By Jeff Faraudo
Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 4:29 pm in Basketball.
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):
– 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).
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.
– 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.).
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.
– 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).
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.