Cal football: Back to school

Spring break is over, which means the break in spring practice is almost over as well. The Bears will be back at it tomorrow. They have 11 more practices. Included in those are three scrimmages, the first of which will be this Saturday. The last scrimmage, on April 18, is open to the public.


Basketball: Theo’s surgery successful

Just heard from Theo Robertson, who said surgery Friday on his right hip went well.  “My doctor was very pleased and he didn’t have to do the microfracture, which is excellent news.,’ the Bears’ junior small forward said.

Robertson missed the entire 2007-08 season after having the more extensive microfracture procedure on his left hip in the spring of 2007. He said his doctor found no surprises during the surgery this time, and Robertson is expected to be fully healthy well before the start of practice next fall.

“It feels way better than last time, there’s much less pain,” said Robertson, who expects to know more about his rehab schedule after an appointment Monday.


Basketball: Bears by position — point guard

Before taking some post-hoops time off, here is the final installment of my five-part preview of the 2009-10 Bears by position. I’ll check in from time to time the next couple weeks if there is news to report. Otherwise, adios for now.


   RETURNING: Jerome Randle, Jorge Gutierrez, Nikola Knezevic
   LEAVING: No one
   ARRIVING: Brandon Smith

Randle was among the most-improved players in the Pac-10 this season. His decision making was far better and he became an offensive force, averaging 18.4 points and 5.0 assists. His shooting range was almost limitless and he made a school-record total of 82 3-pointers on the way to earning first-team all-Pac-10 honors.

Without much question, Randle was the Bears’ most indispensible player.

Still, there are ways he can and must be better. Coach Mike Montgomery has said Randle cannot fully develop as the Bears’ leader until he becomes a better defender. Even at (barely) 5-foot-10, Randle has the quickness to be a factor at the defensive end if he puts his mind to it.

Gutierrez, shuffled between the point and shooting guard his freshman season, would be the apparent choice as Randle’s backup, except the Bears may need him more off the ball, where their depth is less. Gutierrez is a fearless penetrator, but sometimes dribbles his way into a deadend. A relentless defender, his offensive game still needs much polish.

Senior-to-be Nikola Knezevic played sporadically this season, although he delivered two big 3-pointers to help fuel a comeback in the late-season win at Arizona. Even so, he is not a good shooter, but works hard on defense and has not slacked off in practice, despite limited game-day opportunity.

“He had a great attitude,” Montgomery said. “He gave us a little bit of this, a little bit of that. He’s got to find some place where he can bring something special to help us. That’s his challenge this spring.”

The wildcard in the point-guard picture is incoming freshman Brandon Smith of De La Salle High. Compact but physical, Smith is a pure point guard who rarely worries about scoring the ball. But if he can take on ballhandling and defensive responsibilities, it may allow Montgomery to use Gutierrez more at shooting guard, where the Bears are thinner.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Bears hope Randle can make another leap forward and become a truly complete floor leader. Gutierrez is a budding team leader because of his hard-nosed dedication to the less-than-glamorous aspects of the game. Knezevic must make strides or face the possibility of sinking to the No. 4 spot on the point guard ladder behind Smith.


Basketball: Bears by position — shooting guard

Today’s installment as we preview the 2009-2010 Bears by position . . .


   RETURNING: Patrick Christopher, Jorge Gutierrez, D.J. Seeley
   LEAVING: No one
   ARRIVING: No one

Christopher tentatively plans to enter his name into the draft, but it seems inevitable he will be back for his senior season. Christopher’s name appears nowhere on any 2009 NBA mock draft lists that I have seen, and usually there are more capable prospects at shooting guard than any other position.

But if he can get valuable advice from NBA scouts on the areas of his game that need improving, then the experience will be well worth it. Christopher must declare by April 26 if he wants to put his name into the draft pool, then has until June 15 to withdraw, provided he hasn’t hired an agent.

At 6-foot-5, Christopher is Cal’s best athlete. He’s explosive, plays above the rim and has good shooting range. His 3-point shot abandoned him the final five games (7-for-33), but he also was given challenging defensive assignments in some of those games, so it’s possible he simply wore down. He’s improved as a defender, but has room to grow as a ballhandler and a player who creates his own shot.

Still, Christopher is an all-Pac-10 first-team player who averaged 14.5 points and was at his best in some of Cal’s biggest wins: 23 points in the home victory over Arizona, 27 in the triple-overtime win at Washington, 29 in the late-season home win over USC.

Gutierrez, who was Montgomery’s first recruit last spring, had a very solid freshman season, especially when you consider he was asked to play both guard positions. He is Cal’s toughest perimeter defender, a ferocious competitor whose confidence grew as the season unfolded.

The question is: What position will he eventually play?

