- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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This should not come as a shock, but Stanford guys are pretty smart.
The two Cardinal teammates on Jay Wright's World University Games team are quickly picking up what Wright wants and already have become two of the team's key members as practices in Colorado Springs continue this week ahead of the tournament, Aug. 11-21 in Izmir, Turkey.
"They play -- and I mean this in a complimentary way -- an international kind of game," said Wright, Villanova's head coach. "They're both quick and so agile. And they can defend."
Wright has made defense a priority this week, focusing on protecting the 3-point line. According to Hernandez, if a player drives inside, Wright wants his players to look back out at the 3-point line rather than trailing or supporting down low. That's because Wright expects the international players to think 3-pointer, not layup or dunk, on every possession.
And that bodes well for Haryasz' length and Hernandez's fleet reads.
"Matt is everywhere and gets his hands on everything," Wright said. "We had two scrimmages against the Air Force guys where they spread you out and run their stuff like an international team by looking to get the 3s. And the Stanford guys have been really good in reading this."
Wright said the players on the squad are much more used to playing help defense, but he doesn't want any shooter left idle.
"Those two have been working really hard at it and it's probably because of the intelligence," Wright said. "They have adjusted as well as anybody, if not quicker than anybody else."
This isn't to diss the talent on this squad that includes Duke's Shelden Williams, Boston College's Craig Smith, Syracuse's Gerry McNamara, Cincinnati's Eric Hicks, Villanova's Randy Foye, Kentucky's Patrick Sparks, West Virginia's Mike Gansey, Minnesota's Vincent Grier, Iowa's Greg Brunner and Washington's Bobby Jones.
But the reality is this team could do more for Hernandez and Haryasz, and ultimately Stanford, more than for any other players and/or team this season.
Haryasz admittedly needed to get stronger in the post. No offense to Rob Little, last season's starting center at Stanford, but it's not like practicing against Williams, Smith and Hicks.
"This is helping me a lot because I'm learning to rebound against thicker guys, playing post defense and proving I'm capable of scoring down low," said the 6-11 Haryasz, who averaged 12.5 points and 9.1 rebounds last season.
"You've got five guys down low who were averaging nine or 10 rebounds a game last season," Haryasz said by phone from Colorado Springs late Tuesday night. "Every time the ball goes flying up there, you're getting hit and it's real physical down low. You've got to be a man and bang around."
Hernandez needed to run a team in a different way. He has done the methodical Stanford thing for three years. He tried the NBA draft but only got a sniff from Golden State and Sacramento for two workouts. He pulled out of the draft and is in the Springs looking to expand his game, especially defensively.
"We're really concerned about making them [the opponent] catch the ball out high and we're switching everything," said Hernandez, who averaged four assists a game to go with his 15.2 points a game.
"We never switched at Stanford," Hernandez said. "Just being here and having to guard these guys every day is going to make me better."
And Stanford, too, especially if senior wing Dan Grunfeld is 100 percent back from an ACL injury suffered last February. Grunfeld (17.9 ppg), who led the Cardinal in scoring last season in 22 out of 31 games, would remain the primary scoring option. Hernandez and Haryasz would be 2-3 in some order. The Cardinal will have to go to role players after this big three, but someone like Fred Washington, Tim Morris or Peter Prowitt could be a sleeper on this squad.
A year ago, the Cardinal struggled to get to know Trent Johnson, formerly Nevada's head coach and Mike Montgomery's former assistant. Stanford started the season 2-4, including a 1-2 mark in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. But the Cardinal (18-13, 11-7 Pac-10) did finish by winning six of their last nine games. The season ended on a sour note with a blowout first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Mississippi State (93-70).
So, why should the Cardinal be looked at as a national player?
"We'll have a lot more intensity," Hernandez said. "We'll start a lot better than what we did. We're not big, and if one of the big guys goes down or gets into foul trouble, then it could be trouble."
Haryasz said the team was too indecisive on the court as to who was going to make a play. Also, Maples Pavilion was being redone, forcing Johnson to take his first Stanford team away from its regular home.
"There were a lot of factors for us to start the season," Haryasz said. "But [Chris, Dan and I] have been together for four years. This season should be good."
It should be real good if Hernandez and Haryasz have anything to say about it.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.