I talked this afternoon with Cal guard Patrick Christopher, who told me that being picked so low in the Pac-10 inspired the team a year ago, but that the Golden Bears are fine with being tabbed by some to win the conference next season.
“The Pac-10 is a great conference. I think it will be very competitive next year,” he said. “Having somebody pick you low is a pretty tough feeling. But it’s always good to climb to the top and prove everybody wrong.”
Picked eighth in the preseason a year ago, the Bears finished tied for third in the Pac-10, compiling a 22-11 record and reaching the NCAA Tournament. Cal returns everyone from that team except starting center Jordan Wilkes.
As a result of that experience, and defections from other programs, several online outlets — including ESPN.com — have made the Bears the early favorites to win the Pac-10 next season.
“When you have that target on your back, the situation is a lot different, not because we put ourselves there but other people put us there,” Christopher said. “We have to play like we’re in 10th place and feeling no pressure. I think everybody will be used to the system and what to expect. I think it will be a great year for us.
“It’s motivating,” he said of the expectations. “It keeps you going when people are talking. It’s different because it’s always about being an underdog . Now we’re going to have to prove we’re good enough to be at the top. But that’s not a bad thing.”