The Greatest Senior Class in Cal History?


As you may or may not know, I'm a huge statistics nerd.  From the complicated prediction databases to the esoteric and weird, I love pouring over the numbers.  And Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Jamal Boykin and Nikola Knezevic accumulated plenty of numbers.  With their college careers complete, I'm going to try to put what they accomplished into some sort of context.

Now, to be fair, there are some issues with what defines a 'class.'  The five Cal seniors did not all join Cal at the same time, nor even enter college basketball at the same time.  Theo, Nikola and Jamal all started their college careers in the 2005-06 season, and each used a redshirt year because of injuries, or in Jamal's case, a transfer from Duke.  Patrick and Jerome came to Cal in 2006-07 and managed to survive four years of heavy minutes injury free.  And that's how we get five guys with a total of 417 career starts for the Golden Bears leaving school all at once (with diplomas!)

But since they all enjoyed senior day  together, we're treating them as one.  As we've all already realized, Mike Montgomery and the Bears face a huge challenge replacing the production of this class.  Perhaps seeing everything in stark numbers will make that even clearer.  Luckily we have a coach that I have complete faith in keeping Cal competitive next year and beyond.  Let's dive in:

To start off with, let's take a quick look at some notable senior classes in Cal's past.  It's tough to compare eras in college basketball because much of Cal's best history came before the introduction of the shot clock.  I was shocked to discover that the shot clock wasn't introduced in NCAA basketball until 1985, a good 31 years after the NBA adopted it.  Nevertheless, we'll do our best.  Most of the sources for this info are from Calbears.com - here and here - warning: big PDFs!  Because there is less information about each team the further in the past I go, I won't be able to provide much information about some of these teams.

1958-59:  The first team with an argument for greatest Cal senior class ever would be Pete Newell's national champs.  Four seniors regularly started for the Bears:

Denny Fitzpatrick, Guard, 13.3 ppg
Al Buch, Guard, 9.2 ppg
Bob Dalton, Forward, 7.3 ppg
Jack Grout, Forward, 5.5 ppg

Any time four seniors lead a team to a national title they would have to be in the conversation.  The 58-59 class may suffer slightly since junior Darrell Imhoff was one of the team's stars.  And because this was before the shot clock you won't find these guys in many places in Cal's record book because it's just hard to accumulate many stats when teams played so slowly.  That doesn't mean they weren't awesome (they clearly were) but I have no real way of quantifying their awesomeness without having seen them play.  Alas!

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Pete Newell, before stress forced him to the sidelines.

1986-87:  And after Pete Newell retired from coaching?  Well, Cal basketball had a long history of mediocrity, sadly.  Only 7 teams finished above .500 in the next 25 years, and it took Kevin Johnson and Lou Campanelli to turn things around.

Kevin Johnson, Guard, 17.2 ppg
Dave Butler, Forward, 11.8 ppg
Jon Wheeler, Forward, 8.4 ppg
Chris Washington, Guard, 7.0 ppg

I'm guessing this team may have been a bit of a let down.  After breaking the horrible streak against UCLA and getting to the NIT in 85-86, Cal was unable to improve on their conference record despite four starting seniors and again were relegated to the NIT (the NCAA had expanded to 64 teams in 1985, in case you were wondering).  Thoughts, older blues who witnessed the KJ days?  The team did have one of the true all-time great Bears with KJ, and did finish with three 1,000 point scorers (KJ, Butler and Washington).  In terms of accumulation stats this class is in the same category as 09-10.  Not so much in on the court accomplishments, however.

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Now the Mayor of Sacramento?

1996-97:  For the next 10 years Cal had a few good teams and a few great players, but rarely a senior heavy team, in part because the best (Jason Kidd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim) left early for the NBA.  But in 1997, out of the crater left by Todd Bozemen's corruption, five seniors led Cal to a surprise sweet 16.

Ed Gray, Guard, 24.8 ppg
Randy Duck, Guard, 12.3 ppg
Al Grigsby, Forward, 7.2 ppg
Michael Stewart, Center, 6.3 ppg
Prentice McGruder, Guard, 3.3 ppg

Obviously the star of the class was Ed Gray, who would have shattered just about every scoring record in the book if he had spent his entire career in Berkeley and stayed healthy.  But Randy Duck was one of Cal's better outside shooters, Michael Stewart was probably the best shot blocker in school history, and Al Grigsby is one of the most inspirational Bears of all time.  Oh, what this team might have done if Ed didn't break his foot!

2002-03:  Well, only two senior starters, but oh what a pair.  Joe Shipp and Brian Weathers led what was arguably Ben Braun's best team and ended the season in the second round of the NCAAs against 1 seed Oklahoma . . . in Oklahoma.

Joe Shipp, Guard, 20.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg,
Brian Weathers, Guard/Forward 15.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg

Joe and Brian didn't have a ton of talent around them - Amit Tamir and a young Richard Midgley played their supporting roles well, and AJ Diggs and Gabriel Hughes provided some defense, but this was a two man wrecking crew.  The Bears finished a close 3rd just behind one of Monty's better Stanford teams and one of Lute Olsen's best Arizona teams.

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Joe Shipp, waging battle against evil.

2009-10:  And we finally get to the main event.  Just because it looks so impressve, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, Jamal Boykin and Nikola Knezevic combined for:

417 games started
589 games played
5,975 points scored
1,905 rebounds
1,227 assists
385 steals

Of course, all this really tells you is that these five players got playing time as freshmen, stayed mostly healthy, didn't leave the program early and took advantage of their time on the court.  Jerome, Patrick and Theo all got well over 1,000 points, and all are in the top 17 scorers in Cal history.  Only one other team on this list (1986-87) even had three in the top 24.  The 1,000 point threesome leave Cal as the most fearsome long-range threat in Cal history, hitting 554 total threes.  Theo and Jerome finished their career 1st and 3rd on the three point percentage list as well.

Obviously these stats don't go back very far, but from a team perspective the 2010 Bears engineered the most efficient Cal offense and 2nd most efficient Cal defense since Kenpom began calculating the stat.  Jamal Boykin had the single most efficient offensive season (ignoring the demand of a higher share of possessions) by a Cal player over the same time period, and each senior had an offensive rating of 112.2.  A few years during the Ben Braun era Cal didn't have even one player with a rating that high.  We may never see a better group of shooters put on the blue and gold.

So what say you, Cal fans?  Is the 2009-10 senior class the greatest in Cal history?  Did I make any egregious omissions in my admittedly brief survey?  Is it even possible to compare players from such different eras?  Will the comments be full of Cal fans lamenting what would have been if the various stars of the 90s and 00s hadn't declared early for the NBA draft?

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