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Aussie Not Offensive Enough for Coach

December 16, 1989|RON KROICHICK | MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE

STANFORD — Basketball players like Andrew Vlahov seldom show up on the playgrounds of America, or even his native Australia. On the playground, everyone wants to shoot.

Vlahov does, too. He's just having a difficult time translating the idea into action, creating an uncommon dilemma for Stanford coach Mike Montgomery.

Though the Cardinal takes a 4-0 record into Saturday night's game against the University of San Francisco (7:30 p.m., Maples Pavilion), the wins came against undistinguished opponents. Montgomery knows that if Stanford wants to achieve any sort of success in the Pacific 10 Conference, Vlahov must help.

"He's got to think like a scorer," Montgomery says. "It's not his personality, but it's got to be."

Throughout his first two years at Stanford, Vlahov needed only to bring his burly body onto the court, play defense, rebound and pass a bit and leave the scoring to others. Teammates such as Todd Lichti and Howard Wright took care of that chore.

With Lichti and Wright gone, the likable Australian with a penchant for outrageousness -- he once flung a boomerang around the gym, sending some Stanford women's players scurrying for cover -- is one of the designated leaders. Only star sophomore Adam Keefe has played more minutes.

But Vlahov has made just 34 percent of his shots through four games, statistical proof that becoming a scorer has messed with his previously carefree mind.

"It requires me to look to score every time I get the ball," Vlahov says. "In the past, I always looked to pass. ... I believe I have the tools to do it."

Vlahov's tools are as varied as his background: He's sturdy at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, with an often-soft shooting touch. That enabled him to score inside and outside during his long odyssey to Stanford.

He was born and raised in Perth, Australia, where kids grow up playing soccer more than they do basketball. Strong kids like Vlahov also play the rugged game of Australian-rules football.

"It was an outlet for aggressiveness," Vlahov says. "I used to love throwing people around."

His father, Len, played basketball. Andrew began toying with the game when he was 12, shooting around in his back yard.

"I was one of very, very few kids to have a basket in my back yard," he says.

Len Vlahov, a professor at the University of Western Australia, opened some American doors for his son. Andrew was an exchange student in junior high, and then he returned to the United States as a high school senior while his father conducted academic work at the University of Oregon.

Vlahov enrolled at South Eugene High School with no intention of pursuing a college scholarship. He did not really realize the enormity of the game; Kent Street H.S., his high school back home, did not even field a team.

"I was really stunned at first when I started getting all these (recruiting) letters from schools," he says. "I didn't know what the heck was going on."

Now he knows well. Without an organized high school system, club teams control the basketball scene in Australia. Vlahov went that route during his teenage years, ultimately making the Australian Olympic team that placed fourth last summer in Seoul.

Next to securing a free education, Vlahov views Stanford as a prudent way to prepare for his national team obligations. Even Montgomery speaks of his commitment to send Vlahov home as a more complete player.

Clearly, Vlahov has a chance to become an important member of that national team. Only former Seton Hall star Andrew Gaze gained more attention and experience playing American college ball.

"Some veterans are being phased out, so it's really an opportunity for me to step in and be a regular," Vlahov says. "Ever since I was 15, I set a goal to play in the '88 Olympics, and I achieved that.

"Now the national team has really rocketed to celebrity status. It's picked up a lot of popularity."

Says Montgomery: "The national team is a big part of his future. He's got to look at Andrew Gaze and say, 'I can do everything you can do.' "

Well, Gaze can shoot. Vlahov is working on that.

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