Here’s what we know about Cal’s season opener at 9 p.m. Friday against Coppin State: The visiting Eagles were 8-24 last year and take on the Bears without their best player, sidelined by an injury.
OK, so we may not learn a lot about Cal on Day 1 of the season.
But the Bears are revved to go, no one so than junior forward David Kravish.
“I’m excited,” he said this week. “It’s a new group of guys and it’s obvious from coming back after summer that nobody took a negative step.
“Everybody made a positive improvement in their game. The chemistry feels good.”
In particular, Kravish and fellow frontcourt starter Richard Solomon figure to be better. Kravish added strength, Solomon a low-post game. Or so we’re told.
Both changes are needed if the Bears, with good depth on the perimeter but not much up front, hope to challenge in the fast-improving Pac-12 Conference.
Asked about his expectations for this season, Kravish rather gushed.
“Really high expectations. Really high,” he said. “Especially knowing where we’ve been the last two years. We’ve been so close (to the Pac-12 title).
“Given who we have back and the mentality of these players, really, really excited.”
Solomon’s mentality is to become something of a leader on a team with five freshman, and to anchor himself in the paint. In past seasons, the 6-foot-10 forward has occasionally strayed to the perimeter, sometimes hoisting up 3-point tries, prompting coach Mike Montgomery’s face to contort.
No more, promised Solomon. He said he’s determined to play near the basket, rebound and score the basketball, which is what the Bears need from him.
“Personally, I think this has been my best offseason yet. I’m excited to be back on the floor and put that offseason to the test,” he said.
And where will we see that progress?
“The fact that I have a post game now,” Solomon said. “I’m not too worried about being on the wing, shooting 3s, as much as I have been in the past. I’ve refined my post game. After three years, sometimes a light just goes (on) a little late.”
Montgomery is hopeful.
“He’s maturing. He should be one of the better big people in the conference,” Montgomery said. “He’s explosive. We’ve got to eliminate the silly, touch fouls that get him in trouble. That’s mainly a concentration issue. He should have a real good year.”
The Bears hope to fuel Solomon by giving him opportunity to excel near the basket.
“The more we get him the ball in the paint, the better he’s going to be, the harder he’s going to work,” Montgomery said. “Like any big guy, if you feed the big people, they’re going to continue to work for you.”
Kravish, who arrived at Cal two years ago carrying barely 190 pounds on his 6-9 frame, now is 230.
Asked what he did all summer, Kravish said, “I ate.”
And not fast food. “My girlfriend actually got on me about eating right,” he said. “She makes sure I eat my vegetables.”
Spinach? Kravish said he definitely is stronger.
“I’m not moved as easily as I was before. When I hit people, they feel it a little more,” he said. “It helps me when I’m making post moves. I can take a hit, gather myself and actually go straight up instead of being pushed out so much.”
Montgomery is content with Kravish’s steady physical development.
“He’s not a shrinking violet. He’s not a guy who’s going to get blown out of there,” Montgomery said. “He could always be stronger. But he’s long, and physical play won’t bother him like it might have two years ago.”
Still, the Bears would like Kravish to more aggressively utilize his offensive skillset.
“He’s kind of a reluctant hero,” Montgomery noted. “He’s looking to pass it. Hopefully he’ll get better at that and more comfortable with what he can do.”
Coppin, under coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell in his 28th season, will take on the Bears without 6-5 senior forward Murray Mitchell, who led the team last season at 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
Mitchell has a fractured hand that will sideline him the first couple weeks of the season.
The Eagles’ projected starting lineup features just one player taller than 6-5. Those five starters combined to average 24.5 points a year ago.
Coppin was picked to finish ninth in the 13-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference by the league’s coaches.
The Bears are 2-0 all-time vs. the visitors from Baltimore.