This is Part II of the three part Cal Men’s Basketball preview of Golden Bear Lair. The outline of the preview: Part I includes the intro and two points (Intro: Why the Hype?, 1. Cal Returns Pac-12’s Strongest Core, 2. Cal Has Conference’s Best Coach). Part II includes one huge point (3. Cal’s Team Will Be Deeper, a look at the team position by position). Finally, Part III includes the last two points and the conclusion (4. Cal Will Be Better Defensively 5. Cal’s Team Is More Defined, More Experienced 6. Cal Will Benefit from August Trip to Scandinavia, Conclusion: Cal’s Best Season Since 1960?). What does that all add up to? The most in-depth and thorough preview of Cal Men’s Basketball that you will find anywhere.
Part II of Cal Men’s Basketball Preview for Golden Bear Lair
Third, a look at the players by position indicates that Cal could well be a deeper team this year.
Guards: Justin Cobbs, the combination 1 and 2 guard that transferred from Minnesota and is now eligible, has been praised by many who have seen him play. Many have routinely assumed that he will supplant Brandon Smith as starting point guard, bringing more scoring, speed, height, and explosiveness to the team. Sophomore Emerson Murray, once healthy, and who is reputed to be the fastest guard on the squad, may also make a strong jump from his freshman year (e.g., recall Smith’s improvement last year). Murray did show some good flashes toward the end of last season. In sum, Cal will be deeper at the guard position, hopefully 4 deep, without a huge drop-off when starters are rested or are in foul trouble.
Small forward: Crabbe clearly looks stronger and bigger than a year ago. Confidence should be no issue with him and a step up from a great first year is almost a given, assuming good health. In Scandinavia he demonstrated he will be going to the basket more when closely guarded on the perimeter. He also showed an improved intermediate jumper. When he needs a breather, there will be both Rossi and Powers to spell him. Rossi, of course, missed the entirety of last year, but came to Cal reputedly a better outside shooter than Crabbe and was himself a top 100 recruit. Powers is another shooter, who should benefit from his experience last year, when, after Crabbe’s concussion, he was forced to play major minutes in a couple of games. Christian Behrens, one of the two recruited freshmen, also can play the small forward position. Tall (6’8”) and lean (190 pounds), he apparently played well in the summer games in Scandinavia and has drawn praise from Monty for his nose for the basketball and ability to get off shots and score from close to the basket.
Post Players: Kamp was second team all Pac-10 last year, so if his knees permit, we can expect him to have another wonderful year. Kamp is a great teammate in ways that do not appear in a box score (passing, holding position defensively, directing/encouraging his teammates); he also does quite well in the box score. Richard Solomon will be the other starter. He brings much greater athleticism, shot blocking, quick jumping, and speed than did Sanders-Frison, and he is said to have gained 15-20 pounds. Monty has said Solomon has improved from last year, though the way that he said it makes it clear that he wants/expects even more from Solomon. Let’s hope he gets it, qualities like strength and tenacity in commanding the low post, particularly on the defensive end; an offensive low post game that mitigates the loss of points that Sanders-Frison produced so efficiently, and better passing than he has so far demonstrated. In limited minutes last year, Solomon showed a rebounding efficiency comparable to Sanders-Frison’s and he will need to demonstrate that in starter’s minutes this year. As for the men off the bench, so far—based mainly on the 5 games last August in Scandinavia—Thurman appears to have made the biggest jump from last year of any Cal player. Cal’s largest player, Thurman possibly will be the first substitute in the post. This is an extraordinary development, considering he played a total of 28 minutes in 33 games last year. Bak, beset by difficulties in his native Africa, apparently played little basketball, did little conditioning, and did not make the Scandinavian trip. Perhaps just being another year older will make a positive difference in his play this coming season. David Kravish, the other freshman on scholarship, played quite a lot in Scandinavia, scored well, and generally has impressed Montgomery with his basketball intelligence. At the same time he is pretty thin (6’9” and 210 pounds). Monty has talked of how Kravish is always in the right place on the court; will he be able to hold that place against much bigger and stronger players? Videos from Scandinavia show him to be an accurate jump shooter from mid-range. In a recent Cal practice, Monty has stated that the team is deepest at the 4-5 position. Apparently he has seen enough in October practices and on the August trip to believe that all 3 off the bench—Thurman, Bak, and Kravish—are ready to be part of the rotation.
In sum, then, the guard positions will be deeper by the addition of Cobbs. However, Murray is still on the mend, so not yet ready for the season. At the 3, will Rossi be physically fit to perform to his reputed potential? According to Monty Rossi is not yet ready to do so. Can Powers play at a high Division I level? Where will Behrens fit in? There are many questions about the threes off the bench. If the 3 is currently the thinnest position, at least it is comforting to know that Crabbe has already proven to be capable of playing extended minutes. At the 4 &5 positions, if Kamp has major problems with his knees, Cal may be scrambling. However, from Monty’s comments, we can assume he is healthy right now. If he can at least repeat last year’s health, he likely will be an even better player, with his added experience. Solomon should be able to play more minutes than did Sanders-Frison, but how effectively? Again, from Monty’s latest comments, we can assume that Thurman/Bak/Kravish/Behrens will provide high quality minutes behind the starters.
Predictions are always difficult in any sport at any level. Certainly that is so when assessing in advance how deep this year’s Cal team will be. A stronger core is in place than last year, with Gutierrez, Kamp, Crabbe, and Smith. Not long ago, Monty was quoted as saying he has four players that he can count on, while he needs eight. Quite recently, however, he has been more optimistic, with his comments about the 3 bigs that will back Kamp and Solomon. Counting these 3 and Cobbs at the 1 and 2, perhaps Monty has his eight. We can thus conclude that depth will be a strength of this year’s club.