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Basketball: Bird tests himself at Durant camp

Cal sophomore wing Jabari Bird got the chance to play against some of the nation’s top wing players and measure his talents against the NBA’s MVP at the recent Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington D.C.

“Overall, it was a great experience,” Bird said. “I got the opportunity to play against some of the top college players in the country and really got after it. I felt like I represented the University of California well with the best of my ability.”

Bird and 14 other top college wing players spent three days in D.C. learning techniques from Durant and participating in drills that focused on ball handling, spot shooting and fast breaks among other skill work. The sessions also included one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three full-court competitions.

At the end of each session, participants played a game with a squad selected by Durant that also included the Oklahoma City Thunder star.

“It was fun to play against the MVP himself,” Bird said. “He was really competitive. He wasn’t taking it easy on us because we were in college. He was real tough to guard.”

Bird, who averaged 8.3 points for Cal as a freshman last season, said Durant had plenty of useful advice to share. “He explained how we all have a lot of potential and that many of us could be playing with him in the NBA one day. “That was very inspiring to hear from the MVP himself.

“I need to continue to get strong, continue to work on my shot, my handle, and my defensive intensity,” Bird said. “I came away with a lot of confidence in my overall game, but I also know I need to get better for my sophomore year.”

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Football: Cal legend Joe Roth’s courageous story traced in new documentary — `Don’t Quit’

Former Cal football coach Mike White called it, “the biggest secret in the history of college athletics.”

Even White didn’t know during the fall of 1976 that Joe Roth, his All-America quarterback, was playing out his senior season while battling an aggressive strain of malignant melanoma. By February 1977, just 21 years old, Roth was dead.

Roth’s remarkable tale — the way he lived and the way he died — unfolds in “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story,” a documentary film five years in the making by Cal grads Phil Schaaf and Bob Rider.

The 85-minute film, which made its debut in April at the Newport Film Festival, had its first Bay Area showing Wednesday night in front of about 300 Cal fans at Memorial Stadium.

The home crowd — including his former coach and a handful of ex-teammates — watched as Roth arrived in Berkeley from Grossmont junior college, became almost an overnight star who won friends with his low-key charm, then silently labored through his final painful months.

“In the end it has nothing to do with the sport,” Schaaf said. “Instead, it’s about humam elegance in the face of unfathomable adversity. In Joe’s case, it’s against this backdrop of athletic greatness.”

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Football: Harper, Leininger join watch lists

 Juniors Chris Harper and Cole Leininger were named to preseason watch lists Wednesday, with Harper earning a spot on the wide receivers list assembled by the College Football Performance Awards, Leininger for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter.

Harper is one of 42 wide receivers on the list with the winner of the award to be announced on January 14, 2015.

Harper has been Cal’s most productive receiver over the last two seasons and is the team’s active career leader in receptions (111), receiving yards (1,396), receiving touchdowns (7).

Last season, Harper caught 70 passes for 852 yards and five touchdowns.

Leininger is one of the Ray Guy Award’s 25 preseason candidates for the first time and is a member of the award’s watch list for the second consecutive year.

Leininger is coming off a 2013 sophomore campaign in which he increased his punting average by 3.0 yards per punt to a 42.9 mark for the eighth-best avearge in school history.

His 41.5 yards per punt career average ranks No. 10 on Cal’s all-time list.

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Cal athletic director search could take a year

Cal’s search for an athletic director could take almost a year, said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who will rely on significant input from the interim director he appointed two weeks ago.

In his first public comments since announcing June 27 that Sandy Barbour was out after a decade on the job, Dirks on Wednesday provided more details on his expected timeline and the process that will determine the next athletic director.

Cal alum Michael Williams will begin his assignment as interim AD on Tuesday, and is charged with running the department while providing Dirks with regular feedback on what he sees as priorities going forward.

Dirks said nothing tangible, including the hiring of a search firm or the assembling of a search committee, will begin until the Chancellor’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics provides its recommendations. That report originally was scheduled to be delivered by late June, but now is expected in September.

One of Williams’ most important tasks, Dirks said, will be as “the person at the helm for when we get the recommendations from the task force to figure out how to respond positively and meaningfully to the task force.”

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Football: Bears land 4-star quarterback

The Bears missed out on two Bay Area prospects they were pursuing, but landed a verbal commit Tuesday from quarterback Ross Bowers of Bothell, Washington.

Cal whiffed on four-star cornerback/athlete Isaiah Langley of Foothill-Pleasanton, who chose USC, and three-star athlete Stephen Johnson of San Leandro, who said he will attend UCLA.

All three players made their announcements at The Opening, a prestigious camp held at Nike headquarters in Oregon.

