Thursday, March 15, 2007


It wasn’t easy, but I have finally stopped vomiting long enough to put some thoughts down for your moral instruction. This morning, as everyone knows, witnessed Stanford’s wholesale destruction at the hands of Louisville, including a 22-3 run that left Stanford down 46-20 at the half and several turnovers below their own basket. It was an all-too-appropriate finale for a squad that has been in absolute freefall since a gritty comeback from a 17 point deficit to stun then-#3 UCLA seemingly ages ago.

For the sake of what’s left of our basketball program, Stanford fans cannot request that Trent Johnson be removed from his post as Anthony B. Joseph Director of Basketball. They must instead demand it. Johnson has done everything to bury this once-great program short of making his players compete blindfolded – although, given his brand of guidance, he can even be accused of doing just that. Under Johnson’s tutelage, today’s stat lines have become commonplace: 21 turnovers. 13-27 from the foul line. 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes. I could go on, but I’d wear out the numbers on my keyboard.

From my freshman through senior years at Stanford, the team won 31, 20, 24, and 30 games, with conference records of 16-2, 12-6, 14-4, and 17-1. Since Johnson’s takeover, the team has won at most 18 games. They have made the NCAA tournament twice in 3 years, losing both times in the first round by a combined 43 points. They have beaten hated rival Arizona only once, at home.

Johnson’s teams step on to the floor unprepared, unsteady, and visibly shaken, getting down early and irreversibly. Ball control ranges from shaky to abysmal. With a lack of any rhythm to the perimeter passing game, opposing defenses have all day to adjust, as each perimeter player is forced to put the ball on the floor. Almost no effort is made to get the ball into the low post; despite the presence of two seven-foot McDonald’s All-Americans, Stanford routinely loses the points in the paint battle. Badly positioned wing players jack up three point attempts from almost anywhere, without reproach, while legitimately hot shooters are yanked from the game the moment they have established any rhythm. Defensively, Johnson refuses to make adjustments until the team is in desperation mode, stubbornly leaving his worst defender to get mercilessly picked apart. The same feeble motion schemes net opponents uncontested three pointers a half dozen times in a row. When substitutions are made, it is wantonly and without purpose, such as rail-thin forward Taj Finger for a lead-footed point guard.

At the center of this miracle of ineptitude is Mitch Johnson, a point guard who Trent Johnson saw enough in, apparently, to displace Chris Hernandez to the “2” in 2005-2006. Achingly slow, lacking in court vision, with no handle, easily taken off the dribble, and boasting the ugliest shot imaginable, Johnson the player’s presence on this roster is a mystery to all but Johnson the coach. While effective players such as Lawrence Hill and Fred Washingon have spent lengthy periods in Coach Johnson’s doghouse for relatively minor mistakes, Mitch Johnson’s record of cascading liability to his team has been rewarded over and over. Meanwhile, intriguing prospects such as Kenny Brown, Da’veed Dildy and Landry Fields must scrap it out between each other for the 16 minutes a game that Johnson isn’t forcing his team to play 4 on 5 from both ends of the court. Upon closer examination, given his contributions to the opposing team’s offense, we might be compelled to call it 4 on 6. Finally, consider Coach Johnson’s early-season penchant for playing Mitch Johnson at the same time as Carlton Weatherby, giving the Cardinal a backcourt averaging 6’ and 4.7 points per game.

All this, and the guy has about as much personality as a head of lettuce. I say fine. He can be a head of lettuce. Just let someone who knows his ass from a hole in the ground be head of Stanford Basketball.

Change on its own is no guarantee of success, but retaining Trent Johnson is a guarantee of the following: 20 point losses, dwindling attendance, golden potential gleefully squandered, scoring droughts long enough to read The Economist cover to cover, and a once-proud program sinking into an abyss of mediocrity unseen since the dark ages that preceded Mike Montgomery. Who, the last time I checked, wasn’t up to a whole lot.