It was your basic Intro To Economics problem, and one that, at
Stanford anyway, would have been deemed purely theoretical until
this October: What happens when the demand for men's basketball
tickets exceeds the supply?
Herewith, the case study: One fraternity pledge pitched a tent
outside Maples Pavilion 13 days before the 1,200 available
student tickets were scheduled to go on sale. Within a week
about 60 tents, some furnished with couches, VCRs, Foosball
tables, stereos, kegs of beer and, in one case, a movie
projector showing Swingers, had sprung up near the arena. A
party spirit prevailed--until the entrepreneurial spirit
overwhelmed it. A week after the first tent went up, after some
students had started selling places in line and the camp-out
ceased to be "a linear representation of who was first, second,
third..." (as basketball marketing and operations director Jamie
Zaninovich put it), the athletic department decided to give out
tickets and disperse the tent-dwellers.
O.K., so the students didn't have to endure six more days of
hardship waiting in line--did we mention the gas barbecues, the
big-screen TVs?--but they were willing to, and therein lies a
statement. Cardinal basketball, once about as popular as a 7
a.m. thermodynamics class, has caught fire with fans, and for
good reason. With 95% of the scoring and rebounding returning
from its first Final Four entry in 56 years, Stanford is SI's
pick to win it all in St. Petersburg on March 29. Not bad for a
team that six years ago went 7-29 and could muster only 2,532
souls for its home opener.
Coach Mike Montgomery tries to enjoy the increased attention,
but he worries because, well, that's just what he does best.
While he concedes that this year's team "should be as deep, more
physical, more mature and more confident" than last year's, he
doesn't want anyone reading too much into that. "It's a little
like when a guy has a million dollars, and by the time the story
gets around, he has a billion dollars," says the 51-year-old
Montgomery. "I certainly have the expectation that we're going
to be a good basketball team. You just worry that everyone's
going to add to that."
Montgomery also frets, justifiably, about Stanford's
schedule--which includes games against Connecticut, Maryland,
Temple and the usual Pac-10 killjoys like Arizona, UCLA and
Washington--and about how to give 13 talented players enough
minutes to keep everyone happy. Will last year's great chemistry
dissolve? Will his team lose its focus, get complacent? "No
way," says senior point guard Arthur Lee. "So many people are
going to doubt us, we'll still feel like an underdog."
Lingering doubts about a team from Palo Alto may be
understandable, given Stanford's mostly dismal basketball past.
Before the Cardinal's 86-85 overtime loss to Kentucky in the
1998 NCAA semifinals, it had wowed the nation exactly twice: in
1936, when Hank Luisetti's revolutionary one-handed shot helped
end LIU's 43-game winning streak, and in '42, when Stanford won
its lone NCAA title. The school didn't make the postseason again
for 46 years and seldom finished better than .500 in its
conference. But since Montgomery arrived from Montana in
1986--amid warnings from colleagues that "you'll never win
there"--Stanford has reached the NCAA tournament six times,
getting progressively closer to the title game in each of the
last three seasons.
That run has helped transform the formerly innocuous Maples
Pavilion, a 29-year-old, 7,391-seat concrete box, into the most
intimate and arguably the most hostile arena in the Pac-10. Among
the features opponents find most unnerving: a bouncy floor that
makes every fast break feel like a minor earthquake and the Sixth
Man Club, a group of 750 red-shirted students (with a waiting
list of 800) who never sit down.
What else does Stanford have going for it? The team is huge:
With seven guys 6'7" or taller, its famously physical front line
is the country's most imposing. It's deep: There are 10
returning players who averaged 10 or more minutes last season.
And it's healthier: The chronic knee problem that sidelined
reserve center Jason Collins last year will still force him to
take periodic rests, but he should provide some backup for
All-America candidate Tim Young, who seems to have put his
chronic back woes behind him with a daily stretching routine.
"Tim brought his game up to a whole new level over the summer,"
says forward Mark (Mad Dog) Madsen, who averaged 15.2 points and
12.2 rebounds in the NCAA tournament and made the theatrical
dunk that sunk Rhode Island in the Midwest Regional final.
Madsen has also benefited from off-season work, which included
planting 100 redwoods on his parents' six-acre ranch in
Danville, Calif., and honing his jump hook with 100 shots a day.
Says guard Kris Weems, "Mad Dog is twice as good as he was at
this time last year."
However good the frontcourt is, Stanford's success will again
depend largely on Lee, who went from ordinary player to
All-America candidate over the course of five tournament games
last March, when he averaged 20.6 points and 5.6 assists, made
all 35 of his free throws (an NCAA record) and launched the
Cardinal into the Final Four. In the final 2:05 against Rhode
Island he scored 13 of Stanford's 17 points and made the steal
that set up Madsen's winning jam.
Another opportunity for Montgomery to worry: Yes, Lee can score,
but will he forget that his real role is to make everyone else
better? "Art's ability to make an All-America team and to be
drafted in the pros is going to depend on his ability to make us
win," says Montgomery. "Where he's gonna make his hay is getting
us back to the Final Four and keeping us there."
Like all of Montgomery's players before him--each of whom
graduated--Lee is not inclined to leave business uncompleted.
"Last year was a dream come true...almost," says Lee. "We just
have to go back and finish it."
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO MARCH MADMAN After helping Stanford reach the Final Four in '98, Madsen (far right) anchors a front line long on muscle and menace. [Mark Madsen]
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF [*]Peter Sauer 6'7" Sr. 9.2 ppg
PF [*]Mark Madsen 6'8" Jr. 8.2 rpg
C [*]Tim Young 7'1" Sr. 11.3 ppg
SG [*]Kris Weems 6'3" Sr. 12.6 ppg
PG [*]Arthur Lee 6'1" Sr. 14.5 ppg
'97-98 record: 30-5 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 4