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2015-16 Cal Basketball Preview: The Thrill of Possibility

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You spend hours after hours, years upon years, waiting for a season like this. Strap in, we're finally underway.

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This fall, Haas Pavilion will see the debut of:

  • A top 10 WBB recruit picked as the best pure post player in her class, an explosively athletic interior defender and scorer who brings a collection of tools unique in school history.
  • A top 5 MBB recruit who is generally regarded (depending on how you define your positions) as the best small forward/wing in his class, a player who could end up being one of the best attacking offensive players in program history.
  • A five star WBB center who stands at 6'7'', which as far as I am aware makes her the tallest player in program history. Because she's from China scouts weren't really sure how to evaluate her, but her parents were both successful basketball players and once she was evaluated she shot up the recruiting boards.
  • A top 10 MBB recruit who is the local lynchpin, the guy who fills a desperate vacancy in the best way possible - with NBA projectable skills as a rangy post player.
  • Three other WBB recruits who all rank in or on the fringe of every top 100 list, including the point guard of the future, even if we're not sure which one yet.
  • Two MBB players will be back on the court; one a seven footer with the potential to be the defensive anchor in the key, the other a highly rated wing who could help the Bears become the lock down defensive team Cuonzo Martin wants to see.

And now, finally, we have seen both teams take the court. Jaylen Brown scored 17 points in just 18 minutes and flashed the type of offensive rebounding activity Cal has lacked for some time. Rabb tossed in an easy double double. Domingo went for double digits as well, a key contribution to go along his excellent defensive skills. For the women, Kristine Anigwe scored 19 points on just 9 shots, and Asha Thomas hit 4-5 from behind the line to go with 7 assists. You could see the flashes.

Do either games mean a ton? Obviously not. The competition will quickly stiffen - Gottlieb's Bears will visit #8 Louisville this week, while the men head to a tough Las Vegas tournament in two weeks. But you see the talent, you see the speed and athleticism and savvy, and you can easily imagine the possibilities.

We Bears enjoy two of the most intriguing teams across the entire landscape of college basketball. It's entirely possible that Lindsay Gottlieb elects to start a mix of five different freshmen and sophomores, 3 or 4 of which are consensus five star recruits. Cuonzo Martin will almost assuredly start Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, but the contributions of Stephen Domingo and Kameron Rooks will be critical as well.

What point am I trying to make? Two obvious points: 1) Cal men's and women's basketball have a ton of talent. 2) That talent also happens to be very, very young. That combination is the best kind of exciting and terrifying.
The men have one scholarship senior on the roster. That gentleman just so happens to be team leader and likely future NBA draft pick Tyrone Wallace, but that's still just one guy. Yet it's more seniors than the women have. In fact, the women only have two upper classmen period, juniors Courtney Range and KC Waters, which means they make the men (who have five scholarship juniors) look like greybeards in comparison.

Seven different players who received a five star recruiting ranking from at least one rating service will take the court for the Bears this year. Six of those players are sophomores or freshmen.

How do you blend that type of talent? How do you integrate so many young players into schemes? How do you manage personalities, the transition to college life, the inevitable failures and frustrations? True, most coaches are jealous of the talent that Gottlieb and Martin have on hand, but that doesn't mean that they have easy jobs this year. Neither team is so stacked with the combination of experience and talent that success is a given. It's entirely possible that both teams will struggle at times this year, maybe even when it matters most.

But it's also possible that Cal basketball fans will see things we've never seen before. It's possible that Rabb transforms Cal's previously thin interior and Brown adds one more lethal weapon to an offense that was one or two weapons short of being truly deadly. It's possible that an injection of athleticism all over the court creates a fearsome, aggressive defense that few teams can penetrate.

It's possible that Kristine Anigwe and Chen Yue combine to become the best interior defensive duo in the Pac-12. It's possible that Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling take developmental leaps as sophomores after accruing so much court time as freshmen. It's possible that Asha Thomas can follow in Brittany Boyd's footsteps as a distributor while adding some much needed perimeter shooting.

If Cal's coaches can find the right lineups, if the players mesh well on the court, if the freshmen are ready, the both teams can compete at the top of the Pac-12. Both teams have the pure talent to potentially earn very high NCAA tournament seeds. For the men, this team has a chance to lay the foundation for a very different type of program with very different expectations. For the women, they have the chance to become the next great group, following in the footsteps of the Walker/Gray-Lawson/Hampton and Clarendon/Caldwell/Boyd/Gray groups that raised program expectations.

Will the result always be beautiful, always be spectacular? I doubt it. But if you enjoy watching the growth and development of pure, high-end talent, then it's going to be hard to do better than the one-two punch the Bears have in store this year.

As a fan, the thrill of possibility, with an entire season awaiting, is about as good as it gets. Enjoy.