Ron Agostini

Stanford men to hoop it up at Stanislaus

Please keep this a secret. Just between you and me, OK? And, above all, don't alert the media.

Because no one trusts the media.

Do we have a deal?

Here goes: The Stanford men's basketball team will perform its version of "Midnight Madness" on Friday night at its new home away from home -- Warrior Arena at Cal State Stanislaus. The Cardinal will stick around for workouts Saturday and Sunday while Stanislaus coach Keith Larsen plots to keep one of the Lopez twins on campus for a season.

Just kidding about the twins,

of course, but not about the Cardinal hunkering down in the valley to open the 2007-08 preseason. Alas, Stanford's workouts will be closed to the public, so unless you come dressed as an empty seat for the Humboldt State-Stanislaus volleyball game Friday night -- the Cardinal will take the court soon after -- you're out of luck.

All I can report with absolute certainty is Stanford and its veteran NCAA Tournament team are Stanislaus-bound and -- poof! -- they'll be bused back to the Farm by Monday, a hoops hit-and-run.

Just don't tell anyone where you heard this.

Time to get real: Stanford coach Trent Johnson loves the "Midnight Madness" overkill like he loves a root canal. He'd rather sequester his team off the beaten path than subject the Cardinal to Maples Pavilion and red and white streamers.

"We decided two months ago to get away and treat it as a road game," Johnson said Wednesday. "We wanted a quiet environment and no distractions. For me, it's a teaching environment. My practices are always closed."

Before you ask, "So why not just lock the doors at Maples, Coach?" here's an answer: Johnson likes the idea of an on-the-road boot camp while Stanford celebrates homecoming and reunions this weekend. Last year, he and his men hustled up to Reno for a scrimmage against Nevada.

There are other reasons for the Cardinal Cameo, as you might guess, and they begin with Johnson's friendship with Larsen. They, along with current Stanford assistant coach Doug Oliver (who has a daughter living in Modesto) huddled together on Mike Montgomery's staff in 1996-97 when Stanford advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.

"Trent said he was asking around about a nice weekend retreat," Larsen said. "I said, 'I'll try.' "

Actually, Larsen all but lined Highway 99 with red roses, and name another Division II coach who wouldn't welcome his team's communing with a big-time program. The Warriors can't practice with the Cardinal -- NCAA rules say Stanislaus can't begin until Monday -- but they can watch, compare notes and reel in that Pac-10 vibe.

"I'm looking forward to being with Keith and letting him evaluate how we do things," Johnson said, "and maybe we'll help them win a few games."

Then there's the Terry Johnson Factor. He's No. 24 on the current Stanislaus roster, a 6-foot-6 recruit from Moorpark Community College.

He's also Trent Johnson's son.

"I got a phone call from Trent in April," Larsen said. "He was hoping Terry could play for us, but he didn't want to take a dime from our program. I didn't like that idea until he just said, 'Save your money. We can afford Stanislaus.' "

By the way, the Warriors will be compensated just fine, thank you. The Cardinal receives its hideaway while Stanislaus receives a reported $10,000 and a basketball date at Stanford in November 2008. It's Stanford's generous "Thank you" coupled with Stanislaus' "Where do we sign?"

The Warriors will get $3,500 for their Nov. 1 game at Pacific, $4,000 from Santa Clara on Nov. 5 and $7,000 for a New Year's Eve party at Nevada. Much like its tuition, Stanford's check trumps all.

To be sure, the money matters at Stanislaus, which struggles just to hold serve with its more cash-friendly Cal State colleagues in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Pomona, San Bernardino and Humboldt all offer the maximum $120,000 annually for 10 scholarships. Meanwhile, Stanislaus supplies $20,000 while the Warriors raise another $30,000.

"I'm scrambling to stay 70 percent lower," Larsen said. "Actually, Trent and Doug are good friends of mine and they've done me a favor. I would do it all for nothing. It's an incredible opportunity for my kids to watch Stanford practice and just be with them."

But until Friday night -- sshhhhhhh.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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