California Basketball 2009-10 Preview: Bears Poised For Golden Season

Calvin W BoazCorrespondent IIOctober 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 12:  Guard Patrick Christopher #23 of the California Golden Bears walks off the court after losing to the USC Trojans in the Pacific Life Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament at the Staples Center on March 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Head Coach: Mike Montgomery; 22-11 in first year at California (569-255 overall)

Previous Season: 21-11; 11-7 Pac-10 (Tied third); Lost to Maryland in first round of NCAA Tournament

Departures: C Jordan Wilkes, C Taylor Harrison, G Eddie Miller, G Nican Robinson

Additions: C Markhuri Sanders-Frison, F Bak Bak, G Brandon Smith

Heading into last year, not much was expected of a California team coming of a 17-16 season. However, Mike Montgomery quickly reminded people that he was one of the best coaches in college basketball before he left for the NBA.

California got off to a fast start by winning 11 of its first 13 games. The Golden Bears stayed competitive in conference play throughout the season, but two disappointing losses to Oregon State and a close defeat to UCLA kept them from finishing higher in the standings or even winning the Pac-10 regular season title.

California returns four of five starters as Jordan Wilkes earned his degree and passed up on his one remaining year of eligibility. The main difference in this year's team will be at the end of the bench.

A left knee injury that wasn't getting better caused Taylor Harrison to file for medical retirement. Eddie Miller decided to transfer to UC Davis. With a surplus of point guards on campus, Nican Robinson was no longer needed by the program and turned down an offer to become an undergraduate assistant coach.


Projected Starting Lineup

PG Jerome Randle, 5'10", 160 lbs, Sr. (18.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 50 FG percent, 86 FT percent)

Coach Montgomery prefers a slow-down style of set plays and inside-outside offense.  However, he recognized the type of players he had and switched to a perimeter-oriented offense that was free-flowing.

Randle was one of several players who flourished under Montgomery's system. Randle is one of the quickest point guards in the nation. What makes Randle special is his ability to compliment his penetration skills with high-percentage shooting from long range. Randle made 86 three-pointers while converting on 46 percent of his shots from that distance.

Randle can be volatile out on the court at times, and it will be interesting to see who keeps him calm during games now that his good friend Robinson is no longer on the team.

SG Patrick Christopher, 6'5", 215 lbs, Sr. (14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 44 FG percent, 83 FT percent) 

Along with Randle, Christopher earned all-conference honors last season. Christopher is an explosive player that has the perfect body for a shooting guard.

He can drive to the basket as well as post up defenders inside the paint.  Christopher is always a threat to score because of his ability to heat up at a moment's notice. Better shot selection could enable Christopher to become the Pac-10 Player of the Year.

SF Theo Robertson, 6'6", 225 lbs, Sr. (13.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 49 FG percent, 79 FT percent)

Robertson has a power forward's body to go along with the ball skills of a typical guard. Robertson displayed his sweet touch from long range by converting on 56 of 115 three-point shots (49 percent).

Robertson's all-round ability makes him one of the most important players on the team although not all his contributions show up in a box score.


PF Jamal Boykin, 6'8", 230 lbs, Sr. (9.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 53 FG percent, 70 FT percent)

Boykin maximizes his talent like nobody else in the Pac-10. He is not a skilled scorer, but Boykin finds his points on put-backs off of offensive rebounds and hustling on fast breaks.

C Markhuri Sanders-Frison, 6'7", 275 lbs, Jr.

Sanders-Frison is the prime candidate to take over at the post for Wilkes although Harper Kamp may also start. Sanders-Frison averaged 9.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game at South Plains Community College.

He is a left-hander with a soft touch that can extend his jumper to about 17 feet. Sanders-Frison brings a physical presence that the Golden Bears desperately need. Hopefully, two previous shoulder surgeries will take care of the injury problems he has had in the past.


Other Contributors

F Omondi Amoke, 6'7", 225 lbs. So. (2.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 48 FG percent, 57 FT percent)

The coaching staff believes that Amoke will develop into a consistent scorer despite only averaging 8.2 minutes a game last year. He is an athletic player that can be effective in transition.

To get more playing time, Amoke needs to work on his jumper.

F Bak Bak, 6'9", 210 lbs, Fr.

