STANFORD (CBS/AP) — Johnny Dawkins only needs to glance down at his roster and see four seniors listed to feel a little better about Stanford’s chances this season.

After all, that’s four more than last year.

Dawkins begins his fourth season as the Cardinal’s coach with a full roster of recruits he can truly call his own. After two straight losing seasons, the pressure is on Dawkins to show progress and keep Stanford competitive in the Pac-12 Conference, and he’s banking on improvement from within to spark that change.

“Most of those kids were thrown to the wolves last year,” said Dawkins, previously the top assistant under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and a former All-American at the school. “I think we’ll benefit from those kids playing from that experience. Stepping into conference play, it won’t be new. They’ll be a little more comfortable in their environment.”

The Cardinal return several starters but are still a relatively young group.

They finished 15-16 last season and 7-11 in conference play, good for seventh in the league. If Stanford hopes to break away from the middle of the pack, it will have to make strides with many of the same players.

Scoring leader and senior power forward Josh Owens is back and so are Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell, who both earned All-Freshman league honors last season. Freshman point guard Chasson Randle also could see significant time after leading Stanford in scoring during a six-game trip to Spain this summer, and a more balanced roster should provide some relief.

“We’re still in the process of building our program back to where we want it to be,” Dawkins said. “That’s a process. But I’m very excited. We’re starting to get classes in now that I think complement each other. We’re starting to build a program that doesn’t have gaps in players that have been in our system. We’re positioning well to continue to improve.”

Dawkins also believes the team’s Spain tour brought players closer together.

Stanford played six teams from the ACB League—considered perhaps the best professional league outside the NBA—during an 11-day trip that included stops in Madrid, Alicante and Barcelona. While the Cardinal never won a game, the experience of playing franchises such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona Regal—who have beaten NBA teams—couldn’t be duplicated at Maples Pavilion.

The team also toured cities and took in the culture, from stopping at the historical Royal Palace in Madrid to munching on paella on the famous Las Ramblas Street in Barcelona.

“This was sort of our way to immerse ourselves in a cultural experience,” Dawkins said.

Whether the offseason efforts translate into regular-season wins remains a mystery for now.

Stanford will have time to find its rhythm with a relatively weak nonconference schedule this year. The Cardinal could face tougher competition if they can advance past Fresno State and the winner of the Colorado State-SMU game at Maples Pavilion and reach the third round of the NIT tip-off tournament in Madison Square Garden.

The Pac-12 is expected to have another deep year and Bay Area rival California could even contend for the league crown, stealing some of the spotlight away from Stanford again. While Dawkins isn’t ready to say the Cardinal could rise to the top of the league just yet, he does expect his team to be closer to that goal than a year ago.

“I think we can be competitive in our conference,” Dawkins said. “Where that will lead us, no one knows. But I think we’ll be a more competitive team than we were last season.”



(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)