Basketball: Max is home and happy

Even talking on the phone, Max Zhang’s big smile comes across loud and clear.

“I feel really good,” the Bears’ sophomore center said.

As he should. Zhang, who played sparingly in 15 games as a redshirt freshman last season, delivered a spectacular performance recently at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. Representing his homeland of China, the 7-foot-2 1/4 center averaged 18.0 points, 17.3 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots, leading the tournament in the latter two categories.

He had double-doubles (points and rebounds) in all six games, and twice logged triple-doubles by adding 10 blocked shots.

“I didn’t know I would do this well,” Max acknowledged. “I know there are teams from all over the world from different levels. Some of them are really good, some of them are probably not that good. I knew if I played hard, I could get some numbers.”

The most important numbers for Max were minutes played, and he got plenty of them. The opportunity allowed him to flourish, and he returned home with vastly improved self-esteem.

“It’s been a long time since I competed that many minutes in big games. I gained a lot of confidence from that,” he said. “The last two years, I’m kind of losing confidence in myself.”

Zhang received congratulations from his teammates and coaches upon returning to Berkeley last weekend, and got a phone call Sunday from Cal senior point guard Jerome Randle, who is home in Chicago.

“I called him and told him he did a great job there, and I told him I believe in him,” Randle said. “I love Max. He has a lot of heart. If Max can come in and impact us like he did down there, I think that’s great for our team. He can make a difference on defense.

“He has a lot of potential. I think he will someday be a great player. You never know, this might be that year.”

Zhang isn’t sure how much his role this season will be impacted by his performance in Belgrade, but said the Cal coaches have requested games tapes so they can check out how the Chinese team utilized him so effectively.

“I will keep practicing hard and if I have a chance on the court, I will do my best,” Zhang said. “From this experience, I really think I got a lot of confidence. Right now, I’m really excited for the coming preparation for the season and the season.”

Max said the two weeks he spent in Belgrade weren’t all business. He got the chance to have coffee one day with teammate and Serbian native Nikola Knezevic, and was favorably impressed after touring the city.

“The weather is wonderful, the people are pretty nice, and there’s lots of pretty girls.”

Jeff Faraudo

  • rollonubears

    There’s nothing better than getting behind a team full of great people. Max is a modest, class act. I hope he tears it up on the floor next season. Go Bears!

  • Boris

    I really look forward to watching him play this year, along with the rest of the energetic but unpolished (2nd line (Kamp, Gutierrez, Amoke, Seeley, Zhang).

    I actually ran into Zhang this morning at the gym around 7am, hopefully he’s still in there lifting right now. And in case anyone was wondering, he really is gigantic.

  • wehofx

    The more I read about Max, the more I like him.

    If Max, Bak Bak and Bison(sp?) all step up and gives us a presence in the post, the Bears really could be a top 10 team.

    Go Bears!

  • dgreen

    Hey I think he has alot of potential and could be something special at Cal if he keeps working hard. o you guys see him making a difference for them this year?

  • Rey from Napa

    Max, although didn’t get alot of PT last year, you were still a fan favorite. I hope your improved played puts you on Coach’s rotation. Play hard and have a fun season! ROLL YOU BEARS!

  • dmgobears

    Having witnessed Max last year, I have little doubt he can become a shot-blocking presence for the Bears. The key will be to have him stay out of foul trouble. I recall several instances where Max was whistled for mystery fouls by “crack” Pac 10 referees.

    If Max can be the post defender in a zone, we should be able to greatly reduce the high % in the paint shot that was available most of the time last year.

  • uh oh

    Rooting for a project like Max is what makes college ball so much better than the NBA. These guys are all heart b/c they know once graduation comes, that’s it.

    And, to Dmgobears point, if Monty were smart, he’d play Max AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE during the preseason so that refs don’t think he’s just some late game emergency installment that they can call fouls on. It’s obvious to everyone that refs tend to call fouls on role players a lot more than the stars b/c they know the stars are the keys to the game, and the refs don’t want to adversely/obviously impact the outcome of the game. So, if Max can earn himself sizable playing time, the refs will be aware that he’s legit, and not just a walking foul (as he was last year).