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Football: Dykes pleased by Bears’ efforts on both sides during longest scrimmage of spring ball

By Jeff Faraudo
Saturday, April 19th, 2014 at 1:55 pm in Football, Spring practice

Coach Sonny Dykes was smiling and encouraged Saturday after the Bears’ longest scrimmage session of spring ball.

Cal ran close to 90 live plays during a closed workout, and Dykes saw things he liked on both sides of the ball.

“I actually thought it was really good, thought it was clean for the most part,” Dykes told reporters afterward. “We didn’t have a ton of penalties. Thought the guys executes pretty well on both sides. Had some big plays on offense.

“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things. Gave up a couple big plays — we’ve got to get those fixed. I like the way guys are running around, flying to the ball. Our tackling’s much improved.”

Dykes said the Bears will run another 60 to 70 live plays during Wednesday’s workout, then about the same number next Saturday when they host what they are calling the Cal Spring Football Experience, wrapping up spring workouts.

“We’re getting a lot of live work done and I think it’s helping us,” Dykes said.

He’s also pleased that the team has not sustained any significant injuries during spring ball, despite running perhaps three times as many live plays as a year ago.

“It shows our team is in better shape, more physically developed, stronger,” he said. I’m excited about the progress we’re making that way.”

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Football: Espitia finds a home at linebacker

By Jeff Faraudo
Friday, April 18th, 2014 at 6:57 pm in Football, Spring practice

Maximo Espitia played quarterback, running back, safety and punter at high school in Oregon. Since arriving at Cal in the fall of 2012, he has seen time at fullback, tight end, wide receiver and safety.

Now, entering his junior season, Espitia is a linebacker.

“We’re going to stick him there, leave him alone, and hopefully he can find a home,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said after Friday’s 11th of 15 spring practices.

In fact, Espitia has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring ball for the Bears after being moved to his new spot at outside linebacker for the first workout on March 31.

“I know he doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet, but he does some things naturally,” defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said. “Just his movement skills, his reads and being in position as much as anything else.”

Dykes said Espitia has performed at a consistent level through spring workouts and has a solid chance to compete for a starting job next fall.

“That’s definitely something I’ve been waiting to hear,” Espitia said. “Now that I’ve finally heard it, it’s my time to see what I can do.”

Recruited to Cal as fullback then moved almost immediately to tight end, Espitia was basically without a position last fall after coach Jeff Tedford was fired because Dykes’ offense rarely utilizes either position.

He was shifted to a slot receiver position, then volunteered to try safety late in the season when injuries left the Bears shorthanded. Linebacker was another position of need for Cal, and Espitia has picked things up quickly.

“I had concerns about how physical he would be, and he’s answered those concerns so far,” Dykes said.

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Basketball: Cuonzo Martin on recruiting, Jabari Bird, energizing fans and his coaching mentor

By Jeff Faraudo
Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 5:43 pm in Basketball

New Cal coach Cuonzo Martin got some radio time Thursday afternoon on 95.7 The Game with Damon Bruce.

Here are some highlights:

On what he looks for in a player he’s recruiting: “First and foremost, you want talent. But there are different things when you talk about a talented player. Everybody understands the runners and jumpers, a good catch-and-shoot guy. For me the talent I like to look for nowadays is a just guy that works hard. Back when we played 10-15-20 years ago, working hard was understood. That’s what you normally do.

“Nowadays, working hard is probably a skill because not many guys like to work hard and do the dirty work. A guy that wants to be part of your program, a guy that’s committed to being successful. There are a lot of talented players, but you’ve got to have guys who want to be a part of what you want to do, who want to win at a high level but also understand the importance of the academics.”

His early impression of Jabari Bird: “I saw him quite a bit on the AAU circuit, very talented basketball player. I watched him from afar. Very talented basketball player, but in my opinion probably a better person. I just had an opportunity to talk with him. Obviously he was raised well. I’m looking forward and excited to coach him.”

On how he will sell his program to fans: “My job between now and the time we start playing is to get out in the community, reach out to the fans, reach out to our student base and get those guys to be a part us so we’re all going to have have success. Before we get to the basketball side, we’ve got to get everybody generating excitement for football and get them all on board. I think they go hand-in-hand. If we all do this thing together we can have a great deal of success.”

