As I mentioned in my last Book Report (about how a book on the 1972 Oakland A’s related to the cancellation of the Cal-Ohio state games), Cal can pop up in the most random of places. I am currently reading "A March To Madness" by John Feinstein (whose works I really enjoy). In that book, Mr. Feinstein spends a year following around all the coaches in the ACC for the 1996-1997 basketball season. And our California Golden Bears actually make a few appearances.
But before I get to the meat, there are a few pieces of bread to note. The first is that Ubaka has signed with the Charlotte Bobcats. He is playing in their summer league. He might not make the team, but at least he has the opportunity. This article details the 4 Cal players (Benson, Powe, Ubaka, Lammond Muray) playing in the NBA Summer Leagues. For those interested in seeing how Leon Powe did in his first year with the rather putrid Boston Celtics, here is the excerpt from the article:
"Powe recently finished his rookie year with the Celtics and is a member of Boston’s summer team in Las Vegas. The two-time All-Pac-10 performer played with 63 games during his first season in the NBA, averaging 4.2 ppg and 3.4 rpg, with a high of 19 points at Atlanta April 10."
And for those interested in getting periodically interrupted by thousands of people, now is your chance! The Cal sports webpage says there are opportunities to sing the National Anthem before some sporting events (like basketball next year). Here is the form to fill out. I’d make a William Hung joke, but then again if I worked hard, believed in myself, said my prayers, and ate my vitamins maybe I’d be able to sing as well as Mr. Hung. So, I really shouldn’t be talking here. But buddling artists, check it out.
OK, so back to the meat. 1996-1997 was Ben Braun’s first year as head coach. Brought in to clean up the program, he made the Sweet Sixteen in his first year. He also ended up playing Maryland early in the regular season. Mr. Feinstein recounts Maryland’s mindset going into the game:
"The Terrapins’ first true challenges came on the second weekend in December in the Franklin National bank Classic, a four-team charity tournament that included George Washington, Mississippi State, and California. The Terrapins would open against California. Although Cal had been devastated during the off-season by player defections and the firing of coach Todd Bozeman in the midst of an NCAA investigation, the Golden Bears still had excellent size, a great shooter in Ed Gray, and an oustanding new coach in Ben Braun, who had left Eastern Michigan in the fall to take over for Bozeman."
Oh, to be young again. This was Braun’s best year with Cal. He was viewed as "outstanding." The author recounts the Terrapins’ gameplan against the Golden Bears:
"While [the players] dress, music blasting around the locker room, [Coach Gary Williams] will find a spot to sit by himself and think up the four game themes he plans to write ont he board. Every game has four themes. Most are basic. For California, they were: team rebounding (Cal’s size being a concern); offense (being careful not to quick-shot against Cal’s zone); transition (easy baskets would be key against a bigger, slower team); and effort."
I bet if Cal had faced Maryland last year one of the four basic themes woulda been something like "Be patient (Cal won’t shoot for the first 98% of the shot clock). After writing about how nervous the Maryland Coach was for various reasons unrelated to Cal, the author starts to describe the game itself:
"…Williams was pleased with the first half. Cal jumped to an early lead, but the Terrapins began to wear them down with their quickness near the end of the half. Profit, unbothered by not starting, came off the bench to hit four of seven shots. Maryland led 40-36 at the break. Williams was pleased. He was convinced Cal could not keep up with his team’s quickness. They had been outrebounded 22-18, but that was OK. They could handle that kind of margin.
The second half was all Maryland. Profit hit three three-pointers in the first four minutes to open the lead to 52-40. From there, it was the Profit-Keith booth show. Cal had no answers for either. The lead grew to 22 before Williams went to his bench and the Terrapins cruised home with an 80-64 victory. Even Williams couldn’t know at the time how impressive the win was. Cal would go on to be one of the surprise teams in the country, reaching the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. On this day, though, the Bears were completely outplayed."
"December 8, 1996
Maryland Strolls To 80-64 Win Over Cal
LANDOVER, Md. — Laron Profit poured in a game-high 24 points and Keith Booth added 22 as Maryland cruised to an 80-64 victory over California in opening round play of the Franklin National Bank Classic at the USAir Arena.
The Terps (5-0) held a slim 40-36 lead at halftime, but they took over the game in the early stages of the second half. While the Golden Bears struggled from the field, Maryland caught fire, shooting a sizzling 58 percent from the field in the second half. Cal, meanwhile, was just 11-for-34 (32 percent) from the field in the final half.
Profit was 10-for-14 from the field in the game, including 4-of-5 from three-point range.
Randy Duck paced the Golden Bears with 19 points. Ed Gray, who was just 4-for-15 from the field, added 12 points for Cal (4-2)."
I think that Jasikevicius listed there is Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was one of the Golden State Warriors best cheerleaders during the playoffs. Anyway, I fear to think that if Cal had played Maryland last year, Cal would also have been completely outplayed. And with no Sweet Sixteen trip for consolation. According to the Cal Media Guide, that is the only time Cal has played Maryland, though. So, our series record stands at 0-1. Great.
It is a bit depressing to read stumble upon these passages while reading the book. At that time, Ben Braun was viewed as outstanding. Cal was viewed as a rising star of a team that surprised everybody. And now the sheen has fallen off of Braun and his job hangs by a thread. I think many people feel that, with Hardin returning, if Cal doesn’t make the tournament this upcoming season, he should be fired. Many MORE people feel he should have been fired years ago. How did it all go so wrong???
Cal makes another brief cameo appearance later in the book:
"The Wildcats were a huge surprise to everyone. They had faltered so badly down the stretch that many people were angered when they were seeded fourth in the Southeast with a 19-9 record after finishig fifth in the Pacific-10. But the Pac-10 turned out to be the league everyone had underrated. For the first time in history, four Pac-10 teams-Arizona, UCLA, stanford, and California-reached the Sweet Sixteen. Cal and Stanford lost in that round while UCLA made it to the round of eight before losing to Minnesota."
The Pac-10 is ALWAYS being underrated! I believe Cal ended up losing to a UNC team that made the Final Four. No shame in that. Alas, it was all downhill from there. But expectations are high for this upcoming season. Perhaps Cal can make the Sweet Sixteen and remind everybody of that 1996-1997 team. And if we are lucky, I will *never* sing the national anthem at ANY basketball games. GO BEARS!