While acknowledging that “you’re never satisfied,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery expressed satisfaction about a season in which the Golden Bears finished in a tie for second place in the Pac-12 and won an NCAA tournament game for just the second time in his five seasons.
The Bears (21-12, 12-6 Pac-12) had “a chance to win it — we didn’t but we had a chance, and that’s what you want,” Montgomery said. “On balance, it’s a pretty good season.”
Cal has been competitive at the top of the conference in four of Montgomery’s first five seasons. In fact, over the past five years, the Bears and Washington share the best composite record in league play at 59-31, followed by UCLA at 58-32, and Arizona at 57-33.
The perfectionist in Montgomery laments opportunity lost. The Bears went into the final week of the Pac-12 season in position to steal a piece of the title. Everyone else cooperated with losses, and still Cal couldn’t get the hump.
“There were some things there that were available for us that we didn’t get,” he conceded.
Montgomery sounds excited about next season, although he won’t know for about a month whether Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe (18.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) returns for his senior season or enters the NBA draft.
Junior point guard Justin Cobbs also has requested an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
My guess: Crabbe departs, Cobbs remains.
Either way, the Bears will return with a veteran nucleus, augmented by a strong four-man recruiting class.
With or without Crabbe, I envision the Bears somewhere in the top four in the Pac-12 next season, behind Arizona but competitive with pretty much anyone else.
At least four starters back
Aside from Crabbe, the Bears will have four returning starters:
— F Richard Solomon (6-10, Sr.) 8.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, .472 FG
Montgomery: “Richard has improved consistently. We need him to finish better. We probably need to use him away from the basket a little more. He does shoot the ball pretty well. When he gets tuned in, he can go get the ball.”
— F David Kravish (6-9, Jr.) 7.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, .498 FG, 56 blocks
Montgomery: “Kravish needs to try to get a little bit stronger. He got bounced around pretty good on occasion. But he can move his feet, can defend a person away from the basket. He needs just continued improvement.”
— PG Justin Cobbs (6-3, Sr.) 15.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, .325 3-PT, .841 FT
Montgomery: “He’s still a combo guard. He certainly was better at the end of the year. He’s a reluctant shooter. We’ve got to get him where he’s more comfortable with his shot. He wants to drive.”
— SG Tyrone Wallace (6-4, So.) 7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, .342 FG, .224 3-PT
Montgomery: “Absolutely, no question (he can become a better shooter). He’s got to go to work and change his stroke a little bit and become more consistent. I think he can and I think he will. I expect him to improve in every facet of the game. He loves to work. He’s got length, he’ll get stronger as he matures. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s exciting about him, first and foremost because he wants to be a good player.”
Junior shooting guard Ricky Kreklow (3.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 9 games), who missed much of this season with a lingering foot injury, will take the next month off to let the bone heal thoroughly.
Montgomery is convinced we haven’t seen any of Kreklow’s potential. “He’s tough, plays hard, understands a lot of things. He’s got a good basketball IQ.”
The Bears also have high hopes for 6-9 sophomore forward Christian Behrens (0.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 7 games), who missed most of the season with a recurring knee injury. If he can stay healthy, Behrens figures to be in the rotation at the post.
Help on the way
The Bears will bring in at least four freshmen — there could be a fifth if Crabbe leaves and a scholarship opens.
Shooting guard Jabari Bird either will provide Crabbe a nice complement on the wing or will compete to replace him, should Crabbe exit.
At 6-6, the five-star Salesian HS star is the best local recruit Montgomery has landed.
“The sky’s the limit,” Montgomery said of Bird. “He’s a highly touted player, very athletic, can play above the rim. He has a knack for scoring. Physically, he’s going to get stronger and stronger. He’s a slasher. He can play at the basket and can shoot the ball.”
Also signed are Santa Monica shooting guard Jordan Mathews, the son of ex-USF coach Phil Mathews, and Miami point guard Sam Singer. The Bears have a commitment from 6-11 center Kameron Rooks, the son of former Arizona post star Sean Rooks. Kameron Rooks is expected to sign on April 17.
Bird and Mathews, in particular, should help a team that converted just 30.2 percent from the 3-point arc this season.
“Mathews is a tough-minded kid, physical and not afraid to make contact. He can really shoot the ball,” Montgomery said. “That’s what we lacked — guys who can shoot the ball. Singer is multi-faceted. He can handle, he’s a real good passer, understands the game and has length. He can play multiple positions.”
Montgomery is not permitted to comment on Rooks until he is officially signed.
Farewells and projects
If a scholarship opens up, figure the Bears to seek another big man. With Robert Thurman (4.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Bak Bak (1.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg) graduating, Montgomery noted the Bears could use more depth up front. The only other graduating senior is backup point guard Brandon Smith (2.4 ppg, 1.8 apg), whose role diminished late in the season.
Because the Bears will have so many perimeter players, Montgomery said they could play a smaller lineup at times. Figure that to be situational, especially depending on the opponent.
Don’t expect quantum leaps from three freshmen who redshirted this season: SG Kahlil Johnson, F Kaileb Rodriguez and walkon 7-foot-1 C Geoff Frid.
“If anybody in that group would have been capable, we would have used them (this season),” Montgomery said. “There’s got to be some work there from that group.”