Hooray for Basketball Season! Distract me from the misery that is Cal Football!
I know we haven’t been covering sports outside of football lately, but it’s high time that changed. I’ve been meaning to post up an analysis of this year’s Men’s Basketball roster, and considering the Bears play their first real game tonight vs. Southern Miss, it’s about time I got to it.
Ayinde Ubaka (G), Omar Wilkes (G), Alex Pribble (G)
Ayinde is obviously the biggest loss here. A four-year starter, last year Ubaka finally grew into the big-time floor general that Cal has needed for so long. Unfortunately, injuries left the rest of the team so thin that Ubaka’s efforts were largely wasted (a notable exception: Cal’s thrilling upset of #1 seed UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament). Last year, Ayinde was 2nd on the team in scoring at 13.7 ppg, 3rd in steals, 3rd in rebounds, and he led the team with a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio (no one else had more than 1.6). Plus, down the stretch with the game on the line, Ubaka was money from the free throw line.
However, Omar Wilkes is the Bear that got away here. Having received his degree but still possessing a year of eligibility, Omar elected not to attend grad school and play one more year, but instead to go get a job and start a career. It’s hard to be mad at him for making such an informed, adult decision, but his departure leaves the Bears unexpectedly thin at guard. 4th in scoring, 2nd in steals, and 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio last year, Omar wasn’t an All-American candidate or anything, but every minute that Braun plays a walk-on at the guard position this year is a minute that could have been filled by a battle-tested veteran, and I can almost guarantee the Bears will feel it at some point this year.
Finally, the sun has set on ‘Pribble Time’. Once a staple of garbage time at Cal, ‘Pribble Time’ moved to prime time last year as Braun’s hand was forced by an extensive injury list. The stat sheet won’t show that this former walk-on contributed much, but he played some tough, tough defense, and his hustle will be missed.
Omondi Amoke (F), Harper Kamp (F), Max Zhang (C), Jordan Fillmore (F), Eddie Miller (G)
Amoke and Kamp were both highly regarded coming out of high school, but I’m very skeptical of recruiting rankings, and so tend to reserve judgement on players until I’ve seen them play, and I haven’t seen either player yet. I expect both players will contribute this year, but with Cal’s depth at forward, neither should be asked to carry the load unless they play well enough to force the issue.
Meanwhile, if you’ve been around campus much, you’ve probably noticed the 7′ 2" asian guy. He’s kinda hard to miss. That’s freshman Max Zhang, and yes, he plays on the basketball team. However, by all reports he’s very raw, and with Cal’s wealth of big men this year, I expect he’ll redshirt this year.
Fillmore and Miller are both walk-ons, and I have to admit, I don’t know anything about either. With the depth at forward, I doubt we see Fillmore much this year, but Miller might be called upon to provide depth at guard.
Who’s Transfered In
Jamal Boykin (F), Nican Robinson (G)
Both these guys transfered in last year, but as per NCAA rules, had to sit out a year. Boykin saw little action as a freshman at Duke, had his sophomore campaign derailed by a case of mononucleosis, and decided mid-year to transfer closer to home. Again, I don’t know much about him, but if Duke wanted him out of high school, I expect he’ll add quite a bit to our team. However, because he transfered mid-year, he’s not eligible until finals are over in December.
Robinson walked on to UCLA two years ago, but for whatever reason decided to transfer closer to home last year. Perhaps he thought he’d get more of an opportunity to play at Cal; if so, he definitely knew what he was doing. He still doesn’t have a scholarship, but with the Bears as thin as they are at guard (especially with Jerome Randle still sidelined after his kidney biopsy), he’ll most likely be called upon to provide valuable backup minutes.
Last year, injuries derailed what could have been a promising season. Especially devastating was the loss for the season of both DeVon Hardin and Jordan Wilkes, leaving Ryan Anderson stuck with playing the post. Short and shorthanded, the Bears were simply overmatched in many of their Pac-10 games.
This year was supposed to be different, and so far it is. Yes, the injuries have started piling up, but thus far no one is lost for the year. Also different this year is that while Cal has a wealth of size, the injuries have been thinning the ranks of Cal’s smaller players.
Theo Robertson was the first to go down, having offseason hip surgery; he should hopefully be back by January. Freshman Omandi Amoke is recovering from surgery for a vascular abnormality in his calf. But the big blow was Jerome Randle needing a kidney biopsy. Hopefully he’ll be OK (as CBKWit mentioned yesterday, he hopes to be back in a couple weeks), but in the meantime, his absence leaves Nikola Knezevic as the only point guard on scholarship.
The Bears have seven guards on their roster, but only three of them are on scholarship. In fact, not counting a few garbage minutes for Liss and Armstrong last year, these seven players have a total of three year’s experience for Cal. Clearly, this inexperienced group will be Cal’s weakness this year, and Randle’s absence only exacerbates the problem.
For now, Knezevic will start at the point and Christopher will be the shooting guard, but backing them up will be a rotation of walk-ons who, whatever their skills (and I haven’t seen them play enough to speak to them), their inexperience is bound to hurt the Bears at some point. One can only hope that Braun can once again work his magic with walk-ons, turning them into serviceable Pac-10 basketball players.
One of the things that I’m excited about this year is that Ryan Anderson actually gets to play power forward this year. It’s not that he can’t play inside, but he’s got talent that, frankly, is wasted in the low post. Along with DeVon Hardin, he’s one of the big reasons to check out the Bears this year.
The position may be thin to start, with Robertson and Amoke recovering from surgery and Boykin ineligible until finals are over, but the Bears have such a wealth of big men that I wouldn’t be surprised to see lots of Wilkes at center, with Hardin sliding over to the 4. Then, once everyone gets back, Cal will be able to throw tons of size at opponents. This will be a very different team from last year.
Who’s In The Center
How many teams out there have so much size that they can afford to redshirt a guy who’s 7′ 2", no matter how raw? Not many, but these Bears are big. Consider this: Cal has 5 players 6′ 10" or taller, and another 3 who measure up to 6′ 8". Crazy.
The biggest reason I’m optimistic for these Bears is DeVon Hardin. He’s always had talent, but he was just starting to put it together last year, in his junior season, when a stress fracture in his foot ended his year. He’s physically gifted enough to be an NBA lottery pick, but if he can carry his progress forward and really learn to play, I like Cal’s chances to make some noise. Pair him up with 7′ 0" Jordan Wilkes, and we’re talking some serious matchup problems for opposing teams. Now the question becomes: can Braun figure out how to manage all this size?
Who’s Going To Graduate When
This is a young team, with only two seniors (Hardin and Vierneisal) and one junior (Robertson). 11 players on this team are classified as sophmores, although a lot of them are older (Knezevich and Wilkes lost a year to injury, Boykin and Robinson lost a year to transfer rules, and Patrick Armstrong is actually a 5th-year senior who didn’t make the team until his 4th year at Cal).
Hardin will be tough to lose after this year, but as long as Ryan Anderson doesn’t decide to leave early for the NBA, you have to like this team’s chances in a year or two, when they build up some serious experience. For now, though, these young guys will make some mistakes (especially at guard), and we can only hope that the learning curve accelerates quickly.