18

Basketball: A very early glimpse at next season — Breaking down the Bears by position

Over the past four seasons, Cal has scored 10,064 points in 135 games. Many of those came from the likes of former players Ryan Anderson Ayinde Ubaka, DeVon Hardin and brothers Omar and Jordan Wilkes.

But on Sunday evening in Jacksonville, Fla., when the horn sounded at the finish of the Golden Bears’ 68-53 loss to Duke, more than 57 percent of those 10,064 points walked off the court for the last time.

Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin are gone — or they will be by the time practice begins next October — and they’re not coming back.

So what will the Bears look like next season?

How well will they compete without 80 percent of their starting lineup for the past two seasons?

Who will be their starters and their leaders?

Well, as I wrote in this morning’s Bay Area News Group editions, Mike Montgomery’s team will have a different flavor next season. Much of their offensive firepower and perimeter skill is gone, and I don’t think we should expect the Bears to routinely score 80 points.

The new formula will be one that Montgomery actually is far more familiar with: Defense, rebounding, toughness.

And in the process of assembling that puzzle, there are some available pieces that fit pretty well: Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp, Markhuri Sanders-Frison.

There also is a strong four-man freshman recruiting class that is ranked No. 20 nationally by Scout.com, and the possibility of more new blood before the start of next season.

How it all adds up, we have no idea. There are too many variables, not the least of which is how the other nine Pac-10 squads come together next season.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2010-11 Bears (with next season’s grade in school):

POINT GUARD

– Departing: Jerome Randle, Nikola Knezevic.
– Returning: Jorge Gutierrez (6-3, Jr., 5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Brandon Smith (5-11, So., 0.9 ppg, 0.9 apg).
– Arriving: Gary Franklin Jr. (6-2, Fr., Mater Dei HS-Santa Ana).

Analysis
This is Montgomery’s biggest question mark. In a phone interview Tuesday, he declined to even speculate how it might unfold. Gutierrez will be one of the team’s leaders — albeit a leader of few words — so PG seems like a natural. But he’s so valuable on defense, it’s worth wondering if Monty wants to split his energy at a position that requires so much effort on offense. Gutierrez has improved as an offensive player and his unselfishness is obvious. He could be equally valuable at shooting guard, but the Bears may need him here.

Smith did not get many real opportunities to show what he can do this season. But the De La Salle HS product seemed overmatched by pressure defenses on a couple of occasions and must improve his shooting. He converted just 23.1 percent from the field and a ghastly 37.5 percent from the FT line (although he shot 79 percent from the line in HS). The coaching staff is hoping he can be a contributor next season.

Franklin is regarded as a combo guard or scoring point guard. He played both on and off the ball at Mater Dei, which also featured Arizona State-bound PG Keala King. Montgomery rarely has given a freshman this much responsibility, but Franklin figures to be in the mix somewhere and likely will get a good look at the point. Among the three players competing for this spot, Franklin probably has the most upside as a point producer, but he’s not a true point.

WING

– Departing: Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson.
– Returning: D.J. Seeley (6-4, Jr., 2.4 ppg).
– Arriving: Allen Crabbe (6-6, Fr., Price HS-Los Angeles), Alex Rossi (6-5 Fr. New Trier HS-Winnetka, Ill.).

Analysis
Lots of scoring punch to replace here, and Seeley is the only returnee who plays strictly this position. Christopher believes the former Modesto Christian HS standout will rise to the occasion when given a chance. “He was playing behind me, and that was a little unfair to him because of how many minutes I play,” Christopher said. “He doesn’t get an opportunity to play and really spread his wings out there. The opportunity is there now.” Seeley suggested outsiders haven’t seen what he can do. “I just took a step back and learned from the seniors,” he said. “I expect to be a leader. It’ll be kind of a surprise to everybody.” Perhaps, but Seeley has not yet shown himself to be a tough defender, his ballhandling is raw and he shot 27 percent from the 3-point line this season.

Crabbe, whose Price HS team plays in the state Division IV championship game on Friday in Bakersfield, was the Gatorade state player of the year. He averages about 23 points for Price and has improved every aspect of his game, according to Montgomery. Rossi comes from the same Chicago suburban high school that sent Matt Lottich to Stanford a decade ago. (It’s also Ben Braun’s alma mater). Rossi is considered an excellent catch-and-shoot perimeter player who should benefit from screens on the wing. Both freshmen figure to be in the rotation.

POST

– Departing: Jamal Boykin.
– Unsure: Omondi Amoke (6-7, Jr., 4.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
– Returning: Harper Kamp (6-8, Jr., 3.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg in 2008-09), Markhuri Sanders-Frison (6-7, Sr., 3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Max Zhang (7-2 1/4, Jr., 3.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.4 blocks), Bak Bak (6-10, So., 1.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 8 games), Robert Thurman (6-10, So., transfer from Norwich University).
– Arriving: Richard Solomon (6-8, Fr., Price HS-Los Angeles).

