The California Golden Bears took a trip to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark as a team with an established starting 5, several injuries to key contributors, and a lot of question marks on the bench. They come out as a team that despite playing several games is more healthy than before and with several question marks answered.
As for the results, a 4-1 trip is a terrific result and there is nothing to be ashamed of. For more on those games, check for the game recaps on each one that we’ve posted earlier in the last week. The skinny is this: the Bears blew out Solna and Denmark, played close games and won with Uppsala and the Danish (again), and lost a thriller to the Norwegians. I’m no expert on the quality of international basketball clubs, but my guess is that the national teams are high quality, at the very least.
As for what we can take away from the trip, I’ll use some bullet points to give a player by player analysis:
-The one item on my wishlist for the summer was for Richard Solomon to pack on some pounds of muscle and bulk up. The roster lists him as 220, which I believe is an upgrade from last year, and you can tell that at the very least he’s bigger. He looks to have developed a hook shot, which would be a big step toward him expanding on Sanders-Frison’s production a year ago.
-Didn’t get a chance to see Harper Kamp or Jorge Gutierrez play, sadly. Two of my favorite Bears and two seniors, but we’ll see plenty of those two when the season comes around. They are healthy now, and that’s all that matters.
-Allen Crabbe still has the beautiful jump shot that makes him such a great scorer. His handle has appeared to have improved, and his defense (in limited viewing) has stepped up. Those were two of his weakest points last year and that makes him a much more of a diversified threat and a more valuable player than last year. It won’t appear as much on a score sheet, but this team taking it to the next level relies on Crabbe being an all-around player.
-Brandon Smith and Justin Cobbs are going to be linked, at the very least until the season begins and we see who’s playing at the opening tip. Cobbs is clearly the superior in terms of athleticism, but his defense is still a question mark. We know who Brandon Smith is, although his assertiveness at scoring is miles ahead of where it was last year. He’ll never be Chris Paul, but adding scoring to his passing abilities makes him a better option than last year’s version. Cobbs can certainly make things happen that are more exciting, but that goes the other way as well. No judgments passed yet; there’s still a whole season to decide how this goes.
-Out of the shooting 2 and 3s, Alex Rossi has the lead over Jeff Powers. Powers didn’t play at all, or I didn’t notice him, in my limited viewing. Rossi has a really nice jump shot; we’ve heard about it, but it’s nice to see it in the Blue and Gold.
-Robert Thurman wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive when I saw him, but the results (21 points?) speak for themselves. He isn’t going to score a lot, and he’s clumsy, but as back-up bigs you can do worse. He can rebound and body up in the post, which is more than you can say for a lot of bigs. Ryan Kravish has a high basketball IQ, and he can shoot the 15 footer. I was unsure about him when we signed him, but for now I really like the pick-up. Christian Behrens didn’t play much when I saw him, so I’m not going to give many thoughts on him in this space. Bak Bak didn’t play but does have his Visa problems resolved, which is good news. He’s going to have his hands full retaining his playing time.
-This team is going to be better; it may seem obvious, but there is improvement across the board and we’re not even in September yet. Sean Miller said (paraphrased from ESPN article I can’t find at the moment) we were the best halfcourt offensive squad in the conference last year, and the stats bear that out. Defense is still a question mark, but after last year it can’t get much worse.
This is going to be a great year; the trip to Europe is just the start. This season figures to be one comparable to the club in 09-10, in that both return a massive core of talent and figure to be one of the favorites in the conference this year. If this team can mirror their success, then we’re in for one heck of a year. Go Bears!