Sophomore Josh Huestis immediately comes to mind when talking about which Stanford players have made the biggest leaps in their development in 2011-12. Appearing in 28 games off the bench last year as a freshman, Huestis' contributions as a sophomore make him an ideal candidate for Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year.
It's easy to see why. The native of Great Falls, Mt., made it a priority to bulk up in the offseason and expand different areas of his game. Huestis first showed that potential in September during Stanford's trip to Spain, where he posted solid numbers and wasn't afraid to hold his own against older and more experienced players in the post.
Extremely athletic and versatile, Huestis has played in every game this year while making four starts. His 5.7 points per game average ranks fifth on the club, but his 5.1 rebounds per game clip is second only to Josh Owens (5.8). Huestis leads the team with 30 blocked shots. It's a modest total, yet still ranks as the most swats by any Cardinal player since Robin Lopez (83) and Brook Lopez (56) in 2008. Huestis has also excelled at protecting the basketball, committing only 19 turnovers in 579 minutes.
THE STUDENT on...
Making the adjustment from your first year in college to the second can be a challenge. How has everything worked out?
"I have a lot better idea this year. I'm starting to understand my own preferences in terms of classes. I've also done a better job with time management, so that makes things much easier. In terms of knowing what area of study I'd like to pursue, that has helped me narrow down classes I want to take. So, this year has been far easier in terms of academics."
You haven't declared a major yet, but is there a specific area of study out there that interests you?
"I'm really interested in psychology, although I haven't yet decided what branch of psychology. I've taken a couple different classes. I've taken a Cultural Psychology class and right now I'm actually taking an Abnormal Psychology class. I really enjoy those. Understanding the way cultures behave the way they do is something that's really interesting to me. Also, learning about different mental disorders is also really interesting. Obviously, there is a big difference between those two, so I'm still trying to figure out which area to go with."
Or maybe acting is in your future? That was a pretty solid impersonation of President Barack Obama in a recent Sixth Man Club student promo video with Senior Class President Jack Trotter.
"We were going off a script, but some of it was on the fly. I guess you just sort of pick up mannerisms from watching people. I think from watching Obama's speeches, I was able to just pick up hand gestures, emphasis on certain words, those kinds of things. As far as Obama's basketball game goes, I just exercised some creative license there. It was a lot of fun. He might not celebrate after shots like that, but maybe he does? I'd like to see a game of one-on-one between him and Jack, the two presidents going at it. Jack's a serious guy so it was fun to see a lighter side while making that video."
Whether starting or coming off the bench, you've brought a hard-nosed, tough-minded approach every time you take the floor. When the Cardinal needs a boost in rebounding and defense, it's your number getting called.
"It's something that you can do every game. Your shots aren't going to fall every time, but you can always rebound and play defense. What I've also started to notice about myself is by doing those things, the rest of my game starts to come along. I'll get a couple rebounds or make a good play on defense, and then I start to build confidence in my game that I can make shots. So I feel like everything really feeds off my rebounding and playing defense."
Not to mention, you've quietly developed into one of the better shot-blockers in the league. Back in December, your last-second block of UCLA's Lazeric Jones preserved a key one-point victory.
"It's something I feel like I've become pretty good at over the years. All my life, I've blocked a lot of shots. Just this past year, it's really started to come along though. I think it's a combination of a lot of different things. Obviously, it's a lot about timing, because guys at this level realize other players can block shots, so they're going to try and draw fouls. It's about staying down on shot fakes. Athleticism comes into play as well, being able to get up high enough to block the shot. So it's a mix of mental timing and athleticism."
The year-to-year improvement in your game has been fun to watch. And at Stanford, there is a culture in place for players who want to enhance their game and work hard to improve. For a recent example, look no further than Landry Fields.
"Landry is a guy I look at and just based on how hard he worked, he was able to succeed. His junior year, nobody was looking at him to be an NBA player. Even after he was drafted, nobody really considered him a starter in the NBA. But just through hard work and determination, he's made it possible. I can see a lot of similarities between our games. He's a good defender. When the Knicks played the Lakers recently, they put him on Kobe. He rebounds- as a senior, he averaged like eight rebounds per game (8.8). He's just an overall hard worker and that's someone I like to emulate."