Coach Mike Montgomery hemmed and hawed a bit, suggesting the list of issues that need addressing is so long he didn’t quite know where to start.
“We’ve got to learn to play hard,” he said at last. “Everytime I feel like we don’t know all the things we’re trying to do, we get to standing and we don’t play hard.
“There’s a lot of guys who have to learn how hard you have to play at this level to have a chance to win.”
The Golden Bears, with five freshman on the roster, will get their first chance to demonstrate just how hard they can go when they make their season debut Friday night at Haas Pavilion against Coppin State.
The opener shouldn’t provide a huge challenge for Cal, which has four starters back from a 21-12 team that reached the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Eagles, from Baltimore, were 8-24 last season.
Senior Richard Solomon remembers what it was like to be a collegiate rookie.
“You come in as a freshman and you kind of think you’re somebody,” he said. “I’m not saying those guys have that reputation, but they definitely come from backgrounds where they were that guy.
“It’s a whole different level and they have to start all over. I can relate to them a lot. We just try to help them through that learning curve. The better they are, the better we’re going to be.”
Montgomery said there is still much for the freshmen to learn.
“I don’t know if I’ve had this many younger players before, but yeah, what they don’t know they need to be able to make up for in maximum effort and hard work.”
The rookie quintet is strong, rated among the nation’s top 20 recruiting classes. Salesian High grad Jabari Bird, a McDonald’s All-American, is the headliner.
“Everybody expects so much and you feel for the kid a little bit,” Montgomery said. “He’s just a young pup who’s got to figure it out like all the other freshmen.
“He’s got to learn to shoot it when he’s open and pass it when he’s not. We can get him shots if he can figure out where he needs to be and how to get his feet set.
“He’s a talented player, but there’s going to be growing pains, just as there are for all the freshmen.”
Fellow guard Jordan Mathews scored 15 points in the Bears’ exhibition win over Humboldt State and has been the team’s best perimeter shooter through camp, Montgomery said.
In his sixth season as the Bears’ coach, Montgomery expects all five to make contributions this season.
That includes 7-footer Kameron Rooks, who probably could use an extra year to develop his body — continue to trim down while adding strength.
It’s not likely Rooks or anyone will be red-shirted, Montgomery said.
“By the time we get into December, January, Kameron has to be able to help us,” Montgomery said. “It may not translate into 20 minutes a game, but we need him to be able to help us right now. That’s not a luxury I think we have with him.”
Forward Roger Moute a Bidias and point guard Sam Singer also will be in the mix. At 6-foot-7, Moute a Bidias is long and athletic, and could even used at power forward when Solomon or David Kravish comes off the floor.
Singer is competing with sophomore starting guard Tyrone Wallace to be Justin Cobbs’ primary backup at the point.
“Point guard’s a hard position because you’ve got to learn what everybody’s job is on the floor, you’ve got to think for others,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think (Singer) is real comfortable with that aspect of his game right now.
“He can shoot the ball, he can go to the basket, he’s got size, he can rebound from the guard position. He’s going to have to learn how to keep a person in front of him defensively in man-to-man because there’s some quick guards in this league. That’s going to be a little bit of a problem for him.”