On the influence of his former Purdue coach, Gene Keady: “He was always a tough, hard-nosed guy. A nice guy, a humble man. He was one of those guys who was very fair in his approach. If you worked hard, you had an opportunity to play. If you go to class and get a degree, you’ll be fine. With coach, he was one of those guys who stuck with it, do the right things, do the little things, be consistent with it all the time and we’ll have a chance to have ultimate success.”

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Women’s basketball: Bears ink New Zealander

By Jeff Faraudo
Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 2:29 pm in Recruiting, Women's basketball

The Cal women’s basketball team has signed Penina Davidson, a 6-foot-3 forward who plays for the New Zealand national team.

A native of Auckland — the same hometown as former Cal player Sean Marks — Davidson joins a Cal recruiting class that already was ranked among the top 20 in the nation.

“We are thrilled to add a person and player of Penina’s caliber in the late signing period,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Nina comes from a ‘basketball family’, and that’s evident in her versatile game and high basketball intellect. She’s big and strong and will provide a solid post presence, but also has an array of skills facing the basket.”

Davidson is a member of the New Zealand women’s national team where she most recently competed at the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships, scoring five points and pulling down eight rebounds for the Tall Ferns in the championship series against the Australia senior national team that was coming off a bronze medal finish at the London Olympics.

Davidson also competed for New Zealand at the 2012 Four Nations Challenge in China where she averaged 15 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in nine total games against China, the United States and Australia. She was named to the final all-tournament team, one of just two non-Americans selected.

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Basketball: Getting to know Cuonzo Martin

By Jeff Faraudo
Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 at 9:35 pm in Basketball

Who is Cuonzo Martin? Here’s a primer on Cal’s new basketball coach.

What’s in a name?

Martin’s first name is pronounced KAHN-zoe. He said he was named after the Italian doctor who delivered his father. He later met several others with his first name while playing professionally in Italy.

Will Travis DeCuire have a place on Martin’s staff?

All of Cal’s current assistants will get a chance to talk with Martin, but he sounded like a man ready to bring his UT staff to Berkeley.

“I’ll bring quite a few of them,” he said. “The guys you have on your staff have to know you, have to understand your style.”

How do Cal’s players, who wanted DeCuire to get the job, feel about Martin’s arrival?

“I liked him,” freshman guard Jabari Bird said. “He preaches the style of play, basically up and down, fast-paced. But he also wants his team to play defense.

“He talked about love and family and a lot of guys have given great feedback on his personality as a coach, saying he’s going to be fun to play for.

“The bottom line today is everybody is happy about the decision and we’re ready to move forward. We’ve got a great coach.”

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Basketball: Special delivery from Knoxville

By Jeff Faraudo
Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 at 8:42 pm in Basketball

Cal needed a new basketball coach, and 36,000 of Tennessee’s most overzealous fans helped push Cuonzo Martin to the Golden Bears’ doorstep.

Cal introduced Martin as its new coach Tuesday, following a 15-day search to find a successor for Mike Montgomery. Martin, 42, will get a five-year contract from athletic director Sandy Barbour.

At Tennessee, Martin guided the Southeastern Conference school to a spot in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 this season only weeks after fans signed an online petition demanding that he be replaced by his predecessor, Bruce Pearl, who was fired in 2011 for lying to NCAA investigators.

Martin took the high road at his introductory news conference, declining to take any shots at UT fans.

“They woke up a hungry bear,” Martin said of his response to the petition, which he claims he wasn’t aware of until an opposing coach alluded to it after a game.

“It wasn’t a big deal. You still have 17,000 people at the games. You can’t please everybody.”

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Columnist Marcus Thompson II says Martin can take Bears to new heights.

Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady, others have praise for Cal’s hire.

 

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Basketball: Cal hires Vols’ Cuonzo Martin

By Jeff Faraudo
Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 at 11:32 am in Basketball

Updated

If Cal was trying to hit a home run with the hiring of a new men’s basketball coach, the Golden Bears appeared to come close enough, announcing Tuesday that Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin would replace Mike Montgomery.

