Cal Men's Basketball Preview: The Big Men

Denied!

The Bigs:

David Kravish had one of the better true frosh campaigns for any Cal big man in recent memory. Despite looking like he could hide behind a telephone pole's shadow, he used his wiry length to good effect and showed off some shot-blocking skills. On offense, he exhibited a nice touch around the basket as well as a bit of a mid-range game. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he never seemed to go through that extended deer-in-the-headlights phase that many frosh experience, especially post players. He looked like he belonged and knew exactly where he was supposed to be on both ends. With another year to get stronger, he should be a more formidable presence in the post.

Richard Solomon had a disappointing sophomore campaign to say the least. With most of the year lost to injury and academics, we only saw glimpses of potential. Relative to his freshman year, Solo was visibly stronger and more confident. He was our best post defender and shot-blocker as well as providing a strong presence on the glass. His offensive game still looked to be a work in progress. Although he showed versatility with shooting the outside shot, putting it on the floor, and working out of the post, it looked like he was pressing and trying to figure out where he was most comfortable. A healthy and re-focused Solomon changes our defense immediately.

Robert Thurman improved as much as any Cal big man in recent history. He showed a real knack for moving without the ball and finishing deftly with either hand. In one year, he transformed himself from Human Victory Cigar to being our most productive big man off the bench. When he got himself into trouble defensively, it was usually when he was forced to match up against a smaller, quicker post. With another year of development, there's a lot to like because he offers much-needed size to the Cal roster. At the very least, he projects to having another solid year as a rotation player. Depending on his improvement, I wouldn't be surprised to see him work his way into the starting lineup.

Bak Bak had issues during the off-season where he was stuck in Africa and then missed the team's Euro trip. He lost weight and strength and seemed like he started off the year out of sync. Unfortunately, he never was able to get himself into the flow as a productive reserve. It's hard to know what to expect from Bak. He has some athleticism and shooting ability, but still seems like he's finding his way with understanding where he needs to be on the court. As one of the nicer athletes that you'd ever meet, here's hoping the light comes on for his senior year.


Kaeleb Rodriguez (6'9, 200 lbs) is a 3* power forward from Denver, Colorado. He chose Cal over Nevada, Colorado, and UNLV.

An athletic forward with a great wingspan, he's known for his ability to finish around the basket.

There's a good write-up here featuring an interview with his high school coach:

"His game is so mental and getting stronger. We're seeing a little bit of creativity and ability to finish. He's long and he's' athletic. He's made tremendous progress through his career."
Ortiz said Rodriguez averaged about 10 points and seven rebounds for ThunderRidge, adding those numbers are skewed by the fact the team plays a slow-paced style and averaged just 50 points per game."


Coach Monty commented on the signing: "With Kaileb Rodriguez we fell in love with his upside. He's long, willing, and wants to be a player. With experience and strength, we think he's going to have a real nice future."


Generally, when I hear "upside" used to describe a big man, I think "blueshirt." Based strictly on his skillset, Rodriguez seems very similar to Christian Behrens last year; long and athletic, but still learning the game. With a number of more experienced bigs ahead of him on the depth chart, I think it's quite possible that he spends the season getting stronger and learning Monty's system.

Brief highlights can be seen here.

SAMI ELERAKY, C, 7'0, 242 lbs (Aalborg Vikings, Denmark) added a welcome influx of size as a late signee when he chose Cal over Texas, Marquette, and Virginia Tech.

FrankCohen has the skinny here:

"Eleraky, who turns 19 at the end of the month, averaged 4.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG in just over 18 minutes/game for the Danish Under-18 National team in 2011. This past season, he played for the Aalborg Vikings of a professional Danish league, for which he averaged 6.0 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 24.6 minutes per game. Eleraky is somewhat raw offensively, but he possesses great athleticism and a lot of upside."


With experience playing against a higher level of competition (the top league in Denmark), there's a much better chance that Eleraky will see time right away.

There's a very detailed write-up from an Aalborg Viking fan here:

I would say Sami is a legit 6'11 - closer to 7'0 than 6'10 weighing 240/250 with a pretty good wingspan (can't find any official measurements of his wingspan). As you can see on the highlights below he runs the floor very well for his size. He mostly gets his points on open dunks and lay-ups. But he also has a couple of moves down low including a nice little baby hook and he is already developing a pretty solid jumpshot (though it can't be seen in any of the highlights). He is shooting 60 % from the free throw line.

He averaged 5.8 rebounds per game, including 2.4 offensive boards (17th in league). He also had 0.9 blocks per game which was actually the 10th best in the league. Despite playing 25 minutes per game and being one of the youngest players in the league he only averaged 2.6 fouls per game and only 1.1 turnovers per game.
Most of the year Sami has been matched up against lower division1 American import players (all being players who have played at least 4 years of college basketball) so he knows how to play physical and how to compete on a higher level but also he is definitely not a player who is used to the offense being revolved about him.
So what he can give your team in his first year would probably mainly be size, athleticism, rebounding and post defence.

Highlights of game action can be seen here and here.

As an added bonus, European players are often better versed in playing team basketball than their American counterparts. Compared to USA league teams which are often run n' gun affairs with a heavy emphasis on padding stats, Euro club teams are much more concerned with fundamentals such as dribbling, passing, and moving without the ball. Although he might not be a natural scorer yet, there's a lot to like about his rebounding ability as well as the old adage, "you can't teach size."

Summary:

In each of the past three years, we've lost a stand-out big man; Jamal Boykin, Markhuri Sanders-Frison, Harper Kamp. Although it's hard to replace the veteran experience, savvy, and skill, we find ourselves getting bigger and deeper in the post. Instead of playing 6'6 and 6'7 guys in the pivot, we now have Kravish (6'10), Solomon (6'10), Thurman (6'10), Eleraky (7'0), Rodriguez (6'9), and Bak (6'8). The big question here is how quickly can Monty and the coaching staff develop these players to take advantage of their physical talents? Right now, it looks like we'll start Kravish and Solomon with Thurman and Bak rotating in off the bench. If Bak doesn't elevate his game, it's quite possible that Eleraky or Behrens could take his minutes.

As strange as it might seem, defense and rebounding might become the calling card of the Cal basketball team over the next two years. However, this is more aligned with the blueprints of Monty's most successful college teams. He's certainly shown the ability to adapt his system to win a conference title when we lacked size, but had a team of perimeter shooters. Can he do the same thing with a twin towers approach? Bet the over. In Monty we trust. Go Bears!

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