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.”
The Cal women’s basketball team, coming off its first trip to the Final Four last season, is rated No. 9 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, matching the Bears’ highest preseason ranking.
Cal was 32-4 last season and shared its first Pac-12 championship with rival Stanford.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery, peppered with questions about Jabari Bird, called the Bay Area prospect “probably the most high-profile freshman” he has brought to Berkeley and predicted, “He’s going to be a great player.”
But Montgomery said the job of helping Bird become that player falls to senior point guard Justin Cobbs.
“It’s going to be the responsibility of a guy like Justin to make sure that we take advantage of his abilities,” Montgomery said Thursday at Pac-12 media day in San Francisco.
In other words, as always with Montgomery, he wants his upper classmen to shoulder the pressure and leadership on his team.
Arizona was picked to win the Pac-12 men’s basketball title in a poll of media members who cover the conference. The Wildcats collected 21 of 23 first-place votes.
The others went to UCLA and Colorado, who finished second and third in the poll.
Oregon was fourth, just two points ahead of Cal.
The rest of the poll: Stanford, Arizona State, Washington, Utah, Oregon State, USC and Washington State.
The media has correctly predicted the Pac-12 champion 12 of the past 21 seasons.
Cal is one of three Pac-12 teams with two players listed on CBS Sports’ rankings of the top-100 college basketball players in the nation.
Senior Justin Cobbs is No. 74 and freshman Jabari Bird sits at No, 93.
Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon is 10th and teammate Nick Johnson 59th. UCLA also has two players on the list — Kyle Anderson at No. 27, Jordan Adams at No. 37.
Other Pac-12 players on the list are No. 9 Jahii Carson of Arizona State, No. 21 Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado, No. 67 Dwight Powell of Stanford, No. 78 Mike Moser of Oregon and No. 92 C.J. Wilcox of Washington.
Kentucky has seven players on the top-100 list, five of them among the top 36. Louisville and Michigan State each have four players on the list.
The rankings, compiled by Gary Parrish and not based on NBA potential, features 40 seniors, 23 juniors, 21 sophomores and 16 freshmen. But five of those freshmen are ranked in the top-12, led by No. 1 Andrew Wiggins of Kansas.
Sophomore Tyrone Wallace spent his offseason trying to convince his right hand to mind its own business.
If the message got through, Wallace may have repaired the one glaring weakness in his game — his ability to shoot the ball.
Wallace is a left-handed guard who averaged 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists as a freshman last season. He is a willing defender and has grown an inch to 6-foot-5 and gained 20 pounds to 190.
But can he consistently put the ball in the basket?
“Sometimes my right hand gets more dominant and it’s top of the ball and my ball spins out weird,” said Wallace, who made just 22 percent of his 3-point tries last season and barely 53 percent from the free throw line.
“That was definitely a focus to try to get my left hand to be more dominant, use my right hand strictly as a guide.”
It’s almost with a sense of pride that Ricky Kreklow wears a shiner under his right eye.
For the junior guard, it’s evidence he’s back on the court again.
“I’m excited,” Kreklow said this week. “I’ve had a pretty rough college road, but I’m excited to finally put a good foot forward.”
That wasn’t intended to be a pun, but Kreklow, a transfer from Missouri two years ago, missed all but nine games last season because of a broken bone in his right foot that was reluctant to heal.
Point guard Justin Cobbs describes Kreklow as almost an X-factor on the Bears’ roster.
“People are going to finally see Ricky Kreklow for the type of player he is because he’s not going to have to worry about that foot,” Cobbs said. “He’s Jorge (Gutierrez) with a little jumper. That’s what we need.”
So Kreklow had no complaints last Saturday when, three minutes into the team’s first official practice, he was accidentally poked in the eye during a drill by freshman Jabari Bird.
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The Cal women’s basketball team, coming off its first-ever Final Four appearance, begins practice Tuesday.
The Golden Bears were 32-4 last season, shared the Pac-12 title and return three starters to a team projected as No. 3 in the country, according to Lindy’s magazine.
I spoke last week with coach Lindsay Gottlieb about her team. Here’s our conversation:
What do you and your players expect from this encore season?
“I think our baseline for everything has been raised. Our expectations now permanently for Cal women’s basketball have been raised. Does that mean we’re going to go to the Final Four every single year? No, everything has to go right. But if there’s a legacy that team left, it’s there’s a way you play at Cal. You play for each other, play with a lot of heart, play very hard, enjoy it. Now that that’s established, the level of expectation every day in practice is higher.”
The college football season is just a month old and already college basketball practice is set to begin. Yes, in September.
The NCAA in May voted to move up the beginning of practice for men’s teams by essentially two weeks from its recent start date of Oct. 15. The move comes two years after women’s teams were allowed the earlier start.
“They saw what we were doing and liked the rule,” Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think we were the guinea pigs.”
“It makes all the sense in the world,” said Cal men’s coach Mike Montgomery, whose team will begin practicing Saturday. “There’s no negative to it in my mind.”
Not quite a month after undergoing surgery for a broken right foot, Cal senior point guard Justin Cobbs said he is running on a treadmill with no pain and perhaps ahead of schedule in his recovery.
“Everything’s feeling good,” Cobbs said. “Just taking my time.”
Practice begins Sept. 27 and Cobbs wouldn’t speculate on how extensively he will be able to participate at first. But he’s been assured the foot will be stronger than ever after having a screw put in to stabilize the metatarsal bone.
“I feel really good about it. I’m not worried,” he said. “Just stay healthy and stay focused. I should be back 100 percent.”
Cal’s season opens Nov. 8 against Coppin State.