Before addressing the challenge Stanford faces with its limited personnel, we need to address the semantics of whether Stanford is working with five players who are not walk-ons or six players who are not walk-ons.
It revolves around the definition of the word “walk-on.” In our book, a walk-on is any player who does not arrive on campus with an athletic scholarship in hand. In other words, he initially walked on to the practice floor without a scholarship hoping to make the team. Whether he gets a scholarship later on in his college career does not affect a player’s status as a walk-on if that defintion is used. It is impossible to be a former walk-on.
However, some will claim that Jack Trotter, who came to Stanford as a non-scholarship player but was awarded a scholarship after his freshman season, is no longer a walk-on.
So: If Trotter is considered a walk-on, then Stanford has only five players available who are not walk-ons. If Trotter is no longer consdiered a walk-on, then the number is six.
In any case, its a small pool of talent at Johnny Dawkins’ disposal, and you have to wonder whether the Cardinal can get through at least three more games — and possibly as many as nine or 10 more games — with just six players currently on scholaship. You just don’t hear of a Division I team being so short of scholarship players with a team allowed to have as many as 13 scholarships players on its roster.
The biggest problem is up front. The Cardinal lost 6-10 Will Paul in the offseason when he became academically ineligible. Then 6-8 freshman Andy Brown was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the first practice. Then 6-8 Josh Owens was sidelined indefinitely for an undisclosed medical condition, and last week, 6-9 Andrew Zimmermann, who had started the first 17 games, was lost for anywhere from two to six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.
That left Trotter — whether he is considered a walk-on or not — as the only Cardinal big man with significant playing experience.
The Cardinal won its first game with its short roster by dominating Oregon State 59-35 on Thursday, suggesting the Cardinal could do just fine with so few proven players. But the Beavers play a slow, deliberate style that is unlikely to wear down a thin team or get their opponent in foul trouble.
That won’t be the case against most other Pac-10 opponents, including Oregon, which plays at Stanford on Saturday. The Ducks like to get the ball up and down the court and do a fair amount of pressing, two things that can wear down an opponent that does not have much of a bench.
Against Oregon State, Stanford went with a smaller lineup in its first game without Zimmermann, replacing Zimmermann in the starting five with guard Drew Shiller and moving Landry Fields from his small-forward spot to the power forward position vacated by Zimmermann. It makes the Cardinal quicker and gives it more scoring potential, and since there are so few good big men in the Pac-10, Stanford might be able to get away with it at the defensive end. Trotter more than held his own as the Cardinal’s only big man on Thursday, being efficient at both ends.
Coach Johnny Dawkins went with a zone defense a lot against Oregon State, a tactic you can expect to see a lot in the coming games to help defend opposing big men and to save some wear on the Cardinal players who will have to play a lot of minutes.
Dawkins definitely prefers playing man-to-man, but he knows he has to adjust to the situation. Arizona State coach Herb Sendek and UCLA coach Ben Howland have been staunch man-to-man coaches, but Sendek’s switch to a zone three years ago has made the Sun Devils a factor in the conference, and Howland’s use of a zone defense this season has made the Bruins competitive.
Dawkins is also limiting the length of practices and the amount of contact in those practices, hoping to keep the rest of his team healthy and rested.
The biggest problem could be fouls. If any Cardinal player gets into a foul trouble or gets a cramp or anything happens to limit his playing time, Stanford has virtually no options left. Elliott Bullock and Matei Daian, a pair of 6-10 walk-ons, can play spot minutes, and Daian had already given Stanford more than it anticipated. But neither can be expected to play significant minutes if the Cardinal is to stay in the race.
Of course, no one expected Stanford to be in the race in the first place, and that was before all the personnel losses. Now the Cardinal seems to be doing it with smoke, mirrors, pretty good defense, and the scoring of Fields and Jeremy Green.
In the Pac-10 this season, that may be enough to finish with a winning conference record.
For more Bay Area college football and basketball, see JakesTakeOnSports.
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