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Standing Tall

For center Stefan Nastic, success demands accountability.

Photo: Toni Gauthier

Stefan Nastic was gone, chugging off to class with a little less stomp than he typically shows rumbling up and down the basketball court. The interview was over; the reporter and a member of the athletic department already were kibitzing about how it went.

Then the door to the media room swung open again, and back came Nastic. No surprise, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance. Having thought of a better, fuller answer to the last question, he was determined to unspool it, then double-time his way to class. So it goes with this deeply driven fifth-year senior: He grinds away at every kind of challenge he encounters. You always can find him trying to do it better.

Nastic, a psychology major, says he’s fueled by the mind-set that “no matter how hard something feels, you don’t back down from that.” He’s also part of a triumvirate that infuses coach Johnny Dawkins’s team with an unusual level of maturity. Nastic, a 6-foot-11 center, senior guard Chasson Randle and fifth-year swingman Anthony Brown are working on master’s degrees while finishing their Stanford careers with a capstone basketball project—cementing the revival of the men’s program with a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. As of early February, after big wins and unsettling losses, that was still very much a work in progress. Just the way Nastic expects things to be.

Nastic helps lead the squad in a variety of ways, but the one he recites as a theme is “taking absolute full responsibility for yourself.” Which underlines why Dawkins talks about maturity as such a positive influence. “When things aren’t going your way,” explains Nastic, “it’s about not pointing fingers at others, but taking full accountability. We’ve all been there, where you’ve looked at other factors when you really have to look to yourself.”

Photo: Bob Drebin/

This translates into Nastic as a radically improved player over the last couple of seasons and particularly this year. His career started slowly (playing just five games as a freshman before a foot injury), and he remained in the background until last season, when he started 35 of 36 games. During every Stanford telecast, every broadcaster now recounts the same story about Nastic: He’s the guy who was at the gym as early as he could be each morning during the offseason. Overachiever? More like an inevitable achiever, as well as someone utterly unafraid of the contact side of the sport.

After the first 23 games this season, with Stanford 16-7 overall at that point, Nastic was third in scoring on the team, averaging almost 14 points per game. That’s up from 7.4 last season. He was a close second to Brown in rebounds, averaging almost seven per game (up from fewer than three last season). And perhaps even more meaningfully, he’s an inspirational presence. In a notable mid-January win over defending national champion Connecticut, he finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and a bandage around his forehead because of a nasty cut that required seven stitches.

Smaller moments stand out, too. Consider just one shot he took—one out of a couple of hundred he had put up through the first two months of play. He faked his defender into the air, nimbly went around him and released a 
perfect soft jumper. Then he fiercely pounded his chest. Why?

“Because I love this game.”

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