The Sixth Man section in 2006
Stanford men's basketball regressed in 2013, just as Stanford football and Stanford women's basketball continued to flex their dominant muscles. The Bootleg remembers the quickly fading Maples Pavilion glory days and pleads for their return.
Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind. Biggest Upset Ever. 55-21. Oranges.
Triple Overtime. The Immaculate Recovery. The Kick. Pac-12
Stanford football has defined its success of the past half-decade
with enough catchphrases to fill a book. Cardinal women's
basketball, meanwhile, has enjoyed just as much success, and those
good times can be summarized by two words repeated ad infinitum:
Final Four, Final Four, Final Four, Final Four...
Only the oldest Stanford undergraduates remember a time when
football didn't qualify for the BCS, while all of them only
remember a Final Four-bound women's basketball team [Ed: after publication, this has obviously changed with the Cardinal's loss to Georgia, but recent success remains undeniable].
The men's side of the hardwood, though, offers a starkly contrasting
reality. An entire generation of Stanford students has passed
through the university without being exposed to the NCAA
Tournament, and without feeling the energy of what once was a
famously electric men's basketball student section.
I vividly remember my sleep-deprived state in those Sixth Man Club
tents outside Maples Pavilion. I remember counting down the minutes
until the arena's backside student section gate opened its doors. As
soon as the usher in the red coat opened the portal, pre-UCLA big
game electricity would buzz out of it just as students -- like a
frantic cluster of bees -- swarmed into it. I remember sprinting,
tripping over myself in a mad bullrush with my fellow classmates
down the stairwell and to the floor, where precious first row
courtside spots behind Jim Plunkett waited for us. The remaining
hour before tip-off, which felt like three, was the final buffer
zone between reality and a profusely sweating student section, one
that shook the hardwood floor as Maples pulsated with energy. The
spectacular 2007 comeback against the Bruins is the first experience
that comes to my mind, while Stanford basketball fans slightly older will point to a certain
famous shot in The Farm's lore.
Those wonderful moments are now iconic, and it's funny to think they
didn't happen so long ago. Still, they all seem so foreign now. That
energy and passion have vanished. The aura is gone. Maples Pavilion is a
decent place to study now, sparsely populated on its best days and
cavernous on its usual evening -- as it was when staff roped off the
upper deck and removed some courtside seats for the Cardinal's NIT
game against Stephen F. Austin.
The problem is mediocrity. That's a phenomenon that doesn't sit well
with Stanford students and alumni alike, not when most of them are
busy excelling in their own fields. One alumnus pops up a new
worldwide company here, another discovers a revolutionary medical
procedure there, while yet another brings home a shiny gold medal
from London. The Farm may be the world's most difficult place to
compete for attention because there are so many potential worthy
recipients of it in one spot.
There isn't time to watch a basketball program that isn't
competitive, and under Stanford's lofty standards, the bare minimum
for competitiveness is qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. The
results of anything worse: see Maples Pavilion during the past five
Football was stuck in the same uninspired doldrums just six years
ago when Jim Harbaugh arrived. His unrelenting passion and
commitment to Stanford's expected excellence changed things.
Athletic director Bernard Muir has decided that this is still Johnny Dawkins' ship, but there's a dire need for the Cardinal's current
leadership to emulate what Harbaugh and David Shaw's crew brought to
the gridiron a half decade ago: Stanford men's basketball thirsts
for an infusion of enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
Harbaugh brought that spark in his own, unique way that has
generated some controversy of its own. Falling flat on his back in
front an official was one such example. Worry not, Dawkins isn't
expected to flop down on the hardwood after a poor foul call against
Dwight Powell next year. But, however he does it, he must
instill in his team an ability to grab basketball games by the horns
The Cardinal actually led the Pac-12 in scoring and three-point
shooting percentage in 2013, but their abysmal performance in close
contests (only one legitimate close win against Stephen F. Austin)
screamed of a team not ready to seize the moment when the lights
came on. With the Powell-Josh Huestis interior core leaving after
next year, Dawkins' program is running out of time to live up to its
potential before it drifts away into several more years of college
Stanford football and women's basketball have already both
demonstrated their readiness for the big time, and they've
stockpiled a plethora of signature catchphrases to prove it.
Meanwhile, men's basketball flounders
with some memories -- The Shot
certainly holds its own when compared to The Kick --
so far in the rear view now that an
entire generation of Stanford students can connect with them only virtually.
That's the pitiful part of this recent mediocrity, the part that
must be addressed immediately moving forward. Otherwise, several
more generations may pass through Stanford without having a chance
to reclaim the wonderful memories of Maples Pavilion's past.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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