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Courtesy: Brian Risso  
Release: 02/16/2014

STANFORD, Calif.- Playing regularly for the first time in his career, redshirt junior Stefan Nastic is averaging 7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds while anchoring the frontcourt as Stanford’s starting center in all 24 games.

Nastic has scored in double figures eight times, a feat he had accomplished only twice in 53 career games prior to this year. In addition to shooting 53.7 percent overall, Nastic is a solid free throw shooter at 69.4 percent who has a knack for drawing contact and frustrating his defender.

A native of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, Nastic is among a handful of candidates that are being touted as potential Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year award recipients. Nastic’s offensive production is a noticeable increase from his 2012-13 averages of 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds.

Nastic enjoyed his best game to date against Cal Poly on Dec. 29, scoring a career-high 20 points on 7-7 shooting from the field and a 6-6 clip at the foul line to go along with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 26 minutes. It was a flawless performance: scoring on put-backs in traffic, finishing off hook shots going to his left and right or showing off his range by knocking down jumpers.

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How important has Nastic been to the offense? In addition to providing a low-post presence, Nastic is the go-to guy during the game’s first few possessions. Opponents know the Cardinal wants to establish Nastic with early touches, and still have trouble stopping him. The emphasis to play through Nastic from the start has only boosted his confidence.
"I've been working hard to get to this point for a long time. Little things, like figuring out what the coaches want me to do and then focusing all my energy on whatever that is. Generally, trying to stay even-keel. Not allowing myself to get too high or too low. The support from the team has been great and it’s allowing me to do what I have always been able to do. I have always been someone who is interested in improving my game and it’s great to be able to show that this year.”

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Many bigs are a liability from the charity stripe. Not Nastic. At 69.4 percent, Nastic is getting to the line often and most importantly, converting those opportunities. Nastic has attempted at least four free throws in a game nine times, with the 6-6 mark against Cal Poly serving as his best performance. Stanford shot 74.3 percent last year from the foul line. Who then carried the longest active made free throw streak into this year? That would be Nastic, who made his final 13 freebies in 2012-13 and first three tries this year.
"Getting to the foul line is a part of the game I have worked on. I have always been fine with working on big man moves. Some players may find it pretty boring to work on post moves or footwork, but I am good with it. The physicality underneath was something that I never really went away from. That type of play is something that over the years, I’ve become better in that area.”

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One underrated aspect of Nastic’s game is his skill as a passer. Just like frontcourt mate and fellow Canadian Dwight Powell, who leads Stanford with 91 assists, Nastic is adept at passing through contact or kicking out to an open shooter. Nastic has totaled more assists (31) than turnovers (28) and he has flourished in the triangle offense as both a scorer and distributor.
"Our team is full of guys who are not selfish and really want to make the right play. We work on making the right play out of the triangle every day in practice. At the end of the day, I could finish with zero shots or points, just as long as I know I made the right play in the right situation to set someone else up.”

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Nastic played all but the first five games of his rookie season, missing the remainder of the year with a foot injury. That means Nastic, along with fellow classmate Anthony Brown, will return in 2014-15 and the Cardinal will definitely welcome his leadership and veteran presence. Nastic is focused solely on this year but also realizes his improved play can serve as a springboard in the future.
"I'm trying to stay in the present because nothing is ever guaranteed. But it is a positive. It was tough going through that first year, being injured and not able to contribute on the court and get experience. It was a blessing in disguise though, having another year of opportunity to get on the court and accomplish some things academically. It’s much more different to be on the court, but watching from the bench also helped me out a bit. It was something I don’t take for granted.”

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A dual citizen of Serbia and Canada, Nastic competed as a member of the silver medal-winning Serbian National Team in Mersin, Turkey, last summer at the XVII Mediterranean Games, a multi-sport, 24-nation event similar to the Olympics. His international playing experience also includes participation in the 2012 FIBA U20 European Championship. That type of competition has helped fuel Nastic to become a better player.
“Competing with the Serbian National Team was not only an opportunity on the court, but it allowed me to get to know myself off the court. It was a great experience and helped me mature. It’s always a great cultural experience and there are such great players to learn from. Learning how to be consistent in my play with the national team has helped at Stanford, figuring out how to build over time.”

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Nastic is equally accomplished in the classroom, receiving NABC Honors Court recognition last year and earning Pac-12 All-Academic accolades in each of the last two seasons. Nastic, who is majoring in psychology, boasts a 3.17 GPA and is looking forward to his next challenge.
“I’m looking forward to completing 180 units by this year. I’m looking into the Coterminal M.A. in Media Studies program. I have been accepted and just need to make a final decision. Communication has always been an interest of mine. Psychology, communication, sport and business- those are all areas that I feel are intertwined in such an interesting way. So, it’s an option that I’m definitely looking into, and learning toward, but have not yet made a final decision. I am just very grateful to have the opportunity.”


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