you go against. So there are different advantages and
disadvantages that you have to deal with as a post player, as a perimeter
player, but just the competitiveness on a nightly basis in the Pac-12 is a lot
TB: You got a pretty big opponent as well in Cal. What would it
mean for you to end your Maples career with a W?
AZ: Anybody that we would
have played would have been a big game for me personally, because I want to
leave a legacy and I think the part that starts to leave that legacy is winning
out your last game at home and trying to do something special in the tournament.
So I think most importantly, not looking at the opponent or who it was, it’s
just trying to set that legacy starts with winning the game on Sunday and going
into the Pac-12 tournament and trying to finish out strong and make something
happen. It’s also a big thing because they’re coming in trying to have a chance
to share the Pac-12 title. As being our rival, you don’t want to let someone
else celebrate on your court, and that’s kind of a chance for them to celebrate
if they would win. They’ll know whether they’ll be playing for the championship
or not based on how everybody else finishes out, mainly Washington. We don’t
want them to be celebrating on our court. This is Stanford, this is our court.
No matter who it is, nobody is coming in to our court celebrating a Pac-12
TB: What did you learn about them from the last time you guys played
AZ: Like all the teams in the Pac-12 - very physical, they’re aggressive,
they have a lot of senior players or older players who have a lot of experience
- Harper Kamp, Jorge Gutierrez, even Justin Cobbs, who was at
Minnesota before this, Allen Crabbe is playing really well for them this year.
It’s about really just going out and being mentally and physically tougher. Last
game, we were right there; we had a chance to really make a run at the end of
the game and unfortunately, they were the ones that had the mental toughness and
the ability to pick up their game and they were able to pull away. I think we’ve
grown a lot since then; we’ve seen a lot of growth mentally from guys, so it’s
just about going out there and executing. And I think with what it means being a
senior, having it be our last home game, I think some of the younger guys see
that and hopefully we’re all able to step up and really execute.
TB: That win
would put you guys at 20 for the season and 10 in conference, the first winning
conference season for Johnny Dawkins. How much of an eye do you have on the
postseason brackets and where you might end up?
AZ: I don’t think we pay any
attention to that because we know winning will take care of it all. A couple of
games ago, we realized that if we wanted to make the NCAA tournament, it meant
winning our conference tournament. So we tried to put ourselves in the position
- alright, we’re playing for the bye, now we missed out on the bye. Alright, we’re
playing for building momentum. And deep down, we knew it’s going to come
down to winning the Pac-12 tournament to be able to go to the NCAA tournament.
And besides that, we’re not really looking at anything else. Like I said, it
will take care of itself. I think with what we’ve done so far, we’ve done some
good things to maybe get looked at for the NIT or some of the other tournaments,
but that’s not where our focus is right now.
TB: You probably lead the
conference in charges drawn per minute, or are right up there at the top. I know
Coach Dawkins says “I’ve never seen anybody get hurt taking a charge”, but was
there one in particular where you remember being like “damn, that wasn’t
AZ: So I never bring this up to Coach, but I’ve had two
instances. My freshman year, I took a charge on Jon Bryant during one of our
TB: Oh, that couldn’t have felt good.
AZ: Yeah, for the people who don’t
know, he’s 6’11, 300-something pounds, and I ended up missing eight games of
the season because I herniated a disc in my back. So that’s one instance, and
the other instance was in the Oregon game; took a charge - it got called
a block, I thought it was a charge; referee discretion I guess - and had
to leave the game because I had jarred my hip or aggravated a previous injury.
It’s nothing to me; I would rather take the charge than not, and it’s just a
part of the game.
TB: I saw your Cardinal Channel feature “A Day in
the Life,” which featured you in the lab as a biology major. As a Spanish
major myself, all of that is over my head…so in layman’s terms, what would you like
to do with your biology degree?
AZ: So I would like to go to medical school.
My whole life, I’ve really been fascinated by the human body and what it’s
capable of doing, and what we’re capable of having an impact on. You look at
where research is at, especially with me being in the research labs, I kind of
see where the research is going in terms of studying cancer, studying
neurological disorders, and I think in the next 20-30 years, along with the
advancement of technology, we’re going to come up with cures for diseases that
have kind of been age diseases- as you get older, you get these diseases. And
once we start curing these diseases, it will be interesting to see how much
longer we live, what new things come up and so I just want to be medically on
the front line of that, and then possibly combining that with a business degree,
to be able to combine the business aspect to be able to push the field in that
TB: So are you planning on going to medical school next year, a
couple of years down the line?
AZ: So I want to play overseas for a while just because
I’ve really dedicated a lot of my life to basketball, and I’ve always had
to do it in combination with education. And I know once I stop playing basketball
competitively, I’ll never be able to go back, and I know that once I
start education - really going back to school - that’s going to be the end
of being able to have some freedoms to do certain things. So I really want to
use the gifts and talents that I’ve developed, and the skills, to kind of
explore and experience new cultures and travel and things that I haven’t been
able to do with basketball so far; just explore those options first and then
start medical school maybe two or three years down the road.
TB: What is a
favorite memory or two of yours during your time under the guide of Johnny
AZ: Obviously playing
in New York this year, having the
chance to play Syracuse in the championship game and really feeling like we
could have won that game. Obviously it could have been better - if we
had won, it would have been an even greater memory. I remember two years ago, playing
UCLA and USC here and sweeping them at home with two really close games. We
really handled UCLA - I think we won by ten. And then had USC and we were
able to win even though they had a buzzer-beater attempt. It was just really
hard fought and it was just the feeling we had after that - everybody was
just really together to get those wins. And the last one would be the Washington
win last year, beating them at home. The fans were great; it was just an
amazing environment and to be able to get a win against a ranked opponent in our
conference that we had struggled with to that point, that was great.
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