At first glance, Stanford shooting guard Dion Cross can be an
underwhelming sight. With his pipe-cleaner legs, bum ankle,
tendinitis in his left knee and a left shoulder so bothersome it
even popped out in his sleep one night last season, Cross is a
long shot to make it to the end of each day's practice, let
alone to the NBA. He isn't overly fast, doesn't handle the ball
particularly well, needs work on his defense. All Cross does is
stick the ball in the basket from anywhere in the gym, wreaking
havoc on defenses throughout the Pac-10 with three-point shots
that inspire panegyrics.
Arizona coach Lute Olson calls Cross the best three-point
shooter the Pac-10 has seen since Steve Kerr starred for the
Wildcats in the late '80s. "The biggest problem that Dion
presents to defenses is his ability to get his shot off so
quickly," says Olson. "You have to have a defender right in his
face the second he gets the ball, otherwise he'll get his shot
off. If you try to play zone against him, then you have to know
where he is at all times. And you're going to have to extend the
zone area that he's in."
Stanford coach Mike Montgomery becomes rhapsodic when he talks
about his senior guard. "His release is textbook--elbow in,
shoulders square. He never shoots off-balance," says Montgomery
of Cross, who knocked down 48% of his three-pointers last year
while averaging 16.8 points a game. "He has beautiful wrist and
hand motion, puts a nice backspin on the ball every time. Some
guys shoot a knuckleball and it goes in, but it's not pure.
Once the ball leaves Cross's hands, however, the purest shot on
the college basketball landscape ceases to be the prettiest.
Cross, a no-nonsense farm boy, prefers the shortest distance
between two points. No Gateway Arches, no World B. Free
parabolas for him. The trajectory of his jumper is as flat as
the countryside surrounding Woodson, Ark. (pop. 300), where Dion
grew up picking peas, okra and watermelon on his uncle Nolan
MacMurray's farm. When he wasn't working the land, Cross was
launching his signature guided missiles at the wooden goal in
the yard of his family's home.
October 23, 1995
"At first he played on grass," says Cross's mother, Kathryn.
"Then he wore that smooth. After a while there would be a
depression in the dirt under the basket, so he'd fill that up
and pack it down."
She allowed her son one frill. "I liked those red-white-and-blue
nets," says Dion. "I liked that string music they made when you
got a swish."
Kathryn teaches French at Parkview High, where by the time he
was a senior, Cross had emerged as the second-best player in the
state. He longed to stay home and play at Arkansas for coach
Nolan Richardson, but the Hogs seldom took two players from
in-state, and that year's scholarship was going to a sculpted
power forward out of Russellville by the name of Corliss
"The first time I played against Dion was in fifth grade,"
recalls Williamson. "It was an AAU game, and we both played
center. I was a big deal around there, and he came in and wore
me out. He was blocking my shots, taking me to school. I
remember it because that was my first real challenge. After that
I decided I was really going to work hard to improve my game.
It's funny how people's lives interact."
Cross and Williamson clashed again when both were high school
seniors and their teams met in the semifinals of the state
championship. Parkview knocked off Russellville and the next day
won the title. Cross averaged 25 points per game in the
tournament, but Williamson was named its MVP. The
Razorback-to-be took the MVP medal that had been draped around
his neck and hung it on Cross, raising the guard's right arm
over his head, as a referee does to a victorious boxer. "The
tournament had been played in my hometown, which had a lot to do
with why they gave it to me," says Williamson. "Dion had had a
great tournament, and I felt in my heart it was the right thing
This gracious act having provided a grace note to their
schoolboy playing days, the Arkansans went on to successful
collegiate careers. Williamson, of course, won an NCAA
championship with the Razorbacks two seasons later, and last
spring the Sacramento Kings made him the 13th pick in the NBA
The more modestly talented Cross had to travel farther and wait
more patiently for more modest success. Snubbed by Arkansas, he
went from life on the farm to life on the Farm, as the Stanford
campus is known (it was built on farmland once owned by
university founder Leland Stanford). The young man with the
gorgeous mechanics, who prides himself on never taking an
off-balance shot, was off-balance in his first year in the Bay
Area. "It was just how open people were," he says. "Here,
[students] want to tell you about their sex lives, their
politics. In Arkansas, people are more conservative."
Sharing his wariness of Californians was Brevin Knight, a point
guard out of East Orange, N.J., who arrived at Stanford a year
after Cross. "Everyone here is friendly," says Knight
suspiciously. "It took some getting used to. Here, strangers
walk right up to you and say hi. Back home, you don't ever look
a person in the eye."
