Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stanford Sports Siblings

With the Stanford women’s basketball team reaching the Final Four for the fourth consecutive time, I felt it was a good time to celebrate great Stanford sporting siblings. We have many.* To wit:

* This list, limited by my memory, is not intended to be comprehensive.

The McEnroes: You have John and Patrick McEnroe involved with the school, and probably have the greatest collective records of accomplishment. Collegiately—among other things—they won three national championships between them. John’s pro tennis career needs no explication re: its achievements/infamy, so we’ll let it pass. Patrick was a decent pro and won a Grand Slam doubles title. So good job there, McEnroes.

The Bryan Brothers: Why is it the Bryan brothers are referred to as brothers, but not twins (as the next two entries were)? I have not quite been able to figure it out. If the McEnroes have the highest collective level of achievement, the Bryan brothers are the most egalitarian with their achievements—which makes sense as they play with each other most of the time. Two NCAA championships, 10 Grand Slam doubles titles (as a Bryan pairing), with several mixed doubles titles.

The Collins Twins: NBA fans know of the Collins twins through their outstanding record of being the backup center for every team in the league. NBA fans might even be shocked to learn the twins are a combined 64 years of age, as it seems they have been placed in the “savvy backup center who’s about 33” role ever since they got into the league. Nevertheless, they had fine college careers—three All-American spots total and a Final Four and Elite Eight in the tournament. And you have to admire the

The Lopez Twins: a faint sheen of underachievement, like the sweat of a nervous teenager, clings to the Lopez twins. Like many disappointments, it’s hard to figure out how much is bad luck and how much are personal defects. Start with college: the Lopez twins annexed the area around the rim and lost that matchup to just about no one. For most teams, a missed shot is the end of the possession; for Stanford during those two years, a missed shot was basically an entry pass. This was fortunate, because Stanford often started a total of two competent shooters, and with the NCAA rules making it easy to sag on the lane, the regular offense was an ugly, boring, ineffective affair designed mostly to get the job done—the missionary position as practiced by actual missionaries.

The Lopez twins made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but certain questions must be asked. Some of those questions have to be directed at people other than the Lopezes, but some should be uncomfortable for them too: like, why did Trent Johnson never recruit a competent point guard and/or small forward who could shoot? Why did Trent Johnson think it was OK to give a scholarship to a backup point guard transferring from USF who manifestly had few skills (other than gorgeous three-point shooting) and less athleticism when he surely must have known that the team lacked crucial ingredients? Why did the team routinely blow at least one game to an inferior opponent? Was there any way to pretend Chris Hernandez was actually a graduating high school senior and simply introduce him again as a freshman the same year the Lopez twins came in? (If the name Chris Hernandez means nothing to you…well, this clip only begins to explain the greatness that was Chris Hernandez’s 2005-6 season. I believe he won three or four games on last-second shots that year, and of course that moment to get the game to overtime was magical.) Why did the referees make such an awful call to deny Stanford the regular season Pac-10 title they deserved? Why couldn’t the team close out a UCLA team lacking Kevin Love in the Pac-10 tournament that same year? Why did the Lopez twins never learn not to hold and leave the ball somewhere around their knees instead of keeping it high?

In retrospect I’m still pleased with those years but they should’ve been so much better, starting particularly with good management. Unfortunately for the Lopez twins, bad management has blighted their career in the NBA: Robin Lopez with the Phoenix Suns; Brook with the Nets. The Suns have been unable to build past their epiphany into a sustainably good team, with the meddling of owner Robert Sarver being particularly problematic. Robin has not quite developed anything beyond his dunking and defending skills, though his injury record has not been good. Curiously, it was Brook who was more frequently injured—he missed the first half of his freshman season off of a back injury—and injury isn’t really an excuse for him. The Nets are a forlorn team, and while Brook exploded onto the scene with his first season—even earning some comparisons to Tim Duncan—he’s gotten worse each season, with his attention to such matters as “defending” and “rebounding” declining commensurately.

Is it Brook’s fault he plays for the Nets? Probably not. But, as I say: faint sheen of underachievement.

The Ogwumike Sisters: No underachievement here: Nneka has been to three Final Fours, hasn’t lost at home during her career, and has only lost once to a Pac-10 team during her career. Chiney, as a freshman, doesn’t have the same record, but one imagines she’ll have a good shot at matching it. Nneka came into school as an incredibly athletic player without many of the peripheral skills necessary to be a great basketball player; her second year she added a midrange jumpshot and a driving game from the elbow; her third year, she’s added some advanced low-post moves with counters and stuff and now hopscotches past defenders as if they were chalk lines to be jumped over. The Ogwumikes have a chance to earn distinction as the best sibling act of the bunch, if only because there are two more Ogwumikes left in the family; apparently the youngest is going to be the best, if Nneka’s words are reliable. (Assuming, of course, they come to Stanford.) This is obviously more than fine, though slightly terrifying as it suggests the Ogwumikes are representatives of a future advanced race where they all play great basketball and conquer school and stuff while still being good at other things too. (Chiney appears to be particularly terrifying from the relentless achievement perspective.)

So there you have it: based on this small sample size, if you and your sibling plays sports at Stanford, you’re destined to become a world-bestriding, conquering athlete.

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