STANFORD — Dwight Powell is playing for his future. Johnny Dawkins is coaching for his.
While Powell put off turning pro to stick around Stanford for his senior season on a veteran team, Dawkins realizes the pressure to win now with his job depending on it.
Athletic director Bernard Muir has made it clear he expects the Cardinal to reach the NCAA tournament, something that hasn't happened during Dawkins' first five years on the job.
It's a make-or-break year for Dawkins, who scheduled a tough preseason that features consecutive games next month at Connecticut, plus Michigan three days later in Brooklyn, N.Y.
And Stanford certainly believes it will be playing in the top-tier tournament come March, with its top four scorers returning and all but two players from last season's team that reached the second round of the NIT.
"Absolutely, I think for this year to be a success for our group we should make the tournament," Dawkins said. "We have the experience, and our kids have been through a lot. I think part of that adversity is what helps you. It's what you do with it. So our guys realize that this is a special year. We have five seniors, and so we'd like to see these guys leave their legacy. And so that would be a fair statement. I think that it's an attainable goal."
Here are five things to know about the Cardinal this season:
POWELL'S RETURN: Powell, a 6-foot-10 forward, opted to stay in school to get his degree and further develop his game. Powell was a first-team Pac-12 selection last season and earned the conference's most improved player honor. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and was the only player in the conference to rank in the top 10 in both categories. "It feels great to feel my class welcome me back. Coming in with them, we had a lot of goals of things we wanted to achieve and we needed to achieve to deem our career as collegiate athletes successful," Powell said. "And not all of those things have been accomplished yet. Coming back, for me, it was extremely important."
NAVY SEALS TRAINING: Stanford spent six hours on one September day training with Navy SEALs — on the ground, in the pool, in sand, crawling along the grass on their bellies. The Cardinal did basic boot camp drills, followed commands, learned proper techniques for standing, turning and crawling in a team-building outing. "It was a challenge that maybe not all of us thought we could get through, but we did. And we did so as a team," Powell said. "Also just teaching us that level of discipline and commitment that those guys have to get the job that they have to get done. And with no excuses. We can take away a lot from that going into our season. We got a lot out of it."
EXPERIENCE FACTOR: No arguing Stanford is among the most experienced, not to mention deep, teams in the Pac-12. With its starting lineup nearly intact aside from the injured Andy Brown, Stanford is prepared for a challenging non-conference schedule that it hopes will set the Cardinal up for an improved conference slate. "We scheduled based on the fact that we had a lot of experience returning," Dawkins said. "I thought it was the appropriate schedule for our guys to compete against. When conference play starts, we'll all be 0-0 and we'll all be competing heavily for a Pac-12 title."