Second-year coach Mike Montgomery never has had the luxury of playing with a healthy Harper Kamp on his roster. But it’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s missing.
“We’re definitely counting on Harper. I’d say he’s probably had four or five practices where he’s actually been able to go hard for stretches,” Montgomery said of his ailing junior power forward, “and the difference is measurable. There’s just no question.
“He communicates, he knows what we’re trying to do, he doesn’t have to think so much, he just reacts. It makes a huge difference when he’s out there. The other guys acknowledge and know that.”
Starting with senior point guard Jerome Randle, who said, “Our level of play will go up two notches. Harper’s just a smart player out there and definitely aggressive. Cal will be a better team with him out there on the floor.”
Kamp, who had surgery on his right knee in the offseason for the second straight season, will not play Monday night when the 13th-ranked Golden Bears open their season at Haas Pavilion against Murray State in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.
Kamp is not a big numbers guy for the Bears, but the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder is acknowledged by Montgomery as the club’s best interior defender, and he’s a smart player, an excellent passer.
Montgomery wouldn’t say if Kamp might play Wednesday against Detroit, and seems unclear about when Kamp would be available.
“We’re just taking it day to day and hoping he does get comfortable with his ability to compete at a really high level consistently,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think anyone wants it to be a situation where he doesn’t know from day to day whether he can go, at what level he can go. That’s pretty frustrating for him.
“We’re trying to get him to where he can play a game at a very high level, maybe take it easy the next day, then come back the following day and do it again. And it doesn’t consistently set him back. And I think we’re making progress toward that.”
Montgomery dismissed any suggestion the Bears might consider red-shirting Kamp.
“I don’t know why you would do that. If he’s your best big guy, why would you red-shirt him when you’ve got seniors this year that are capable,” Montgomery said. “He’s a kid that deserves an opportunity to compete near his capabilities. He’s going to have pain, and he’s just going to have to deal with that.”
The meantime, the Bears have few options on their frontline. After starting power forward Jamal Boykin and center Markhuri Sanders-Frison, the Bears will have to go small with either 6-7 forward Omondi Amoke or 6-5 Theo Robertson sliding into the four spot. Sophomore center Max Zhang still does not look ready to contribute on a steady basis.
MURRAY SCOUT: Montgomery called the Racers “one of those dangerous teams that people don’t know about out here.”
Murray State, 19-12 a year ago and co-favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference, have great experience in the backcourt, led by senior guard Danero Thomas, who is wearing a mask after breaking his nose in pratice a week ago.
“They’re a team that’s very capable. It’s a game we’re going to have to be ready to play,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think they’re going to do anything we haven’t seen. It’s just they’re going to do a pretty good job of what they do.”
Murray attacks the basket, but shot only 31.3 percent from 3-point range last season.
FOND MEMORIES: Racers coach Billy Kennedy spent four seasons as an assistant at Cal, beginning in 1993-94. “I remember the passion and enthusiasm people had for basketball when I was there,” said Kennedy, who arrived for Jason Kidd’s sophomore season. “We sold out every game. We always kept it stirred up. It was always exciting and entertaining . . . for a lot of reasons.”
Kennedy worked three seasons under Todd Bozeman, then remained at Cal for Ben Braun’s first year after Bozeman was ousted amid recruiting violations. Kennedy remains close to Bozeman and the other members of that staff.
“I’m glad he’s doing a good job,” he said of Bozeman, who directed Morgan State to the NCAA Tournament last year. “We had a lot of fun, even though at the end there was some adversity.”
IN QUOTES: “I like our team coming into the season, but I saw a magazine yesterday that said tenth in the country and I was like, `Whoa!’ That’s a little ambitious, but we’ll try.” – Cal coach Mike Montgomery.
ETC: Cal beat Pacific 68-58 in last year’s season opener . . . Mike Montgomery has won 17 straight season openers, including 16 at Stanford from 1988-89 through his final season of 2003-04 . . . The Bears have won three straight openers and are 15-3 over the past 18 seasons . . . This is the first meeting of Cal and Murray State . . . Murray State has enjoyed 22 consecutive winning seasons, equaling the fifth-longest streak of its kind in the country . . . One of Kennedy’s assistants is Amir Abdur-Rahim, brother of former Cal one-year wonder Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Amir played for Kennedy at Southeastern Louisiana.
TIPOFF: 8 p.m.
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Jamal Boykin 6-7 Sr. 9.6 6.4
C Markhuri Sanders-Frison 6-7 Jr. 9.0 6.6-a
SF Theo Robertson 6-5 Sr. 13.1 3.9
SG Patrick Chrstopher 6-5 Sr. 14.5 3.8
PG Jerome Randle 5-10 Sr. 18.3 4.5-*
SG Jorge Gutierrez 6-2 So. 4.7 3.2
F Omondi Amoke 6-7 So. 2.6 2.1
PG Brandon Smith 5-11 Fr. 12.1 7.3-*/c
Starters Ht Yr Pts Rebs
PF Ivan Aska 6-7 So. 10.3 5.8
C Jeffrey McClain 6-6 Jr. 6.4 5.3
SG Danero Thomas 6-4 Sr. 12.5 4.3
SG B.J. Jenkins 6-0 Jr. 9.9 4.4-b
PG Isaac Miles 6-2 Jr. 10.6 3.8*
C/F Tony Easley 6-9 Sr. 6.7 5.4
SG Donte Poole 6-3 So. 5.8 2.3
G Isaiah Canaan 6-0 Fr. 24.0 7.0-c
* – Assists
a – Stats from South Plains (Texas) CC.
b – Stats from Liberty University, 2007-08
c – High school stats