It's the last ride of Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp. Just thinking about it has me excited and a bit sad at the same time. Harper Kamp is everything you'd like to respect and admire in a Cal athlete; he's tough, smart, and worked tirelessly to rehab from injury and to improve himself every year. And what else can you say about Jorge? When he puts on the Cal uniform for the last time, he'll depart as one of the most beloved Cal basketball players of all time. This is a legacy built on floor burns, grit, and pure desire. Not bad for an unrated and unknown player from Chihuahua, Mexico. After the jump, let's take one final look at the team before we tip off the 2011-2012 season:
Only one player departs, but it's a big loss. Literally. With a lot of hard work, MSF turned himself from a foul-prone reserve into a space-eating stalwart with a deadly lefty hook. Although still slowed by the refs' collective body bias, he was a consistent presence in the paint for both scoring and rebounding. As an underrated part of his game, he was also a skilled passer and did a good job of helping the ball move on offense.
PF David Kravish, 6'9, 205 lbs (Frosh)
SF Christian Behrens, 6'8, 215 lbs (Frosh)
G Justin Cobbs, 6'3, 195 lbs (RS Soph)
Cobbs is a powerfully-built combo guard who transferred from Minnesota. When his game is on, he shows a knack for getting to the rim, finishing in traffic, and scoring in the lane. From what little we've seen, he's more of a scorer than a pure shooter at this point of his career. His handles appear solid, but he does telegraph an occasional pass that leads to a turnover. The coaching staff feel that he is capable on both ends, but want him to improve his focus. It's unknown whether he'll start over Smith or be in a rotation with Smith and Jorge at the two guard positions.
Kravish is an intriguing player. He's rail-thin, but has a really nice feel for the game and a dependable outside shot. His shooting touch might allow the coaching staff to get creative with pick n' pop types of plays, or to run more high-post action. From what we've seen in scrimmage videos + the Euro tour, he shows a knack for scoring and isn't afraid to mix it up on the glass. A blueshirt year to get him stronger and to put on weight would be nice, but he might be needed earlier to provide depth in the post.
Behrens is another high basketball IQ player with "measurables" and "upside." With a 30+" vertical and 80" wingspan, he provides more size and a different type of athletic presence on the wing. He'll be in competition with several players for minutes to back up Crabbe at the 3 spot. He's more of a slasher than an outside shooter. But if someone can set him up, he's shown a gritty ability to find ways to score. Depending on his development, I could see Monty playing him out of position at the 4 just to take advantage of his length.
Jorge Gutierrez, 6'3, 195 lbs, (Sr)
Brandon Smith, 5'11, 185 lbs, (Jr)
Emerson Murray, 6'3, 195 lbs, (So)
Jorge's effort and hard work have been constants throughout his Cal career. What has been truly impressive is the development of his skills from year to year. We've had a number of hustle players or defensive stoppers throughout the years. But, I'm not sure if anyone has ever improved their ball-handling and scoring ability to become a true all-around player like Jorge has. Early videos show an improved jumpshot with a smoother release and better balance. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, Bear fans.
Brandon Smith is another player who quietly gets better every year. Although many expect the taller and more athletic Cobbs to start at point, I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith hold on to the starting job. He's more steady than flashy, but he's also less prone to make careless mistakes. Depending on the match-up, his size can be an issue on defense. Offensively, he showed a knack for hitting the clutch outside shot as the season progressed last year. During the pre-season, he's shown an improved ability to hit a pull-up jumper as well as taking it all the way to the rim. Regardless of whether he starts or not, I'd expect him to get plenty of minutes in the guard rotation.
Emerson Murray might be the quickest and fastest of all of our players. He was still recovering from some off-season ankle surgery during the Euro Trip. The game moved a little fast for him last year, but he's starting to show more confidence with knowing where to be on the court. His outside shot looks to be improved, but still a work in progress. He's at his best when he can use his speed to play the passing lanes and pressure the opposing ball-handler. If he really works on his defense, I could see him earning minutes.
Allen Crabbe, 6'6, 205 lbs, (Soph)
Alex Rossi, 6'6, 200 lbs, (RS Frosh)
Jeff Powers, 6'7, 190 lbs, (Soph)
It's unfortunate that Allen Crabbe suffered a broken nose and concussion during the U19 USA training camp. Competing against the other rising stars could have been a great experience for him. We already know that he's a deadly outside shooter. There are signs that he's been working on his dribble-drive and pull-up game. The biggest thing will be for him to assume a relentless scorer's mentality that refuses to let the other team take him out of the game. On the defensive side of the ball, we'll hope that to see improvements after learning from his fair share of rookie growing pains last year.
We haven't seen enough of Alex Rossi to know what to expect. The word out of camp was that he was still recovering from off-season surgery during the Euro trip. (severe sports hernia) Before getting hurt, he had a reputation as a pure outside shooter as well as the toughest defender on his high school team. If he can go, he'd provide another option to spread the defense if they go zone or try to shut-down Crabbe.
We know that Powers can shoot it from deep as well as move without the ball offensively. But, it's on the defensive end where he was really victimized last year. It's unknown how much time he'll see now that we're starting to establish a deeper bench.