Martin, 42, had been the Volunteers’ coach for the past three years, and led the Vols to a 24-13 record this past season, including a surprise appearance in the Sweet 16, where they were eliminated by Michigan. He was 63-41 overall in his three seasons at Tennessee.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour’s announcement came on the 15th day of the search to replace Montgomery, who retired at age 67 after six seasons at Berkeley.

Martin’s decision to take the Cal job apparently caught Tennessee off-guard, according to a story on SB Nation. He flirted with Marquette right after the season, but when the Warriors decided to go in a different direction, Martin was expected to stay at Tennessee.

But the SB Nation story said he had come under heavy criticism earlier in the 2013-14 season, including an online petition signed by more than 36,000 fans who wanted him replaced with former coach Bruce Pearl.

Martin succeeded Pearl as coach after Pearl was fired for lying to NCAA investigators.

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Football: Defensive backs making progress

By Jeff Faraudo
Monday, April 14th, 2014 at 9:29 pm in Football, Spring practice

Coach Sonny Dykes complimented the defense — and especially the Bears’ young defensive backs — after Monday’s closed workout.

“I thought we had a really good practice, was really pleased,” he said. “We’re starting to look better and that’s encouraging. Defensively, guys are starting to figure things out and playing a little faster.

“Guys are making more plays, especially some of those young DBs.”

Dykes singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Darius Allensworth, who had an interception. He said Cedric Dozier is much improved, and noted the efforts of Cameron Walker, Demariay Drew and David Garner.

“It’s good seeing those guys making explosive-type plays,” Dykes said.  ”Guys are developing, starting to play with confidence.”

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Monday’s chapter in the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot went to Austin Hinder. Dykes said Kyle Boehm, who has performed well this spring, suffered a setback with a pulled muscle in his lower back.

“It’s a good competition between those two guys,” Dykes said, “Austin had a better day today. He was much improved. But they’re competing back and forth, trading blows.”

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Junior linebacker Nate Broussard, recovering from offseason knee surgery, won’t do any contact work during spring ball as a precautionary measure, Dykes said.  “He’s moving around great, feels good,” Dykes said.

But safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles) is getting more time on the field, putting him a bit ahead of the recovery schedule of fellow safety Stefan McClure (knee), who is battling a strained calf muscle.

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Women’s basketball: Brandon to Chicago Sky

By Jeff Faraudo
Monday, April 14th, 2014 at 8:42 pm in Women's basketball

Cal’s Gennifer Brandon was taken by the Chicago Sky with the 22nd pick of the WNBA draft on Monday night.

Brandon is the fourth Cal player to be drafted by the league, following Layshia Clarendon (2013, 9th pick), Ashley Walker (2009, 12th pick) and Alexis Gray-Lawson (2010, 30th pick).

The Golden Bears are the only Pac-12 program with a player drafted by the WNBA each of the past two seasons.

Brandon was a  three-time All-Pac-12 selection, finishing her career as Cal’s all-time leading rebounder with 1219 career boards, a mark that ranks fifth in Pac-12 history.

 She holds the Pac-12 single-game rebounding mark of 26 and finished her career as one of just four players in California history to record over 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Brandon averaged of 9.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for her Cal career.

 

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Football: Brennan Scarlett shaking off rust, excited to become Bears’ ace pass rusher

By Jeff Faraudo
Saturday, April 12th, 2014 at 4:34 pm in Football, Spring practice

No one waited longer for Cal’s spring football practice to begin than Brennan Scarlett.

Regarded as perhaps the Bears’ best defensive player, Scarlett is back on the field after a 17-month layoff for a broken hand and a string of complications.

“It has been a long time,” the junior defensive end said Saturday after the Bears ended the first half of their four-week spring workout schedule.

By the time Cal kicks off its 2014 season at Northwestern on Aug. 30, it will have been more than 21 months since Scarlett played in a game.

“It’s going to be a great day to run out on that field again,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end a year ago, but never played in 2013 while his left hand — broken for the second time in a month’s span in November 2012 — slowly recovered.

He had a piece of bone grafted from his hip in January 2013, then suffered a bad infection that stalled his recovery. A month into last season, Scarlett knew his season would be lost.

Coach Sonny Dykes is more than eager to see him on game day. “I think he can be a dominant player,” Dykes said. “He’s not there by any stretch of the imagination yet. He’s long, fast, smart … and rusty.”

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