The brassy, 5'10", 165-pound Knight formed, with the far more
retiring Cross, a kind of town-and-country backcourt. "I've
never been to Arkansas," says Knight, whose distaste for things
rural appears to rival Woody Allen's, "and I'm not planning to
visit anytime soon." (Cross, for his part, has been to New
Jersey to visit relatives and has pointed out for Knight's
edification that Arkansas is quieter and smells better than the
During the gloomy year before Knight arrived, Stanford lost 23
of its 30 games. Cross, a freshman, was the lone bright spot,
starting the final 11 games of the season, during which he
averaged 15.2 points. The following season, Knight, with his
dazzling quickness and ball-handling skills, proved an ideal
complement to Cross, a marksman who needed help creating his
shots. Stanford improved to 17-11 in 1993-94, losing to Gonzaga
in the first round of the NIT. The Cardinal continued its ascent
last season, racking up 20 victories and winning its first NCAA
tournament game since 1942, defeating North Carolina-Charlotte
before being overrun by the Minutemen of Massachusetts in the
An avid weightlifter, Cross increased his range and scored in
double figures in 25 of the Cardinal's 29 games last season.
"It's rare that you're surprised when someone misses from 25
feet," says Montgomery, "but Dion just gets to feeling it, and
it goes down from anywhere." The coach was pleased that Cross
spent this past summer rounding out his rather one-dimensional
game by playing in the tough San Francisco Pro-Am League, in
which his team was knocked out of the playoffs by a squad that
included a trio of NBA players, Gary Payton, Brian Shaw and
At 6'2", Cross is aware that his basketball future is not at the
2-guard spot, so he made it a point to play point guard over the
summer. "The main question people have about me is, Can I bring
it up? Can I lead the team?" he says. "I felt very comfortable
doing that over the summer." To further his development, Cross
has asked Montgomery to let him play point guard when Knight is
on the bench taking a breather.
Knight sees their disparate styles as a function of geography.
"There were eight parks in my town alone," he says. "There was
always a place to play. Down there in Arkansas, there aren't
that many people, so it was hard for Dion to get a game. So he
worked on his shot all day. Now that's his game."
Stanford has 95% of its scoring back from last season's 20-win
team. In addition to constituting one of the country's best
backcourts, Cross and Knight will also be among the likeliest to
get sick of one another, since they will share an apartment this
year. There is no Oscar-Felix duality here, though. Neither one
would think of embarking on a road trip without a clothes iron
and spray starch. "You come in our apartment, you see an ironing
board, a clothes hamper," adds Knight. "Guys come in here and
think they're in a girl's apartment."
Asked if he is still weirded out by the openness of his fellow
students, Cross, a communications major who is on schedule to
graduate with his class this spring, smiles. "I've adapted," he
says. "I've become more open-minded. My feeling is, I'm only
going to Stanford once, so I'm trying to make the most of it."
If he can't make an NBA roster, he may take his jumper overseas.
"Make some money," he says, "come back, update the old resume
and get a job just like the regular folks."
Compare this guy with the provincial freshman who phoned home
almost nightly, complaining to his mother that he wasn't
playing, that his classmates were strange. He has traveled
light-years from the dirt court and weather-beaten goal with the
tricolored net. Still, when he squares his shoulders and
launches the rock, the music remains the same.
Remember the old days when defense meant five guys standing
around, arms stretched to the rafters, feet glued to the floor?
Those formations were called zone defenses, of course. And now
they are virtually extinct. Who killed them? Sure shooters,
that's who. One of the marksmen forcing defenders to venture out
to the three-point line to challenge every shot is Stanford
guard Dion Cross. And he has company. Here, listed
alphabetically, are 10 more of the nation's top shooters, with
statistics that are testaments to their skill.
Ray Allen, SG, UConn: As good off the dribble as he is
spotting up; hit 85 of 191 (44.5%) three-pointers in '94-95
Dante Calabria, SG, North Carolina: Tied Tar Heel record with
eight threes against Florida State on Jan. 25
Tony Delk, SG, Kentucky: Needs just two threes to pass
Derrick Miller and become Cats' most prolific three-point scorer
Eric Eberz, SF, Villanova: Led Big East in three-pointers
made, averaging 3.0 per conference game
Brian Evans, SF, Indiana: Hit 68.4% of his three-pointers
(13-19) over final three games of last season
Brian Jackson, SG, Evansville: Tops in the nation in
three-point field goal percentage (55.8%, on 53 of 95 shooting)
Chris Kingsbury, SG, Iowa: Established every Hawkeye game,
season and career three-point record in his first two seasons
Steve Nash, PG, Santa Clara: Better on threes (45.4%) than
overall (44.5%), once nailed 15 of 19 in one three-game stretch
Curtis Staples, SG, Virginia: 309 of his 404 points (76%) came
from behind the three-point stripe
Darryl Wilson, SG, Mississippi State: Led the SEC, averaging
3.1 threes per game and shooting 41.4% from behind the arc