New Cal coach Cuonzo Martin begins practice with his team Friday, but he’s already excited and encouraged by the Bears’ potential.
“I like this team,” he said this week. “If we can stay healthy, we could be really good.”
Fans can see the Bears for the first time Saturday in an open practice starting at 1 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. The first 250 fans will get free T-shirts, fans will have the chance to win Cal gear including signed basketballs, and players and coaches will be available after for autographs and photos.
Martin said he’s been impressed by the way his players have gone to work in the offseason since his hiring last spring.
“They’ve done a great job. It’s one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been around,” he said. “They do what you ask them to do, work at a high level, come in and get the extra hours in. That’s what separates programs.”
That work also has created a team chemistry Martin believes will strengthen the club.
“They have a great passion for each other. Rarely have I been around a group of guys that want to see the next guy be successful like these guys.”
One of the team’s early questions is who replaces Justin Cobbs at point guard. Martin knows it won’t be easy, but there are three candidates in junior Tyrone Wallace, sophomore Sam Singer and freshman Brandon Chauca.
Martin said the Bears likely will play small at times, with the 6-foot-6 Wallace sliding to the power forward spot. But he also believes 7-1 freshman center Kingsley Okoroh, 6-8 junior Christian Behrens and 6-6 senior transfer Dwight Tarwater will get the chance to pair with senior power forward David Kravish.
Here is Martin’s quick evaluation of each scholarship player eligible to play this season:
* David Kravish, 6-10 senior forward: No longer the 205-pounder who arrived in Berkeley in the fall of 2011, Kravish has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle since last season and now weighs 240.
“It’s functional weight. He’s bigger, stronger, faster,” said Martin, adding that Kravish is now the clear team leader. “No question about it. On and off the court, he way he carries himself, he’s one of those guys you want to model yourself after.”
Kravish has been a solid, dependable, understated player for three years. Martin thinks he can be more than that. “I expect him to be a great player. He’s on that path. He’s a guy who plays both ends of the floor and he plays hard.”