Originally from Sudan and raised in Kenya, Bak is a versatile big man despite his slight frame. He is a quick leaper that has touch on his mid-range shot and can extend to the three-point area.

As a senior at Village Christian High School in California, Bak averaged 18.2 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. Unless he puts on weight and muscle, Bak will basically be a face-up power forward.

G Nigel Carter, 6'4", 205 lbs, So. (1.3 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 100 FG percent, 100 FT percent)

Cater returns to the Golden Bears as a walk-on. He only scored five points all season long and again appears to be one of the last Cal players off the bench.

G Jorge Gutierrez, 6'3", 195 lbs, So. (4.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 45 FG percent, 64 FT percent)

Only a sophomore, Gutierrez is already regarded as the team's best defensive player. He led the team in steals as a freshman, and by the end of the season, Gutierrez started to receive starter's minutes.

He can play at either guard position and is expected to provide a spark off the bench. Improved free-throw shooting would mean Gutierrez could stay on the floor at the end of close games.

F Harper Kamp, 6'8", 250 lbs, Jr. (3.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 50 FG percent, 66 FT percent)

Having successful knee surgery during the off-season should improve his performance this season. Kamp plays an important role on a team that lacks size and physical intensity.

Kamp is a fundamentally sound player that always gives maximum effort out on the court.


G Nikola Knezevic, 6'3", 190 lbs, Sr. (1.3 PPG, 0.6 APG, 44 FG percent, 65 FT percent)

Knezevic again will serve Cal as a back-up point guard. He brings experience to the backcourt with 16 career starts.

Knezevic is a solid defender who is also a good passer that sees the floor well while the team is on offense.

G D.J. Seely, 6'4", 195 lbs, So. (2.0 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.5 APG, 33 FG percent, 61 FT percent)

At times, Seely was lost among a crowded backcourt. However, he is expected to become a fine player in time.

Seely has a wiry frame with fairly long arms. He possesses a deceptive first step and has an innate ability to finish in traffic. Seely needs to move better without the ball and display more effort on defense.

G Brandon Smith, 5'11", 185 lbs, Fr.

Smith's dream was to play for the Golden Bears so he originally agreed to join the team as a walk-on. However, Smith was granted a scholarship when one became available this past spring.

He is a pure-point guard who is recognized as being one of the greatest defensive players in the history of De La Salle High School in Concord, CA. As a senior, he averaged 12.1 points, 7.3 assists, and 2.5 rebounds.

Despite only being a freshman, Smith is expected to immediately bring leadership and maturity to Cal.

C Max Zhang, 7'3", 240 lbs, So. (1.3 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 69 FG percent, 40 FT percent)

If Zhang starts to develop as a player, he could provide the missing piece to Cal's lineup. He is an exceptional shot blocker that alters shots just with his presence on the floor.

This summer at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia, Zhang averaged 18.0 points, 17.3 rebounds, and 5.6 blocks in six games. Montgomery may decide to play more zone defense this season just so Zhang can play extended minutes.


Key Games

Nov. 19 Syracuse: The Golden Bears play Syracuse in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden. Cal could play either North Carolina or Ohio State on the next night.

Dec. 2 @ New Mexico: This game should provide Cal with a nice road test.

Dec. 22 @ Kansas: It will be interesting to see how Cal fairs on the road against a team thought to be able to compete for a national championship.

Jan. 16 @ Washington : Sweeping Washington again should mean a conference championship this time around.

Jan. 23 Oregon State: The Golden Bears need to show they can beat the Beavers.


Season Outlook

California has not won a conference championship since 1960. With Randle, Christopher, and Robertson, that is definitely an attainable goal. The Golden Bears should also be able to make the NCAA Tournament without much difficulty.

If the NCAA Tournament was a three-on-three contest or limited to players under 6'8", California would be one of the favorites to win it.

Developing inside presence is the number one priority for this team. Montgomery would love to see Sanders-Frison duplicate the statistics he had last season at junior college. Zhang's performance during the summer also gives the team hope for improvement at the center position this season.

Generating more steals on defense would allow the Golden Bears to play more of the up-tempo style they enjoy.

As long as Cal can handle front-runner status, the Golden Bears should make the Sweet 16 and realistically believe they can advance even further.