Whitecaps' Christian Dean caught up in March Madness


Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (left) at practice at Thunderbird Stadium at UBC Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (left) at practice at Thunderbird Stadium at UBC Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

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VANCOUVER - The NCAA basketball tournament known as March Madness is performed on hardwood. But for millions of Americans, and an increasing number of Canadians, it first is played out in the mind.

Drawn up on a table napkin, or configured on spreadsheets, a tablet app or a dry-erase whiteboard, filling out bracket permutations for the 64 teams involved is as integral to the American experience as the Star Spangled Banner.

“Americans guys, Canadian guys, maybe some European guys, a lot of us are into it,” explains Christian Dean, a rookie defender with the Vancouver Whitecaps. “Steve Beitashour (Whitecaps defender) organized the brackets this year. I have Stanford winning the final.”

According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Think, our first instinct, the snap judgment, is usually the right one. Success is inversely proportional to the analytical time spent in predicting the outcome.

In Dean’s case, it took all of a milli-second.

His older half-brother, Josh Huestis, is Stanford’s career leader in blocked shots, the senior forward who had the primary responsibility for guarding Canadian Andrew Wiggins of Kansas in last Sunday’s 60-57 upset by the No. 10 Cardinal over the No. 2 ranked Jayhawks in the South regional.

Stanford is on its way to the Sweet 16, facing fellow upstart Dayton Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.

“I watched the (Sunday’s) game at Craft (the mega-pub in the Olympic Village of Vancouver),” Dean said after practice Tuesday, as the Whitecaps resumed training following Saturday’s scoreless draw with the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass. “It was a long flight home. But I’m so excited to watch those (March Madness) games, I don’t pay any attention to being tired.”

The Whitecaps, undefeated following their second straight draw on the road, arrived home in Vancouver at 12:15 a.m. Sunday after their return flight from Boston.

Dean didn’t get to play against the Revolution, as manager Carl Robinson chose to start Johnny Leveron at centre back in place of captain Jay DeMerit, who was left behind in Vancouver to rest.

“It’s a three-deep position,” Dean explained. “Johnny is a national team player (Honduras). Jay is a former national team player (U.S.) and he’s the captain here. It’s hard to get ahead of them, but I’m traveling with the team, which I’ve very happy about, being so early in the season.”

As the third overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Dean, 21, is being integrated slowly into the lineup because the Whitecaps are stacked at centre back. He made his first Major League Soccer appearance on March 15 against Chivas USA, playing 13 minutes in the 1-1 draw, and his poise and functionality were a revelation.

“The competitiveness (within the team) has been a delight,” said assistant coach Martyn Pert. “There are at least two players at every position who are good players. The priority is to try and win football matches. The second point is: we want to develop the young players.

“Christian has the physical attributes. Big, strong. The technical attributes are not bad. He’s good on the ball and he’s a great person, a great kid who wants to learn. I would say, if I he keeps at it, he has a helluva chance.”

Tall, muscular and superbly athletic -- Dean could be the new model of what a defender should be.

At 6’3’, 200 pounds, he cuts an imposing figure on the Whitecaps roster and could be mistaken for a basketball player, were he not in soccer strip.

Children of a common mother, Christian and Josh were raised by adoptive parents in different parts of the U.S., Huestis growing up in Montana and Dean in Palo Alto, Calif., the home of Stanford.

For most of their lives, the two brothers were separated by distance, though they occasionally met at family gatherings. Through the years, however, Christian and Josh dreamed of living under the same roof together, a circumstance that came about in Josh’s senior high school year in Great Falls, Mont., where his younger brother came to live for six months.

After the six-foot-seven Huestis left on a basketball scholarship to Stanford, Dean, 15 months his junior, chose to play soccer at Cal-Berkeley, another Bay Area school, so they would continue to be closely involved in each other’s lives.

“I played football, basketball, soccer, a little ice hockey -- pretty much everything,” Dean said. “Josh was pretty much a basketball guy, but I was way better at soccer. Basketball was one of my favourite sports. I play pick-up games every summer at Stanford. So I’ve gone out and played against some of the guys on the (varsity) team.”

Two of them -- Stefan Nastic, a 6-foot-11 junior centre from Thornhill, Ont., and Dwight Powell, a 6-foot-10 senior from Toronto -- were major factors in tacking the stunning loss on Kansas.

“I’m really close with Dwight,” Dean said. “He’s my brother’s roommate and best friend.”

It should come as no surprise that Dean pegs Stanford as a near lock to survive the next round of March Madness against a team even more surprising than the Cardinal -- the Dayton Flyers.

His biggest concern is being able to break away from Whitecaps' training to watch it.

“I’ll probably be working out with the guys in the weight room,” he said. “And there’s no TV.”

CORNER KICKS -- A freak accident could keep Whitecaps midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker from playing in Saturday’s game against the Houston Dynamo at BC Place. Reo-Coker tripped over a bike rack, cutting his face and suffering a possible concussion, in a stroll through Vancouver on Sunday. He was absent from Tuesday's practice.

“He's had a scrape on his face and the medics will assess whether he has a concussion,” said assistant coach Martyn Pert. “At the moment, there’s no definite answer on that (whether he’ll play).”



Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (left) at practice at Thunderbird Stadium at UBC Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (left) at practice at Thunderbird Stadium at UBC Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (left) at practice at Thunderbird Stadium at UBC Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean (centre) at practice at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium on Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
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