Jan. 16, 2012
Stanford at Washington State Online Coverage: Gametracker | Live Audio
STANFORD, Calif.- At 5-foot-11, 177 pounds--soaking wet--Aaron Bright is usually the shortest player on the court. Not that it bothers the sophomore guard from Bellevue, Wash., whose fearless style and constant smile have endeared him to Stanford basketball fans.
"I think I get it from my mom (Cindi)," said Bright. "Being smaller, you can't get away with the things taller players get away with, so you have to have that edge to you and chip on your shoulder. You have to be the aggressor."
Johnny Dawkins, the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball, wouldn't want it any other way.
"He brings a cockiness and confidence," he said. "You can just see it when he's out there on the floor, his belief that we can be successful and his belief that we're going to win. That can be contagious. You love to have a kid out there that has that level of confidence."
Cindi, a single parent who has been divorced for 10 years, says she raised her son to be tough and strong-minded. Especially when players in Seattle's inner city called the biracial Bright names like "Red Bone" or "Half Breed."
"I'm competitive as hell," said Cindi, who works for Russell Investments. "I just taught him to be a winner. Nobody's better or badder. Everybody says you're too small to be on the floor, but you know what? You're winning."
Bright has helped the Cardinal climb to a 15-3 start heading into this weekend's road swing to Washington State and Washington. In addition to running the offense from the point guard position, he has also connected on 37-80 3-point attempts, a percentage of .463--fifth-best in the Pac-12--and has an assist to turnover ratio of 63 to 40.
"He's turned himself into one of the best shooters in the conference," said Dawkins, who would know, having departed Duke as the school's all-time leading scorer with 2,556 points. "Close to 50 percent from 3's and from the field (47.0 percent) for the season--that's phenomenal for a point guard."
"Plus, when you have the responsibilities of handling the basketball and running the team, you're kind of like a mother hen out there. The last thing you take care of is yourself."
Bright has averaged 12.3 points per game this season, but 14.2 during conference games. He has reached double figures 13 times, topped by a season-high 21 points against Fresno State.
"He's great at finding guys and he's our leader on the floor," said freshman guard Chasson Randle. "I feed off him." Bright has an infectious, mischievous grin and isn't afraid to challenge bigger bodies inside. Although he played in all 31 games last season, starting eight, he averaged only 5.1 points and two assists per game.
With urging from Dawkins and his staff, Bright worked his tail off during the offseason. Not only did he sweat in the gym, Bright watched videotape of other point guards to find ways to improve.
"I was watching the NCAA Tournament and the NBA playoffs," Bright said. "I love watching smaller guards. I watched J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks a lot. I love the way he was able to get in the paint and make guys better. I watched Ty Lawson in Summer League, just because I can relate to him. I have to model my game around players my height."
Dawkins said the difference between Bright from last year to this year is night and day.
"Aaron's one of the most improved players in our conference, not just on our team," he said. "I'm really proud of what he's done, because we challenged him last spring after the season was over about getting better in different areas and the young man took it to heart."
Bright said he has raised his level of play in all facets of the game and still has plenty of room for improvement.
"I think last year I was mostly just an off-ball shooter and kind of shot my bullets when I had them," said Bright. "I thought I could do a much better job of getting into the paint, creating shots for myself above the rim, and creating shots for my teammates. I just knew I had a lot of work to do, and so far, it's paying off."
Speaking of the rim, Bright can dunk. He's never done it in a game, but has during practice.
"People don't know that about me," he said with a laugh. "When I'm in a game and have a fast break, my legs are fatigued. I don't want to go up there and have my legs go out. If I try and dunk it and miss, Coach Dawkins is going to yank me."
Bright is so right.
"I have one rule: Don't do anything in a game you haven't done in front of me in practice," Dawkins said. "He hasn't dunked during five-on-five yet."
Bright, a single child, has tattoos on both of his shoulders.
"The one on the left says, `Love is sacrifice' and has a happy face and sad face to symbolize the ups and downs of things you love and the things that you have to sacrifice for," he said. "The one on the right says, `Control what I can' and it has a hand to symbolize I can control my attitude, actions, and thoughts, but everything else is out of my hands." Cindi has no problem with the tattoos.
"It's who he is," she said. "He always wanted tattoos. I don't have an issue with them. I agreed to let him have one on his arm. It was in 2007. He was 15 years old and we were in Maui. We decided to get tattoos at the same time. Both of them describe our life stories."
Bright is aware tattoos on Stanford basketball players are about as common as four-point plays.
"I'm trying to get other people to do it with me as well," he said. "Gabe (Gabriel Harris) has one. I'm trying to get Anthony (Brown) to get one, but I don't know if his mom will let him. You gotta make sure the parents are okay with it."
Cindi attends about 90 percent of Aaron's games and cheers hard for her son and his teammates.
"I make it work," she said. "It's what I live for with him."
Bright said if you think she's noisy at games now, you should have heard her when he played at Bellevue High School.
"She's actually calmed down," he said. "In my early days in high school, she was crazy. I can't say anything now--she doesn't listen. She's my biggest fan."
How Bright escaped the state of Washington is surprising. An A-student at Bellevue, he was heavily recruited by the Huskies in eighth and ninth grade, then they cooled on him. Bright averaged 18 points and seven assists as a junior and 20 points and six assists as a senior.
"What happened was I got a letter for the elite camp under Trent Johnson," said Bright of the former Cardinal head coach. "And when Trent left and Coach Dawkins came, I didn't know if I was still able to come. So I called up some of the coaches and said, `Is it okay if I still come?' They said yeah, you got the invitation. I had a pretty good camp and they started to recruit me. Once they showed interest, it was obviously my first choice."
Neither side has regretted it.
"And to be quite frank, he still has a big upside," Dawkins said. "I still think he has a lot of room for growth and that's the part that excites me as a coach and as a teacher."
Said Bright, "It's kind of funny. When I was younger, I never thought I would be at such a great institution, both academically and athletically. It was really just a blessing."
Bright, who is working on a degree in economics, played a key role in Stanford's four-overtime victory at Oregon State on Jan. 7 with 18 points and six assists in 42 minutes.
"It was huge," he said. "We approached that game like it was win or die. We try to approach every game like that, but that game was pretty big because we had just dropped one at Oregon. If we had gone 0-2 on the road, we'd probably still be at practice right now."
Instead, the Cardinal are 5-1 in conference play in what figures to be a wide open race for the regular-season title.
"It was just a great win," said Bright. "It's unbelievable how much support we had for each other. The huddles were ridiculous . . . the yelling. It was pretty intense."
Slowly but surely, Stanford is establishing an identity as a deep, tough defensive team that finds ways to win.
"I definitely think we have all the right pieces," Bright said.
- by Mark Soltau
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