March Madness is over, as is Cal’s part in the annual coaching carousel, but there’s still plenty of action going on down regarding our men’s basketball program. Let’s take a look.
Yesterday, Cal officially announced the completion of Mike Montgomery’s staff. As expected, his son John will be joining the staff as director of basketball operations. While that certainly confirms Montgomery’s past statements regarding his desire to work with his son, I think it should temper some speculation/fears that Montgomery is setting up his son to succeed him as coach. While that has certainly happened at other places, with varying degrees of success (a good summary can be found at Blue and Gold Sports), the fact is, John’s only been coaching basketball for a year, and the elder Montgomery would have to coach for a good while yet before he (or anyone else) would be comfortable handing the whole program over to his son.
The one holdover from Braun’s staff is Gregg Gottlieb. I like this choice. Monty keeps someone who has some familiarity with the current program and players, but who is not too entrenched with Braun and his way of doing things (last year was his first with the Bears). His bio touts his recruiting ability, including his stint as recruiting coordinator at San Diego State, where he presided over four consecutive nationally-ranked recruiting classes. If, as has been suggested, Mike Montgomery truly does have a distaste for recruiting, he’ll need to employ talented and energetic recruiters to help him out, and Gregg certainly sounds like he fits the bill. Also, his brother Doug is an analyst for ESPN, so that can only help with national exposure.
Welcome back, Gregg!
The big name among Monty’s assistants is Jay John, and my first reaction was ‘Damn, we got the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? That’s big time!’ Of course, Cal did not actually hire John Jay, who was dead long before basketball was invented; I was misled by Google, which apparently did not take word order into account. In reality, Jay John was previously the head coach at Oregon State. Your first reaction might be, ‘Wait, didn’t the Beavers just finish the first winless conference campaign in Pac-10 history? Why would we hire this guy? Isn’t he terrible?’ Well, no. Before this season’s disaster (much of which occurred after John was fired), the Beavers had been mostly not too bad; in fact, given their recent history, John had actually brought some modicum of success to a program that was starved for anything to cheer about. His own website trumpets these accomplishments (admittedly, they don’t mention much about the last couple years):
1. The first winning season for in 15 years
2. The most conference wins, and best conference finish, in 12 seasons
3. The first true post-season appearance in 15 years – NIT
4. The first post-season victory in 16 years – Pac-10 Tournament win over UCLA
5. The most wins over a three year period since 1991-92
6. The fifth largest attendance increase in NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball
7. Five graduating seniors in June 2005
Besides this, John has extensive Pac-10 experience (12 years as an assistant or head coach), including 2 stints at Oregon and 4 years on Lute Olson’s staff in Arizona, including the 2001 season in which the Wildcats made the National Title game. He’s a very good coach, and if his first stint as a head coach didn’t go so well, I would argue that very few coaches would be able to succeed at Oregon State. In my opinion, the biggest problem regarding Oregon State basketball is that Gary Payton ran out of college eligibility in 1990.
Jay John brings with him to Cal an intimate knowledge of how to defeat Oregon State.
The final assistant is one that I’m almost positive you’ve never heard of: Travis DeCuire. Who? Well, here’s the connection. Mike Montgomery used to coach at Montana, and one of his star players there was Blaine Taylor. Taylor was later an assistant to Monty at Stanford before heading back to Montana to become the head coach there. One of Taylor’s star players at Montana was DeCuire, who until recently was one of Taylor’s assistants at Old Dominion. See? Sometimes, who you know is just as important as what you know. That’s not to say that DeCuire isn’t right for the job, or got it over more qualified candidates. I couldn’t speak to his abilities. He played and coached under a guy who played and coached under Montgomery, so I imagine he shares many of the same basketball philosophies, and will be particularly suited to teaching Montgomery’s brand of basketball.
I sure am glad this is in print only and I don’t have to try and pronounce Travis DeCuire’s name.
Of course, Montgomery hasn’t been spending all his time recruiting assistant coaches; he’s also had to re-recruit the current players, getting them on board with his program. Often, after a coaching change, a couple players transfer, as the old coach was a main reason they chose to come to that school, and they may not fit in as well with the new coach’s system.
Well, so far, so good. No transfers have been announced yet; the only potential loss to the roster is Ryan Anderson, who is currently testing the NBA waters. Personally, I think he comes back, based solely on how many talented underclassmen are entering the draft. I don’t think he’s guaranteed a to be a first round pick, and I think that alone pushes him back to school.
However, the Bears did lose one recruit. PG Garrett Sim, recently named the Oregon state player of the year, has asked for and been granted his release from his letter of intent, and has since signed with Oregon. Yeah, OK, that stings a little, especially seeing as how Cal could really use a solid point guard. Even if you’re happy with Randle and Knezevic at the point (and they’ll both need to improve before I’ll make that statement), you don’t want to let them get to their senior years before bringing in some depth.
If you missed this enlightening interview with Mike Montgomery, you missed a surprisingly candid evaluation of the state of Cal basketball. Regarding the now-open scholarship:
Q. You have one scholarship available now that recruit Garrett Sim has gotten a release from his letter-of-intent. Will you use it or save it for next year?
A. Oh no, we need to find somebody at that position.
In other words, don’t look for him to spend it on a project from China.
It’s a good interview, and you should read the whole thing. Monty’s not afraid to call ‘em like he sees ‘em. Case in point:
Q. From your chair as a TV analyst, what other players on this roster intrigued you and why?
A. I don’t think they have 12 players who are ready to compete at the highest level, but I think they’ve got a pretty good nucleus. I think Theo Robertson is going to be a major factor for us. I like everything about him so far. Patrick Christopher has made major improvement. We need to get Jerome (Randle) calmed down a little bit and let him utilize his skills, because he’s a very skilled kid. Instead of making three moves, just make the one and make the play.
That sounds pretty spot on. Of course, the best part of the interview came at the end:
Q. OK, the great mascot debate: Oski or the Stanford Tree?
A. Oski could be a total disaster and it would be hard to not be a little bit better than the Tree. I guess it’s a great student deal, but I kind of don’t get the Tree.
Oh, snap! It’s on now! This rivalry just got kicked up a notch!