Analysis
The Bears expect this to be their strength next season. Certainly it will be their deepest position. Kamp, a smart and tough inside player, sat out this season after undergoing surgery on his knee last spring for the second straight. But he said he’s feeling good, and practice doesn’t begin for nearly seven months. Christopher believes Kamp will exceed the modest expectations he’ll face. “I don’t know if he will be expected to come back in and really make the impact that he have will next year,” Christopher said. “He’s just exceptional. He’ll put the guys on his back.”

Sanders-Frison struggled with fouls and a sore back much of the season. The junior college transfer had almost as many fouls (92) as rebounds (94), but it didn’t help that he couldn’t continue to work to drop weight because of a back problem that limited his practice time the second half of the season. Sanders-Frison said his offseason goals include getting his back right, and getting in better shape. Along with Kamp, he is regarded as a great teammate and locker room presence.

Zhang continues to be a work in progress, but he made progress this season. Although he is wracked at times by confidence issues, when he’s feeling good about himself and aggressive, he’s a factor, especially on defense. He averaged 1.4 blocks per game, and opponents must account for him. His offensive game is slowly improving and he showed more confidence at the FT line late in the season. Zhang is smart, dedicated and coachable — and he’s very tall — so Montgomery will find a way to utilize him.

Amoke would be Cal’s top returning rebounder and No. 2 scorer, if he rejoins the team. He provides great energy and is an excellent offensive rebounder. He also could be shifted to small forward, provided he can improve his ballhandling and mid-range shooting. He is potentially a valuable piece to the puzzle for next season. But Montgomery suspended him indefinitely for violation of team rules two days before the Bears’ NCAA opener vs. Louisville, and his return to the team is by no means a sure thing.

Bak is an intriguing prospect whose first order of business is to get his grades in order. He was declared academically ineligible at midseason and played in just eight games. A native of the Sudan who was raised in Kenya, Bak has great quickness and some skill, but needs strength and a few pounds.

Solomon, who teams with Crabbe at Price HS, is a skilled and athletic but wiry thin power forward. He has 3-point shooting range, but perhaps not the strength at this point to compete for rebounds against older college players. Thurman practiced with the team this season after playing Division III ball in New Hampshire a year ago.

Depending on the status of Amoke and assuming everyone is healthy, it’s possible one of Cal’s young frontcourt players (Bak or Solomon perhaps) could be red-shirted next season.

Jeff Faraudo

  • Rocko

    I am not sure why you mentioned Amoke since he’s on secret indefinite probation and no ones talking.
    Bak an intriguing prospect? I can’t remember a scholarship player at CAL that has more raw undfined basketball skills then him. He must have had the game of his life in H.S. when Monty saw him. I hope he flunks out and we get someone else.
    I see us at 9th or 10th in the PAC10 next year.

  • Beast Mode

    Rocko, you’re an idiot. Wishing that an amateur player flunks out of school is beyond wrong and beyond any criticism that a fan should give. Here’s hoping that Bak Bak turns the corner academically and improves his game enough to be a contributor soon.

  • Juancho

    Unless Montgomery speaks to the Amoke situation soon then I’m going to be convinced he is off the team for good. The fact they are all not speaking about anything, makes me think there are cops involved. He better not have pulled a Masoli.

  • Kevin

    >>”Bak an intriguing prospect? I can’t remember a scholarship player at CAL that has more raw undfined basketball skills then him.”

    All I can say is that Rocko obviously hasn’t been paying attention to Cal hoops for very long. Rod Benson, Gabe Hughes, Max Zahng, Saulius Kuzminskas, and Jorde Geli all showed far less talent their freshman years, and that is just the forwards. Bak Bak actually brings some skills. He just needs to get stronger — both physically and in the classroom.

  • http://QBplayitthereasonfortheloss charlie

    Great write up Jeff.

    I don’t foresee a set starting 5 next year, especially early in the season. I feel that Montgomery will have to account for match ups when setting a starting 5 in 2011 – game in and game out.

    I believe Fraklin can start at the point, with Gutierrez starting at the 2 and backing up the point; I’m not impressed by Smith. I see Franklin playing 50%, Gutierrez 40% and Smith 10%, if much at all.

    I see Crabbe starting at the 3 (if he’s as good as indicated) otherwise it’s Seeley starting; I think both will play a lot at the 3. I see Crabbe playing 35%, Seeley 35% and Gutierrez 30% at the 3.

    I see Kamp starting at the 4. If Amoke comes back he could back up Kamp at 4. Kamp, in turn could back up the 5. Assuming Amoke returns, I see Kamp playing 40% at the 4, Amoke 35% and Sanders Frison 25%.