“Everything depends on everything . . . nothing is pre-determined at this point,” said Montgomery, when asked where Gutierrez will wind up next season.

Cal would like to let him spend more time at point guard, but may need him off the ball for now. Defensively, he can have an impact either way. Offensively, he still needs lots of work on his ballhandling, decision-making and perimeter shooting. But he’s a tough guy, and Montgomery likes him.

D.J. Seeley, recruited by former coach Ben Braun, saw sporadic action as a freshman this season. His confidence seemed shaky early in the year and he’s not a real physical player yet.

“He just needs to get better at everything,” Montgomery said. “He’s a  pretty laid-back kid. This is hard. You’ve got to come to work every day. That’s the only way you can improve.

“I don’t think (working this hard) has ever been asked of him. It kind of took him off guard a little bit.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: Christopher should be ready for a big senior season, but who lines up behind remains to be seen. Gutierrez likely will have to play the combo guard role again, as Seeley continues to develop. The Bears could benefit from a bit more depth here, but they’re in good hands with Christopher as the starter.


Basketball: Bears by position — small forward

Here’s the third installment of my five-part, position-by-position look ahead at Cal’s 2009-10 team:


   RETURNING: Theo Robertson, Omondi Amoke
   LEAVING: No one
   ARRIVING: No one

The Bears will attempt to operate with the status quo here. And I apologize for using the word “operate.”

A key for Cal will be how well Robertson, a returning starter and 13.1 ppg scorer, responds from surgery he’s undergoing today on his right hip. His doctors told him the situation is not expected to be nearly as serious as two years ago, when he required a microfracture procedure to rebuild his left hip, then sat ouf the entire 2007-08 season.

If things go as expected, the senior-to-be from De La Salle HS anticipates being on crutches for two weeks, then can begin rehab. That shouldn’t have any negative impact on next season.

Presuming Robertson is healthy by next fall, he provides the Bears a solid and versatile performer. Robertson is a conservative player, well-grounded in fundamentals and not prone to taking bad shots. Thus, he converted 48.7 percent from the 3-point arc for a team that led the nation in 3-point accuracy.

Robertson’s value includes the ability to slide over to the 4 spot when Mike Montgomery opts go to small. He is strong enough to rebound and play defense in short stints at the position, and is a capable mid-range scorer.

Amoke, a 6-7 redshirt sophomore-to-be, played out of position at power forward off the bench this season, and hopes to get the chance to move outside. This will be his first real off-season at Cal, having sat out the summer before his freshman year with a calf injury, and most of last season after a bad ankle sprain in the spring.

“We probably owe him the opportunity to move out to the 3 some because of his size,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to evaluate where we need the most help. Based on his reaction to the end of the season, he seems really excited about going to work.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Bears have very little depth here, and it’s unclear how much or how well Amoke will play at the 3. When Robertson rested this season, Montgomery often replaced him with a third guard, which creates matchup difficulties on defense. Robertson’s good health is critical to the Bears.


Basketball: Who has the best defense?

Well, maybe not Memphis, after all. At least not tonight.

After I proclaimed the Tigers the best defensive team in the nation in our new “Ask the expert” section on page 2 of the sports section, Missouri destroyed John Callipari’s squad 102-91 in the regional semifinals.

Memphis was allowing just 57.6 ppg — best of any team that reached the Sweet 16 — and had not surrendered more than 75 in a game all season. Only more than 70 once.

Missouri became the first team in 329 games — dating back to a 102-75 loss at Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 16, 2000, the season before Calipari arrived — to reach the century mark against Memphis.

Maybe I should have known better. I saw Missouri buzzsaw Cal 93-66 in Columbia back on Dec. 7, and the Tigers did the same number on Memphis tonight. Impressive.


Basketball: Bears by position — power forward

I’m previewing the Bears’ 2009-10 team position-by-position this week. Looked at the center position on Wednesday, and will talk about small forward on Friday. Today . . .


   RETURNING: Jamal Boykin, Harper Kamp, Omondi Amoke
   LEAVING: No one
   ARRIVING: Bak Bak

This is potentially the Bears’ deepest position, with two returning players who were among the club’s seven this past season, an athletic combo forward, plus an intriguing recruit.

Boykin is a solid, blue-collar player who started every game this season at the position despite being a bit undersized at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. His skill set is best suited for the 4 position, although he is an adept shooter from 15 feet along the baseline.

A solid rebounder and fierce worker, Boykin’s only shortcoming is the lack of great lateral quickness, which hurts him sometimes on defense. But he’s smart and is a passionate player and good teammate.

Kamp played all season despite battling knee pain after undergoing surgery last August. He will get that right knee scoped sometime soon, with the hope that it cleans up the irritants and allows him to maximize his abilities.

Continue Reading