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Inside College Basketball | Robyn Norwood ON COLLEGE

Stanford Looks for Star Heals

November 27, 2003|Robyn Norwood

After an early glimpse, it looks as if there's a chance Stanford, not Arizona, could be the best team in the West.

But it's going to take some feet -- uh, feat -- for the Cardinal to win the Pacific 10 Conference.

That's because Coach Mike Montgomery's sixth man might be the trainer, with the medical staff trying to hold off the threat of a stress fracture in forward Josh Childress' left foot.

"It's not serious unless it breaks. We're going to do everything we can to prevent that," Montgomery said.

Stanford is also trying to finesse point guard Chris Hernandez's sore back. He is playing with bulging disks a season after two stress fractures in his left foot reduced his season to a mere 18 minutes.

Yes, Arizona has tremendous young players. But Stanford has something the Wildcats don't -- two seniors in the starting lineup in forward Justin Davis and guard Matt Lottich. Stanford also has plenty of size and shooting ability and is playing with a dive-for-the-ball aggressiveness in the halfcourt.

The four-year run when Stanford finished in the top 10 every year is fading into history; the Cardinal has been No. 24 and No. 18 the last two seasons. But it looks as if this team has the potential to rise again.

"I think if I stay healthy and Josh takes care of his foot and doesn't make a mistake like I did and come back too early, I think we'll be one of the top teams in the nation," Hernandez said. "I think we could get back to being like that No. 1 team we used to have three or four years ago. I definitely think we can get to that point."

Childress' foot is the first concern.

He is Stanford's leading returning scorer after averaging 14.1 points last season, and he's the leading returning rebounder in the conference even though he's only 6 feet 8.

"We're just erring on the side of caution," Montgomery said. "If you judge that it's a stress problem, then you're stupid to go on. It is not broken, but it could break. So it makes no sense to push it and have it break and then lose him for an extended period of time. We anticipate that in the next week or so the pain will go away.... When that happens, I think he'll be good to go."

The number of stress injuries in the Stanford program sometimes seems too high to be coincidence. (Former player Curtis Borchardt is another who suffered repeated foot injuries.)

Last season, the San Jose Mercury News questioned whether the famous springy floor at Maples Pavilion might be a contributing factor, reporting Stanford players suffered more than three times as many stress-related injuries as any other team in the Pac-10 the last 10 seasons, and quoting experts debating the possibility.

Even Hernandez wonders.

"I don't know, man, I'm starting to think twice," he said. "Now Josh has one and if you look at our women's team, they have two girls out with foot injuries. So I don't know, it's getting a little suspect."

Nevertheless, Stanford has gotten off on the right foot this season.

The Cardinal dismantled UC Irvine on Tuesday with Hernandez playing an almost perfect game, distributing five assists without a turnover and missing only one of the seven three-pointers he took.

The sweet rotation on his shot failed him only once, in the final minute of the first half, when he fell for the Anteater student section's false clock countdown and rushed a shot.

"Oh, yeah, they got me," Hernandez said. "As a point guard, that's a very stupid mistake on my part. I should be watching the shot clock and not listening to the fans.

"You know, that's why we do these games early in the season on the road, to learn. I won't do that again."

His shot might actually have improved because of the time he has spent unable to run up and down the court because of injuries, forcing him to shoot instead. He is still limited to about 50% of practice time because of his back, a problem he and Montgomery believe had its roots in playing too much summer basketball in his high school years, when he played at Fresno's Clovis West.

"Just overuse syndrome," Montgomery said. "Seventy to 80 games in the summer could take its toll."

That's especially true for a kamikaze player like Hernandez. His junior year in high school, he sliced his thumb open on a chair during a game and played in the postseason with nine stitches in his shooting hand. Then he cut his eye when he and another player collided diving for a ball in another game and needed six stitches for that.

"Those are the stories," Hernandez said. "I'm trying to change. The media guide always says, 'Chris Hernandez, tough point guard, leader.' It doesn't say anything about I can play. It just says good leader and stuff. Hopefully we'll get that to change as I play and can stay injury-free."

If Stanford can keep its best players on the floor, there might be plenty more to write.

Hail, Chaminade

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