The 6-foot-1, Bowers, rated as a four-star quarterback. by espn.com, is a pro-style quarterback according to rivals.com. He chose Cal over Colorado State, the school he was favoring until recently.

“I’ve always considered myself the underdog,” he said on ESPNU. “That’s how I work out, that’s how I train.”

Scout.com rates Bowers as a three-star player and the No. 58 QB prospect in the country. Rivals also rates him as a three-star prospect.

Bowers, whose father coaches at James Madison University, visited the Berkeley campus a couple weeks ago and was taken by Cal’s coaching staff and sophomore quarterback Jared Goff.

“I got to talk with (Jared Goff) on my visit and I realized he’s such a good dude and definitely be a guy I can look up to and definitely help me on my way,” Bowers said. “Being under him coming in as a freshman and trying to learn and soak up as much as I can from him. He’s a great guy and just try to be the best I can be in that program.”

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Football: Goff named to another QB watch list

Doesn’t it seem like there are an awful lot of college football awards and the preseason watch lists that go with them?

Once upon a time there was the Heisman Trophy. Now everyone’s giving out hardware.

Cal sophomore Jared Goff, named to the Maxwell Award watch list on Monday, was among 40 quarterbacks chosen to the College Football Performance Awards Quarterback Trophy.

Eight of the 40 nominees — 20 percent of them — are from the Pac-12. The others: ASU’s Taylor Kelly, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, OSU’s Sean Mannion, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, USC;s Cody Kessler and WSU’s Connor Halliday.

That’s a QB from every conference school except Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

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Basketball: Cobbs gets on the floor

Former Cal star Justin Cobbs got off the bench and into the game for the first time Tuesday during NBA summer league play in Orlando, Florida.

Cobbs played nine minutes and contributed two points and an assist to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 80-73 win over Orlando. Cobbs, who did not play in the Grizzlies’ first two games, shot 1 for 3 and also had a steal and a turnover.

For the third straight game, Richard Solomon did not play for the Houston Rockets in their 92-71 loss to Philadelphia.

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Football: Goff, Muhammad on watch lists

Cal sophomores Jared Goff and Khalfani Muhammad are part of early-season watch lists for a couple national awards.

Goff, who set Cal’s single-season passing yardage record (3,508 yards) as a freshman last fall, is on the Maxwell Award preseason watch list. The Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top college football player, dates back to 1937.

Goff is among 16 Pac-12 players and seven quarterbacks from the conference on the list. Other QBs from the Pac-12 in the running are: Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, ASU’s Taylor, Kelly, USC’s Cody Kessler, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Semifinalists for the Maxwell Award will be announced on Nov. 3.

Muhammad is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. As a freshman last season, Muhammad led Cal with 445 rushing yards and a 6.0 per-carry average, and totaled 1,638 all-purpose yards, including 46 kickoff returns for 1,003 yards.

Muhammad is one of seven Pac-12 players on the 47-man watch list. Others include Stanford’s Ty Montgomery, USC’s Nelson Agholor and UCLA’s Myles Jack.

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Basketball/baseball: Earl Robinson dies

Earl Robinson, one of Cal’s greatest two-sport athletes, died Friday at the age of 77 after a long illness.

Robinson, who starred in basketball and baseball in the late 1950s, was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. He was voted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor in 2010 and a year later received the Pete Newell Career Achievement Award, which is presented to the Cal men’s basketball alumnus who upholds the highest ideals of Coach Newell and the University of California.

Robinson was modest in his acceptance of the Newell award.

“When they talk about an achievement award, you must remember that you never do this by yourself,” Robinson said. “It’s because of so many people. It is you that I share this award with. I am humbled by this award. You, the fans, supported us – I don’t care whether Wilt Chamberlain came in here, the great Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Elgin Baylor or whoever it might be. It was your support that made us feel that we could always compete. And so I accept this award in your honor.”

A graduate of Berkeley High, Robinson was a 6-foot-1 guard on the basketball team, helping Cal to conference titles in 1956, ’57 and ’58. He was twice an All-Coast selection and three times was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team.
 
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Basketball: Cobbs, Solomon sit in summer debuts

Former Cal stars Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon never got off the bench Saturday as their NBA teams made their season debuts in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

Cobbs was signed this week to a summer-league contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, who beat Oklahoma City 84-63.

Solomon is with the Houston Rockets, who lost 95-89 to Detroit.

Jorge Gutierrez, who won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors for Cal in 2012, had eight points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal in Brooklyn’s 101-81 win over Indiana. Gutierrez played the latter portion of the 2014-14 NBA regular season with the Nets.