January 29, 2020

Loss, Opportunity, and Deep Depth

Warren Grimes

Stanford’s mid January weekend in Oregon did not turn out well.  On Friday, the team suffered a 32 point humiliation to Oregon.  Worse was to come.

On Sunday, the team bested Oregon State, but lost Haley Jones to what is likely a season-ending knee injury.  Losing Jones is a big deal.

Haley “Versatility” Jones was the country’s number one ranked high school recruit, and in the running to win freshman of the year awards.  She had started 13 games for Stanford and seemed to be improving fast.  In conference play, Jones had moved up to be the team’s second leading scorer.  Had trends continued, Jones could well have been the team’s top scorer by season’s end. 

Not the best three point shooter, Jones seems to do everything else very well.  Jones was second only to Kiana Williams in generating assists.  She steals the ball, blocks opponents’ shots, blocks out, and gathers many a rebound, including offensive put backs.

Jones often played the power forward position.  At six foot one, Jones is still strong enough to occupy space and effectively guard taller players.  Using Jones in the four position allowed the team to place five very effective defenders and offensive players on the floor.  On offense, Jones is a creator.  When the shot clock is winding down, Jones can drive the basket, make pull up jumpers, execute spin moves, and often find a passing lane to assist a teammate’s shot. 

No other player has this valuable skill set.  Still, after the Oregon weekend, Stanford went home to Maples and bested Colorado (barely) and Utah (decisively).  Stanford won despite playing without four injured players.  Three of them were high school All Americans and regular starters (Jones, Maya Dodson, and Dijonai Carrington).  The fourth has played on Canadian national teams (Alyssa Jerome).  With all of this injured talent, how did Stanford pull off the wins?

Baseball great Yogi Berra said his team had “deep depth.”  Well, Berra’s Yankees aren’t alone.  Stanford women’s hoops has its own deep depth.  Last weekend, Stanford started a team with three high school All Americans: Nadia Fingall, Kiana Williams and Ashten Prechtel.  The other two starters had won high school POY honors for the State of Washington (the Hull twins).  Three more high school All Americans came off the bench (Fran Belibi, Anna Wilson, and Jenna Brown).  The team, despite the injuries, had a strong nine player rotation for these games, including Hannah Jump, who dazzled from the three point line against Utah. 

None of this can make up for Jones’ loss.  Still, the learning curve is rapid for three of the freshmen (Prechtel, Belibi, and Jump).  Prechtel is now a starter and delivered in crunch time against Colorado.  Belibi scored a team and career high 20 points against Utah.  Jump made three long distance shots against Utah, and had 14 points in all against Utah.  These players can help make Stanford a feared and fearsome team at season’s end.

Can Stanford duplicate Notre Dame’s achievement two years ago (winning the national championship despite being riddled with injuries)?  Perhaps not.  But the rest of the season is sure to be interesting.  The loss of Jones, who was frequently playing the four, leaves an opportunity for Prechtel (already blossoming) and particularly Belibi.  And, of course, there is still the possibility of getting Carrington, a strong perimeter player who can battle underneath, and Dodson, a strong inside defender and rebounder, back in the rotation. 

Stanford still has deep depth!

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

Totally agree with your analysis. There may indeed be a silver lining in spite of the injuries to several of our key players.

More playing time for these three talented freshmen will most likely speed up their development process and that's good news for the Cardinal.