STANFORD — Johnny Dawkins is facing a do-or-die season in his sixth year as the Stanford men's basketball coach.
Dawkins is returning an experienced team this season and if the Cardinal, who tip off the season Nov. 8 at Maples Pavilion, don't make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, he'll be at risk of losing his job.
“I think for this year to be a success for our group, we should make the tournament. We have the experience and our kids have been through a lot, ” Dawkins said. “I think part of that adversity is what helps you — it's what you do with it.”
The Cardinal entered the 2012-13 season with high expectations after winning the NIT the previous spring. The team returned several key players from the NIT run — forward Dwight Powell, guard Chasson Randle and forward Josh Huestis — but failed to earn an NCAA Tournament bid after producing a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 Conference and a 19-15 mark overall.
Now, with a lot of the same players returning, including seniors Powell, Huestis and guard Aaron Bright, the team is looking to put together a memorable season on the Farm.
“We didn't close very well last year,” Dawkins said. “We had five games, I believe, or so, that we finished losing by five or less points. So even though our record was 9-9 in conference, we felt we were very close.”
If Stanford is going to turn things around, it will need to improve its shooting. Despite its arsenal of talented shooters — such as Bright and Randle — the Cardinal finished last among Pac-12 teams in field-goal percentage last season (41.6 percent).
Powell, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2012-13, said the team focused on improving its chemistry during the offseason with the hopes that it will spill over into games this year.
“We've spent a lot of time, a considerable amount of time, off the court growing together and figuring out what it's going to take for us to mentally and physically reach our goals,” he said.
But the Cardinal will need to reach those goals without a key player from last year's squad.
Andy Brown went down with an ACL tear in July, the fourth ACL injury of his career and the third since he's been on the Farm.
Brown started 20 games for the Cardinal last season, bringing energy and solid defense while averaging 6.2 points per game.
But the team could be bolstered by the arrival of freshman twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen. Both players were ranked among the top 30 backcourt recruits by major recruiting services and they will provide depth on the perimeter.
“Marcus, of course, is the most touted one,” Dawkins said. “Really good scorer, really good athlete, so he's going to provide that for us on the floor.”
Dawkins said if the team continues to get better every day, it should receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament in March.
“I think it's a realistic goal,” he said.