Harper Kamp, 6'8, 245 lbs, (Sr)
Richard Solomon, 6'10, 220 lbs, (Soph)
Robert Thurman, 6'10, 250 lbs, (Jr)
Bak Bak, 6'9, 225 lbs, (Jr)
Harper is the perfect Montyball player; high basketball IQ and fundamentally sound. He surprised a lot of people last season with a break-out year after missing the previous two years recovering from injury. Health will be the big key for Kamp all year; he already had to sit out of some games during the Euro Trip with lingering knee soreness. Although it's hard to take him off the floor because he does so many things well, it might be in the team's best interest if we can limit his minutes. When he's in the game, he's a crafty scorer with an array of post moves, moves off the dribble, and an improving jumper. He's more of a position-based defender than a shot-blocker. His defense and rebounding weren't as effective as they might have been last year because we had to play so much zone. If we're able to play more man, I think you'll see him shut guys down.
For all the strides Richard Solomon showed from early to late season last year, we'll need him to make another huge leap for this team to be a contender. All we really need is steady rebounding, occasional help-side shotblocking, and opportunistic offense. No pressure. The pre-season videos show a stronger player who looks very confident and much more assertive. He's starting to develop a few post moves, and will occasionally take an outside shot or put it on the floor. With his speed and length, he could be a real terror in transition. However, in order for that to work, he and Harper will need to be able to dominate the glass.
Robert Thurman was the Euro Trip MVP. He was the Bears' most consistent performer providing both points in the paint and a steady presence on the boards. His back to the basket game may be a bit mechanical, but he seems to be at his best moving without the ball and cutting to the tin. If he can carry over his confidence against tougher competition, he might play his way into being the first big off the bench. Considering that he's the only true center on the roster, his development could go a long way towards easing the pressure on Solomon and Kamp to play heavy minutes.
Bak Bak remains a bit of an enigma. He has the height of a post, but still seems more comfortable facing up. Unfortunately, he hasn't shown the agility to cover perimeter guys at the 3, and lacked the strength to hold his ground at the 4. His best bet would be to use his quickness and long arms to deny his man the ball on defense and to create mismatches on offense. More than anything, confidence seems to be what holds him back. This really should have been the year for him to take the next step. But due to a passport snafu, he found himself stranded in Africa all summer and missed the Euro trip. Reportedly, he's still playing catch-up and may find himself passed up by the younger players.
Two years ago, Monty took a team of undersized jump shooters with no inside presence, limited defense/rebounding, and very little bench support...and won the Pac-10 conference title. Last year, he disguised weaknesses on defense with a variety of zone looks, brought young players up to speed, and turned an offense that was woeful early into the league's best half-court attack. The amazing thing is that we really haven't seen the stereotypical "Monty" team yet because he hasn't had the personnel to play tough, on-the-ball man defense, dominate the glass, or pound it inside. It's really nice to feel like we have a chance going into every game because our coaching staff will find a way to maximize our chances. Not to mention, it's highly satisfying as a fan to watch the team grow and improve throughout the course of a season. Thanks, Coach.
Team Strengths: Toughness, Experience, Leadership, Ball Movement, Coaching
Our starting five may not be the fastest, quickest, or most athletic group in the Pac-12, but they know how to ball. With Jorge and Harper setting the tone, we'll win a number of games this year simply by imposing our will on the other team. Because the guys play so well together, we have the versatility to play transition ball as well as run a variety of different half court sets depending on the matchups. It's hard to key on any one facet of the Cal offense because we have the players and the skillset to take advantage of overplays. With the improvements to Jorge and Smith's outside shooting ability, and the addition of Cobbs, opposing teams can no longer focus exclusively on Crabbe as our sole threat from deep. It will be interesting to see if Solomon/Kamp run the high/low set as well as MSF/Kamp - I think we might not carve out the same deep position down low, but will be able to take advantage of their mobility to still make this a tough cover.
Team Concerns: Defense, Rebounding, Experienced Depth
Without seeing the team play this year, it's hard to say yet whether these will be issues. Defensively, there are reports that Monty would like to play more man this year, but hasn't been pleased yet with the team's progress. We lost some close games last year because of breakdowns on the perimeter. I'm sure that's been a point of emphasis in the film room.
In some ways, our ability to play defense is related to questions about our depth. Playing more man exposes our starters to foul trouble and possible fatigue. If there's a large drop-off from starters to reserves, we might not be able to rely on it exclusively. Depending on matchups, I'd imagine that Monty will still throw some zone looks in from time to time to keep the opposing team off-guard.
From a rebounding standpoint, Gutierrez and Crabbe are good rebounders from the guard/wing positions and Harper is a solid positional rebounder. If Solomon improves as expected and Thurman or Bak Bak can provide help off the bench, we might be fine here. However, until we see the result on the court, this area is still a question mark.
Depth-wise, it's hard to say whether the newcomers or younger players will be ready to make significant contributions to the team. In the past we've seen Monty play an 8-9 man rotation, then shorten it to 6-7 during conference action. With Jorge's all-out style of play, and Harper's health concerns, we would really be best served if Monty is able to be more selective with their minutes. The difference between conference contender and a solid team could very well depend on the development of our reserve players, particularly Justin Cobbs at the point and either Thurman, Bak, or Kravish in the post.
In many publications, Cal has been picked on the fringes of the Top-25 and are projected to finish somewhere in the top 3-4 teams in the conference. UCLA has the best bigs, UW has the most athletic guards/wings and scary depth, and Arizona might have the top incoming recruits. It should be an exciting year of great college basketball because it's hard to pick any one team as being outright dominant. On paper, 3rd or 4th might be about right, but I can't bring myself to bet against Jorge, Harper, and Monte. Let's Go Bears!