Vancouver Whitecaps rookie defender Christian Dean is a former Cal Bear and knows enough about basketball to realize that picking a 10 seed to cut down the nets isn’t sound bracketology.
But he’s all-in this year with Cal’s arch-rival, Stanford, even though the Cardinal needed two victories in the Pac-12 tournament just to secure their first NCAA bid in six years.
“I have them winning the whole thing,” Dean said. “Against Michigan in the final. I think I have them winning, 65-62. I want an exciting game.”
He said his Whitecaps teammates didn’t tease him too much for a pick that appeared to remove himself from locker room pool contention.
“I think everybody knows that I kind of have to go with them,” he said.
Dean, 21, bleeds Cardinal red as well as Cal blue. His ties to Stanford really do run that deep. It’s a bond that transcends rivalry and adversity and which certainly doesn’t leave him afraid to flout the odds (or to wear Stanford gear in public). It's a bond that could be shared only by brothers who put family ties first -- and Dean's is Stanford senior forward Josh Huestis.
Stanford's upset of second-seeded Kansas, which sealed a Sweet 16 spot, is the latest unexpected twist in a story that already reads like a movie script. The film would begin outside Houston in the spring of 1993, when Dean and Huestis’ mother, Sutton Lindsey, made the painful but courageous decision to give a second baby boy up for adoption inside 18 months. Huestis was a toddler living with his new guardians in Great Falls, Mont., when Lindsey agreed to send Christian to California with Bill and Elizabeth Dean. They left Texas with the understanding that Lindsey, who already was caring for a 5-year-old son and lacked the means to handle more, would remain part of their lives.
“The things she did for us by giving us up for adoption was, well, it had to be the hardest decision a parent can make. I can’t even imagine,” Huestis, 22, told SI.com from Memphis, where Stanford will meet Dayton on Thursday night. “But she did it for us. She put our futures ahead of hers and we’re thankful … We wouldn’t have the lives we have now.”
Through their mother, and thanks to their flexible and gracious new families, Dean and Huestis forged a relationship that bridged the distance between Great Falls and East Palo Alto, Calif. They saw each other relatively frequently and, in the spring of 2010, lived together for the first time. Those six months proved crucial for Dean’s athletic future and helped lead to a magical March 16. On that day less than two weeks ago, Huestis learned he’d finally play in the NCAA tournament. At around the same time out in Los Angeles, Dean made his professional debut with his adoptive parents in attendance.
“It’s kind of weird how our entire lives kind of culminated in one big moment at exactly the same time,” Huestis said. “I didn’t really find out [Dean had played] until afterward. I was so happy and relieved.”
Dean’s pro soccer career wasn’t a sure thing. He hit a crossroads during his junior year in high school.
“I was done,” he said. “I was missing a lot of stuff, my friends, things I really wanted to do and I couldn’t do. I was 16 years old and wanted to hang out with friends and be a normal kid. I think the [soccer] travel and everything just wore me out to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore and I needed to do something else.”
That something else was moving in with the Huestis family. He spent the semester with his brother in Montana, going to school, working out and watching as Josh prepared for life at Stanford.
“Just seeing how he handled himself was interesting,” Dean said. “He was able to do the basketball side, training, and also balancing time with friends. That was something that really kind of motivated me.”
Said Huestis, “He started to pick up basketball. He was very athletic and he could get by on that alone … I said, ‘How about you start working out with me and we'll see where it goes.’ I think that kind of got his mind off soccer a little bit. It allowed him to have fun with a sport again. The whole time I was trying to remind him, ‘You know, I realize you may be burnt out, but soccer is what you’re great at. You can love it and your future can be in that.’”
Dean rediscovered the love, returned to his club following the school year and then received word that UCLA was interested in recruiting him.
“That spark brought me back,” he said.
But Dean chose Cal, which was closer to home and closer to his brother, who was making the most of his opportunity at Stanford. Huestis averaged 20 minutes per game as a sophomore as the Cardinal won the 2012 NIT title. He started every game the following season and was named to the Pac-12 all defensive team, an honor he claimed again this year. Now he’s Stanford’s all-time leader in blocked shots and the man who helped shut down Kansas phenom Andrew Wiggins. That win, and Lindsey’s visit for senior night at Maples Pavilion, have been the highlights.
Meanwhile, Dean made the transition from left back to center back relatively seamlessly last summer and helped Cal reach the 2013 NCAA quarterfinals. Listed at 6-3, 200 pounds, he had all the necessary physical tools and then some, and said he’s made significant progress on his touch, positioning and dealing with the speed of the pro game. He was drafted third overall by Vancouver and on March 16, he took to the Stubhub Center Field in the 77th minute as the Whitecaps trailed host Chivas USA. Moments later, Kekuta Manneh tallied the equalizer.
“It was really exhilarating and exciting for me,” Dean said. “And it went by really quick. I wish it lasted longer.”
It was a whirlwind. It wasn’t until a day or two later, by which time Dean was a bona fide pro and Huestis on his way to the tournament, that the brothers had a chance to talk.
“I know my phone was blowing up, and the fact that he made his professional debut, when you get to the professional stage, people really take notice,” Huestis said.
Dean’s goal at the moment is to remain on coach Carl Robinson’s radar and get his minutes when he can. He’s behind captain Jay DeMerit, English veteran Andy O'Brien and a pair of internationals -- Honduran Johnny Leverón and Trinidad & Tobago’s Carlyle Mitchell -- on the depth chart. There’s still a long way to go.
But his brother never is far from his thoughts. He’ll head to a sports bar near his home in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon to watch Huestis in the Sweet 16. He won’t be there to socialize.
“I usually watch it alone,” Dean said. “I just kind of sit down and yell at the TV. I've already been recognized a couple of times, but I try to wear a beanie or a hood and keep a low profile.”
Once Stanford's tournament run concludes, Huestis intends to work on solidfying his own professional prospects. But there will be time for a trip north of the border.
“I’m already working on the plan. I’m already talking to teammates … They consider my brother their brother, too. He’s been around so much,” Huestis said. “Vancouver is on the top of our list of places we’ve got to go after college.”
He admitted that he's still relatively new to soccer. Almost everything he knows, he’s picked up from Dean.
“Watching a defender in soccer, you can’t really pick out any stats that show you how well he they played. You have to watch the game,” he said.
But Huestis is eager to learn more, and while he’ll no longer have to don Cal Bear blue when watching his brother play, he’s aware that the atmosphere can get a little intense. Just look for the 6-7 guy with the scarf at BC Place this summer.