    At center, I see Sanders Frison starting and being backed up by Kamp an Zhang. I can see SF playing 35% of the minutes, Kamp 35% and Zhang 30% at the 5.

    As long as Kamp stays healthy he will be too good to keep off the court and can hopefully play 75% of the minutes (~30/game).

  • http://QBplayitthereasonfortheloss charlie

    …I forgot the 2. Gutierrez should play about 50% there, with Seeley playing 25% of the time and Crabbe 25% of the time at the 2.

  • http://QBplayitthereasonfortheloss charlie

    Actually, if Gutierrez plays 40% at the 1 and 30% at the 2, at most he could play 30% of the time at the 3 (maybe). If not, Crabbe and Seeley will split the duties at the 3 50/50. But if Amoke comes back he can contribute at the 3 as well and Crabbe, Seeley and Amoke could each play 33% at the 3.

  • K1W

    Excellent assessment. Thank you. Looking forward to next season, with such a different team.

  • rollonubears

    if we are really that deep, that bodes well. play 40 minutes of massively intense D, rotating guys in and out, and tiring the hell out of the opposition. it’s a great strategy. we just might be able to pull it off.

  • Bob

    Charlie, I largely agree with your takes. I’m unimpressed with Smith and see a competition between Guttierez and Franklin for the point (both are kind of out of position there unfortunately). I think Seeley is a natural 2, but will have to fight for time with Guttierez if Franklin ends up being the point. I see Crabbe, now at 6’6″ and having developed more of a driving and inside game from what I’ve heard, being a perfect replacement for Theo at the 3, but competing with Amoke for time, if he returns. Sounds like Rossi is a good outside shooter who could get some minutes at the 2 or 3. Kamp if healthy will be the man at the 4 with Bak and Solomon fighting for about 10 backup minutes a game. (By the way, Rocko, I was at the UCSB game when Bak got 4 points, 3 rebounds, and a block in 2 minutes of play. I know it was UCSB and scrub time, but he really did look surprisingly big, strong, athletic and active to me. I think he’ll be a player if he cuts it academically.) I see MSF getting about 25 minutes a game at center if his back is healthy and Zhang about 15.

    It will be an interesting year in that there should be competition for the starting job and playing time at every position except the 4. Very different from the last few years where we pretty much knew coming into the season who the key players were going to be. I think it will be fun to watch, even though there probably won’t be as many wins as the last couple years.

  • esteban

    I am very optimistic for things to come, given the returning players and the new guys coming in. Next year will be surprising beginning. The Bears will finish higher than the middle of the PACx—regardless of Coach M’s cautious optimism. They may not beat out UA or UW, but they will run with the rest of the teams—Ucla, Usc, Asu, and others. BTW–Max is the man.

  • Bob

    By the way, I may be in the minority on this, but unless there is someone amazing out there that I don’t know about, I think Monty should save that extra scholly ’til next year. We have 7 prospects 4-star and above, including 3 legit PF/Cs, interested for next year with only one graduating senior (Kamp). I’d like to be able to get two of those guys next year rather than one. Or three rather than two if Amoke’s not back.

  • mark northfield

    Monty will be able to mold these players from the time they arrive on campus in to the type of team he was known for at Stanford: tough defensively, strong inside presence….smart. Looking forward to it though my expectations for next year are low.

    From what I can gather: Amoke is gone.

  • robert

    Jeff, can you expand a little on Thurman. Does Monty have any expectations for him or any comments regarding what type of player he is?

    Is it realistic to expect any valuable contributions from him next year?

    Thanks!

  • Alex

    Might be jumping ahead a bit, but are any of these incoming freshmen the type that might leave early? Any one-and-dones?

  • Oso Lanoso

    Great write-up Jeff. Thanks for the analysis!

  • robert lerma

    All 12 write ups above collectively lead to one conclusion that most of us are already aware of: we will be full of mistakes and inexperience next year. With that said, I say we play the younger guys and build for 2012. Washington, Washington State, UCLA, USC and Arizona will be tough for this young Cal team. Where Montgomery will earn his money is in transforming his team from a 3 point open offense to a grinding, inside out, outside in type of an offense that will rely on good free throw shooting and contribution from about 10 guys a night. As stated above, it will be a team whose minutes will be played by committee. I will support Cal forever, but a projected 8 , 9 or 10th place will not surprise me next year. There are way too many unknowns going in. Brace yourself that it does not lead to Montgomery aging 8 years in one season.

  • SDBear

    It will be an interesting year. One thing is certain, if we ever want to go deeper in the Tourney we will have to get taller. It was frustrating to watch, again, so many second chance opportunities by the opponents. The Bears probably won’t be beter but they will be taller next season.