A friend of mine, a Cal alum and a high school basketball coach, always chuckles when I get excited for a new season. Year after year, our conversation repeats itself.
"Allen looks good this year. He's developing a drive game. Put some good D out there with him and we'll be solid." Or "Solo's spent a lot of time working on his post game. With Justin running point, we're going to be in a lot of games."
"Dude, I hear you, but look at our roster. We cannot compete at a high level with this talent. There are no options for Monty. It's not fun watching game after game where we have to do more with less."
We have this conversation every year.
Flash forward. October 30, 2015.
I looked at my watch when Jaylen Brown strolled out onto the court in a black workout jersey. 9:33pm. I looked again when Ivan Rabb came out. 9:38pm. The past decade of Cal hoops flashed before my eyes. Some of it has been very good. Some of it has been frustrating. But one thing was crystal clear in those moments. Things are never going to be the same again.
Warm-ups started. Brown and Rabb, placed on the same Gold squad, started in a layup line down at the north basket. Cole Welle dunked. Hmm. Interesting I guess.
Then this happened.
Followed by this.
I've seen three decades of Cal basketball. I can give you detailed stats and scouting reports on every player in that span. I can tell you their strengths, weaknesses, career highs and lows. I worship at the altar of Jason Kidd. For pure basketball magic, I don't think anything will match the early 90s, when Cal players were regularly called in the NBA lottery. But when it comes to crazy, jump-out-of-the-gym, dunk on your head, blow you off the court FIRE, I don't think we've ever had anything like this.
Midway through the first half, Jaylen stole an outlet pass, headed upcourt the other way, started to attack the basket, and got fouled on the top of the head by Kingsley Okoroh. Okay, I thought. Two free throws. Not quite. Brown took the hit to the top of the head, KEPT RISING through the contact, re-cradled the ball, and emphatically threw it down with the right hand. What. Was. That?
Folks who have known me for awhile know that I tend to be hyper-analytical. I have two pages of notes from Friday about players and sets. I have a thousand little areas of concern. To my eye, there are a whole lot of things this team has to work on to become an elite basketball team. If you're interested in what those things are, hit me up and we'll talk. But if you haven't figured it out already, this isn't that kind of piece.
The purpose of the piece is to put you on notice that we are about to see something we haven't seen in 20 years. If you aren't hyped for this season of Cal basketball, you better get hyped. For more years than I care to recall, I've heard the same old tropes: we're cursed, we can't have nice things, God hates Cal. Well, guess what Old Blues? Things are different now. We have a team full of tremendous students, and tremendous athletes, and straight-up awesome young men -- who can ball. They do school the right way. They do hoop the right away. They are going to change the way you think of Cal basketball.
There was a game. The Gold team won. It went three overtimes. It was kind of cool how dudes kept hitting threes to extend the game. It was kind of cool that the front row was filled with blue chip recruits. I don't mean to minimize any of that, but that's not really why I was there on Friday night. I was there simply to bear witness to the future.
I did learn a few things about our players that got me really excited.
Jaylen Brown - He's got an NBA body right now. He's got a swagger unlike anyone in Cal history. He's got an inconsistent J, but with time running out in regulation, down three, on a broken play, he rose up from the corner over two players and drained a trey. Like there was never a doubt in the world that his squad would win the game. Watch out.
Ivan Rabb - Ivan's got a quick bounce off the floor, and a wide variety of post moves. Pro-level post moves. He vacuums up every rebound within reach. We had a hard time getting him the ball, but when we do...
Tyrone Wallace - Ty looks quicker this year. Think about that for a second.
Jabari Bird - One of my issues with Jabari was his lack of explosiveness and versatility on the drive. I think he's been working on that. He got to the rim much quicker on Friday, and looked like he had a plan when he got there. Going from decent finisher to good finisher will be a game changer.
Kameron Rooks - Has trimmed down a ton since his freshman year. He now jumps easily off the injured left leg. It's a stretch to call him quick, and he doesn't get off the ground very fast, but improved movement and agility make him a potential threat down in the block.
Stephen Domingo - Reports of his defense are true. Excellent body, quickness, strength, and toughness. I think he can guard four, even five, positions. He is not shooting well right now, but when he gets his stroke back he has the potential to be a high level contributor on both ends.
Roman Davis - I was skeptical about the Roman Davis signing. I was wrong. He's got bounce, length, decent skill level on both ends, a motor, instincts. Everything you want in a late period signee: high ceiling and four years. Upside, think Andre Roberson. We've had too many empty scholarships the last ten years. He will not be one of them.
Cal fam, I cannot even tell you how excited I am for the start of the season. We have been waiting for the promised land. Last year was a tough year. We lost to Cal State Bakersfield. We didn't go to the post-season. Then a kid from Oakland came. A kid from Georgia came. And now. The promised land.