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Stanford guard Anthony Brown looks to take another step forward in 2014-15

Jul 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST

source: AP

AP Photo

LAS VEGAS — Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, one of the questions to be asked of the Stanford Cardinal was what they could expect from 6-foot-7 guard Anthony Brown. After putting together two solid seasons, the Los Angeles native played in just four games in 2012-13, missing the majority of the season due to a hip injury that required surgery. Would Brown be the player who averaged 8.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore? Or could he possibly give Johnny Dawkins even more in a season billed as an important one for a head coach who had yet to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament.

Not only did Brown meet those numbers, he exceeded them, accounting 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, as he also developed into one of the Pac-12′s best shooters. Brown, who hovered around the “180″ mark (50 percent or better from the field, 40 percent or better from three and 90 percent of better from the foul line) for most of the season, finished the 2013-14 campaign shooting 47.5% from the field, 45.3% from three and 78.5% from the foul line with all three marks representing career bests.

Brown began the season well, reaching double figures in each of Stanford’s first nine games, and by the end of the year he was the Pac-12′s Most Improved Player as the Cardinal had earned its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008.

“[Confidence] was the big thing,” Brown told NBCSports.com at the LeBron James Skills Academy. “I started off the season hot. Going into last year I was coming back [from the injury] and my main focus was to come in and be a shooter, space the floor for my teammates. We had great big guys last year, and that’s something I pride myself on. Once things got rolling, I just used [my shooting ability] as a weapon.”

While it was frustrating to be unable to play, Brown was able to pick up some valuable lessons during the 2012-13 season. As a result the game slowed down for him, as Brown picked up on the subtleties of the game while sidelined. That wasn’t the case for Brown during his first two seasons, and not only did that help with Brown’s individual skill set, but it also helped with his understanding of his teammates’ games.

Another change that impacted Brown last season was the loss of Aaron Bright, who played in seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to a dislocated right shoulder. It had already been decided by Coach Dawkins that Chasson Randle, who finished the season as a first team All Pac-12 selection, would handle the primary ball-handler responsibilities. But the loss of Bright meant even more opportunities for Brown to operate with the basketball in his hands, serving as a secondary option, capable of creating for himself as well as his teammates (a career-best 2.0 assists per game).

The next task for Brown and his teammates is to account for the loss of forwards Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, with the former being a member of the Pac-12 All-Defensive team and the latter being a first team all-conference selection. The Cardinal won’t lack for experience, but those are two important personnel losses to address in the coming months.

“It has to be a team effort,” Brown noted when discussing how Stanford will account for the loss of those two starters. “Dwight and Josh probably pulled down close to 15 rebounds per game and both could block shots (Huestis averaged 1.9 bpg), so it has to be a team effort. And we have to bring the freshmen along as quickly as possible.

“Me and Chasson have to get in there a little bit more; we’ll probably have to pressure the ball a little bit more and not get guys get behind us,” Brown continued. “And we have to gang rebound. Last year we relied on, ‘Josh go get that [rebound], Dwight go get that’. This year all five of us have to rebound.”

The Pac-12 race will be an interesting one, because while there’s a team considered to be the prohibitive favorite in Arizona there are a lot of questions to be answered with no clear-cut challenger to the defending regular season champions. Stanford fashions itself as one of the possible options, and the progression of their freshmen will be something to consider.

Of the four arriving on campus two, Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis, are talented front court options, who will look to compete for minutes alongside returning starter Stefan Nastic. If Humphrey and Travis prove capable of contributing immediately, Stanford could have the front court help it needs to go along with its productive perimeter options. And that would place Brown and his teammates right in the mix amongst the many teams looking to contend in 2014-15.

“Our goal is to win the Pac-12,” Brown stated. “We want to be in that hunt. If we’re in the top two or three, we’re giving ourselves a chance [to win the conference].”