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Power in the Pivot
Courtesy: Mark Soltau  
Release: 03/27/2014
EVERY GOOD BASKETBALL team needs an enforcer. A blue-collar guy who thrives on contact, floor burns, bruises and does the dirty work. He is usually selfless, competes with a mean streak, and doesn’t back down.

Meet Stefan Nastic. At 6-foot-11, the redshirt junior center from Serbia is Stanford’s tallest player. Off the court, he is outgoing and polite. On the court, he’s tough and clever.

“He has that edge to him,” said Johnny Dawkins, the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men’s Basketball. “What I like about him is he is also a very smart inside player and has a presence in there.”

Nastic is a big reason the Cardinal has advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament for only the fifth time in school history. He produced consecutive 10-point games in first and second round wins against New Mexico and Kansas, doing most of his damage from close range. His 57.4 shooting percentage this season ranks first on the team, and he had two streaks when he converted 14- and 16-straight field goals, the latter ending against New Mexico.

“You just try to do your role and get to the spots you need to get to and take great shots,” said Nastic. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Dawkins isn’t surprised by his contributions.

“We’ve seen glimpses of this, even last season,” Dawkins said. “He had his moments. It was just unfortunate it didn’t work out. He just couldn’t sustain it. This year, he’s done a much better job. Mentally and physically he’s still in good shape.”

A year ago, Nastic made six starts and averaged 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds. This season, he has started 34 of 35 games (he gave way to John Gage on Senior Day) and has averaged 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds, reaching double-digits in scoring 12 times.

Seldom flashy, Nastic approaches each game with a workmanlike attitude. Personal statistics are unimportant; winning is. He has dished out 41 assists, blocked 33 shots, and averages 63.5 percent from the free throw line.
 
“I just try and do my role and focus on that,” said Nastic. “I love helping my teammates out to get the best possible possessions for our team.”

And he’s never satisfied.

“I’m always trying to improve things,” he said. “It’s just a one-day-at-a-time mentality and that carries all the way back to when we started the season.”

Nastic and his family moved to Ontario, Canada, when he was 1. He loved all sports but concentrated on basketball at Thornhill Secondary School, where he averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks as a senior. His favorite athlete was Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors.

“The guy was a huge idol and opened the eyes of many young kids,” said Nastic. “I was one of them.”

 A dual citizen of Serbia and Canada, Nastic has extensive international experience, starting with the Serbian national 16-under in 2008. Last July, he competed for the Serbian national team in Turkey at the XVII Mediterranean Games.

His progress at Stanford was slowed by a foot injury in 2010-11, with Nastic appearing in only five games. But the two-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection has blossomed this year with consistent playing time and will look to do his part tonight against Dayton in Memphis, Tenn.

“It just comes from the effort you bring and confidence you have in the player you are,” Nastic said. “My teammates and coaches are always supporting me and it’s much appreciated. I’m always trying to do what I do best.”

Nastic works hard to stay in the moment.

“I try to stay as even keel as possible,” he said. “There’s going to be highs and lows. I try to have a consistent mentality. Just keep playing and move on to the next play.”

That partially explains how the team has rebounded from a rough 84-59 loss to UCLA in the third round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas to post two upset wins in the NCAA Tournament.  

“We definitely watched film of UCLA and took note and talked about where we need to improve,” said Nastic.

Like many of his teammates, Nastic took finals last week during the NCAA tournament in St. Louis. A psychology major, he took two exams in his major, one in political communications, and also wrote a paper in the latter.

“It’s always a grind, whether you are a Stanford student or not,” he said. “It’s just a day-to-day effort and working with the great professors that Stanford has and classmates, as well as advisors and teammates for support.”

Nastic knows it will take another team effort to beat Dayton.

“They’re a very versatile, together team,” said Nastic. “They move the ball well and capitalize in transition. They’re very unselfish and really work for good shots.”

Nastic will look to contribute for the Cardinal any way he can.

“Steph has really been playing terrific,” Dawkins said. “He’s one of the best inside players in the country right now. He’s consistent, knows his role, and doesn’t make many mistakes on the court. I’ve enjoyed coaching him and watching him grow as a player.”


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