March 10, 2015

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Stefan Nastic points back to spring break two years ago as the moment he changed his approach to basketball and to life.

Frustrated with his inconsistent Stanford career, Nastic called his parents in Canada and told them he planned to stay on campus by himself to get his thoughts together.

Nastic had the entire gym solo most of the week. That silence, with the bounce of a ball, was exactly what he needed.

''It was taking that leap,'' he said, ''seeing the fears I have and trying to face them. That was an important time to reassess.''

Nastic is now a fifth-year senior already with a psychology degree, and he is one of three Cardinal tri-captains currently working in master's programs. His is in communication.

The 6-foot-11 Nastic makes his last March hurrah for sixth-seeded Stanford (18-12) when it opens play at the Pac-12 tournament Wednesday against No. 11 seed Washington in Las Vegas, hoping to extend his final season after last year's special run to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen.

Former teammate and close friend Dwight Powell watched Nastic's growth as a deep thinker with an incredible attention to detail to someone who has learned not to be so hard on himself through it all.

''Early in his career injuries and limited playing time affected him a great deal because they were constantly on his mind,'' Powell said. ''I'm extremely proud of how far Stef has come as a player and as a man and how he has embraced the leadership role he now finds himself in, but I'm more excited for his future.''

Nastic is one of the Stanford student-athletes taking part in a video for ''The Resilience Project'' on campus, which states that ''rejection, failure, or disappointment, in the context of learning, are as valuable as the success we strive for.''

In that, Nastic addresses the often-taboo topic of mental health and looks to share what worked for him through the struggles early in his Stanford career. Part of what has guided his path is representing ''a positive for others.'' He figures if he can reach even a couple of people who might relate to similar hard times, then he has helped.

''There are definitely setbacks in college,'' he said. ''We all go through those. Others can't assume they understand what's going on. Just the importance of family and connecting with others and support. You can't do it alone, and trying to be as resilient as possible - not giving up when it seems easy to do so.''

For Nastic, it began when he got hurt his freshman season. He came off the bench the first five games before missing the remainder of the season with a foot injury. That put him behind, and Nastic wasn't sure he would find his place on the team again.

While others might have transferred, Nastic was determined to make it work at Stanford. ''His love for the game and his unwavering commitment to improvement,'' pushed Nastic through, according to former roommate and good friend Omar Yaghi.

''Stefan's journey was rough but one that has shaped him into who he has become,'' Yaghi said. ''He is much more knowledgeable, disciplined, and stronger emotionally and physically, and he is definitely prepared for the next challenge that comes his way.''

After the injury, Nastic started all of six games over the next two seasons before becoming a regular starter as a redshirt junior last year.

The coaches knew that Nastic, always one of their hardest workers, was disappointed how things were going early. Then they watched him do something about it.

He is always one to reach out and ask how a teammate's day is going or check in about someone's family.

''That's just who he is,'' assistant coach Charles Payne said.

''I'm seeing what I'm capable of overcoming,'' Nastic said. ''I realized the importance of taking full responsibility. I take responsibility for my past. That was huge. That was a big thing I learned.''

He started all 30 games this season and was the team's third-leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds while also blocking one shot a game.

Just last fall, Nastic moved back into campus apartments to shorten his commute to class, which is now on foot or a much shorter bike ride. It also has improved his interaction with the Stanford community and all the people he cherishes seeing every day.

He has his sights on playing professionally, a long journey that was well worth it to reach that confident mindset again.

''I'm really proud I've trended in the right direction,'' Nastic said. ''The light at the end of the tunnel is making your own light. I didn't do it alone.''

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