In many ways, this year's team inspired us because we could knew they were playing above their heads. For a senior-dominated, guard-driven league, we were way behind the arms race in some key areas. There's something about a group of guys who base their game on toughness, effort, and a relentless will that demands respect. Wins and losses aside, it was an amazing year. Can we really ask more than effort and passion from student-athletes who make us all proud of our alma mater? These young men more than met our expectations. Thanks for your hard work, gentlemen. Here's to the future.
Brandon Smith: Too short. Too small. Too slow. No one thought you could play ball at the Div-I level. You didn't listen. You sat and watched and practiced while the star guard did his thing. You knew your time would come. Then the new guy got signed who had all sorts of accolades and was supposed to be The Next Big Thing. You didn't care. You kept working.You rehabbed your ankle and worked on your game. Maybe you couldn't make yourself taller, but you could be the best-conditioned guy on the court. And when the Next Big Thing packed his bags, you were ready. The game seemed like it was moving too fast at first. You could hear the whispers. You could hear the doubts. But, you didn't hang your head. And the game slowed down. You know the other guys are supposed to be better athletes and better players. You still don't care. You know you're tougher. You know your coach respects that and it makes you want to play harder. One of these days, they won't see you as the underdog.
Off-Season Wishlist:: Outside shooting, Cut down on turnovers (Passing/Timing)
Emerson Murray: You caught a damn bug and missed most of camp. By the time you recovered, your conditioning and timing was gone and everyone else seemed like they were weeks ahead of you. You feel like you're always one step behind, always playing catch-up. But, you don't let it get to you. You know you're still one of the guys. You know that the team might need you, will need you, so you stay ready. You know you haven't scratched the surface yet of what you can do.
Off-Season Wishlist: Outside shooting, Master offensive/defensive schemes
Jorge Gutierrez: It's not just a game to you. This is your life. You play defense as if getting the ball back is taking your next breath. You shouldn't be the go-to guy on offense, but the team needs you. It was a tough adjustment at first. Going from a high-energy role player to leader took a toll on your game. But you adapted. You balanced aggression and emotion with a whole-court game and learned to pick your spots. You've been nicked up all year, but you don't have time to notice the bruises. It's been hour after hour in the gym working on your shot, working on your game. And you've grown from defensive pest into an all-around terror. You remember all the close losses. You remember all the big losses. They all eat at you. You can't wait to go back to work. You're going to get better. You're going to make your coach and your family proud.
Off-Season Wishlist: Consistent shooting release, mid-range game, ball-handling
Allen Crabbe: You were the Man in high school. But you're humble. Respectful. You know you have a lot to learn and don't want to step on any toes. So, you defer. You're selective about calling your own number...even if one of your running mates clearly doesn't have the same reservation. Then, the black hole departs. And the light comes on. You're the best shooter on the team. The guys want you to shoot it. They need you to shoot it to open things up for everyone else. And suddenly, you get real comfortable. This is what you do. This is what you know. You're on a roll...and then you get blindsided by a thug. It's frightening - you've never had a headache last this long and you know your team needs you. You shake it off and finish the regular season on a roll. But your last game doesn't go as planned. You learn some hard lessons at the hands of a stronger and more experienced senior. You'll remember this. And adjust. You've gotten better every year and you know how to work on your game.
Off-Season Wishlist: Get stronger, mid-range pull-ups, dribble drives
Jeff Powers: It's tough to be the new guy. Tougher still to transfer and sit out. You know no one promised you playing time, but you can play. You compete and work and stay prepared. When the team needs you, you do your best to step up. There's still a lot to learn. Like all new players, you take your lumps. It doesn't get you down. You know there aren't a lot of minutes available, but you're still going to stay ready.
Off-Season Wishlist: Get stronger, work on defense/lateral agility
Harper Kamp: It killed you to rehab your knee while your teammates needed you last year. You knew you could have helped them, but your body just wasn't ready. You tried to come back too soon before and it cost you. So, you bide your time. You do your exercises. You re-build your stamina and try to regain confidence that your leg won't fail you. When the team looks to you as a new starter, you're ready. You may not have the same lift as before, but you're smarter. Tougher. You know where everyone is supposed to be and help direct the young guys like a coach on the floor. You're the steady leader that everyone knew you would be. And then you get kneecapped by a virus. It was a living hell taking the floor after being hospitalized, but you refuse to abandon your team. You do what you can, but you're only a shadow of yourself. It's going to be another rough off-season. You've had worst.
Off-Season Wishlist: Rebounding, Counters for shot-blockers (Pump-fakes, or lean in to draw contact)
Richard Solomon: You knew it would be an adjustment to the college game, but you didn't know it would be this tough. You can't get away with just being taller or out-jumping guys anymore. Coach is hard on you and it seems like there's so much to learn, so much to think about. You don't hang your head. You keep playing and it starts to come together. Guys are bigger and stronger, but you start to realize that you can hang with them. Success breeds confidence and makes you want to work harder. "Everyone gets their time in the sun. For some it comes sooner than others."
Off-Season Wishlist: Get stronger, develop a defined post game
Bak Bak: It's been a tough transition to Cal. You were embarrassed at how things worked out in the classroom last year, but you worked like heck to make it right. You want to do well, almost to the point where you try too hard. You know you can shoot and handle it...You play a lot better in practice than in games. When the bright lights are on, things seem to happen a little faster. But it's starting to slow down. You're starting to realize that you can really play at this level. When you can finally relax and just go with your instincts, it's going to be special.
Off-Season Wishlist: Get stronger, work on hands, finishing
Markhuri Sanders-Frison: You've known for a while that you should lose a few pounds. But it's not as easy as talking about it. But this is your last year. So, you do it. You change your entire life. What you eat. How you work-out. You work harder than you've ever worked in your life. And the weight finally comes off. You have a new spring in your step. You're playing better ball. And then your body fails you. The doctors tell you that the only cure for plantar fasciitis is rest. To heck with that. This is your senior year. So you battle through it. You go up against taller players every night and hold your own. The refs seem to have it in for you. But you don't complain. It's a good year and you're excited to see the post-season. And then a freak accident takes it all away. But you know the guys look to you. So, you stay positive. You support your team. You're a good man and a good Bear.
Off-Season Wishlist: Full recovery and a bright future. Thank you, MSF.
Final Thoughts: I have no complaints. As a Cal alum and fan, this team did all that I expected and then some. Watching the NCAA tournament, I'm reminded of how fortunate we are to have a world-class coach who runs a clean program. To heck with the shady programs who rely on one-and-done mercenaries. Even if it means we have to rebuild on occasion, the end result is one that we can be proud of. Go Bears!