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.”

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Football: Pac-10 ballot — No. 7

No. 7: Arizona State. Prognosticators got a little excited last year after the Sun Devils 10-3 season in 2007, but a further look reveals that ASU’s successful year was enhanced by a very manageable schedule. The Sun Devils were served a dose of reality last season, finishing 5-7 and missing out on a bowl game. One good thing for ASU is that recruits got excited over the 2007 season and the Sun Devils brought in a top-20 recruiting class. But last year’s slide hurt recruiting, and although ASU secured one of the nation’s top recruits in linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the class was a step down from the previous year. The talent just isn’t in the program right now for the Sun Devils to make a push for an upper division finish. They will be breaking in a new quarterback and don’t have a top-level running back. The receivers lack playmaking ability and the offensive line is questionable. Mike Nixon is a pretty good linebacker and if Burfict plays right away, ASU could be strong at that position. Dexter Davis is one of the nation’s top defensive ends, so the Sun Devils could potentially have a pretty good defense. They will need it to finish higher in the Pac-10.


Basketball: Changes everywhere to Cal schedule

If you’ve marked your calendars with dates for the upcoming Cal basketball schedule, here’s hoping you did it in pencil.

There are nine changes to the Pac-10 portion of the Bears’ schedule, most of them prompted by TV considerations. In spite of that, we still do not have game times. TV will let us know when they’re good and ready.

Here’s the new schedule, which includes changes to the second weekend of Pac-10 play, at home against the Los Angeles schools. The Bears are now playing UCLA on Wednesday, Jan. 6, rather than Saturday, Jan. 9, avoiding a conflict with the BCS national championship football game on Thursday, Jan. 7. The USC game has been shifted from Thursday to Saturday.

The games the following weekend in Washington have been flip-flopped, with Cal visiting Washington State on Thursday, Jan. 14 and taking on Washington in a rematch of last year’s triple-overtime thriller on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The Arizona road game has been pushed back one day to Sunday, Jan. 31.

One week later, the opponents on the trip to L.A. have swapped spots, with the Bears visiting USC on Thursday, Feb. 4, then UCLA on Saturday, Feb. 6.

Finally, the Washington schools will swap spots on their visit to the Bay Area, with Washington coming to Haas on Thursday, Feb. 11, and WSU in town on Saturday, Feb. 13.


Football: Pac-10 ballot — No. 8

No. 8: Arizona. Yes, I know the Wildcats showed improvement last season in making it to their first bowl game since 1998. The question is whether they can sustain that upward trend. The loss of four-year starting quarterback Willie Tuitama is one of the most significant in the conference, and although Arizona believes they have talent ready to fill in, there will obviously be some inexperience there. The Wildcats also lost All-Pac-10 picks Mike Thomas at wide receiver and Eben Britten at offensive tackle, so this clearly isn’t the same team that showed that improvement last year. Arizona has a lot to offer in the secondary but the front seven is questionable. The Wildcats should have a strong running game with the combination of Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin (whom Cal fans know quite well). But it just doesn’t appear Arizona has enough to maintain what it accomplished last season, especially with some other conference teams improving more.


Basketball: Pac-10 at Vegas, Day 10

Here’s how former Pac-10 players fared Sunday as the NBA summer league ended its 10-day run at Las Vegas, with the league statistical averages of players in parenthesis:

— WASHINGTON WIZARDS 89, NEW YORK KNICKS 84.  WW: Dominic McGuire (Cal) 6 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 33 minutes (5.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg); Nick Young (USC) DNP (23.8 ppg, 4 games);  NYK: Jordan Hill (Arizona) 21 points, 9-17 FGs, 7 rebounds, 33 1/2 minutes (15.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

— CHICAGO BULLS 93, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES 85.  MT: Josh Shipp (UCLA) 5 points, 4 rebounds, 17 1/2 minutes (4.5 ppg, 22.6% FG); Taj Gibson (USC) DNP (13.0 ppg, 10.0 ppg, 2 games).

— MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES 76, SAN ANTONIO SPURS 75.  SAS: Malik Hairston (Ore) 9 points, 3-10 FGs, 5 rebounds, 32 minutes (12.7 ppg).

— DENVER NUGGETS 107, NEW ORLEANS HORNETS 105, 3 OT.  NOH: Darren Collison (UCLA) DNP (18.5 ppg, 4 games).

— D-LEAGUE SELECT 74, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 73.  PTB: Bobby Jones (Wash) 2 points, 4 rebounds, 29 minutes (5.9 ppg); Jeff Pendergraph (ASU) 16 points, 7 rebounds, 31 minutes (11.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6 games); Jerryd Bayless (Ariz) DNP (18.0 ppg, 4 games).

— PHOENIX SUNS 87, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS 70. PS: Robin Lopez (Stan) 13 points, 27 1/2 minutes (10.5 ppg).


Basketball: Stanford beats Cal for Gage

The Golden Bears suffered a significant recruiting loss this weekend when 6-10 center John Gage of Vashon Island, Wash., picked Stanford over Cal, according to Scout.com.

Gage, who also considered hometown Washington, told me last month he didn’t expect to make a decision until early August. As it stands, he plans to enroll at Stanford in the fall of 2010.

Still 16 and young for his class, Gage led Vashon Island to a 26-1 record and Washington’s Class 1-A state title, averaging 20.5 points and 12 rebounds in the four-game state tournament. He has a 3.94 grade-point average.

A pretty good week in the Northwest for second-year Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins, a few days after he got a commitment from point guard Aaron Bright of Bellevue High.