Despite everything the California Golden Bears basketball program lost through the transfer portal this offseason, it gained a quality graduate transfer in Kareem South. The guard from Toronto was ranked among the best prospects in Canada growing up, leading him to play for a year at the Kiski School in Pennsylvania. His coach’s actual name: Steve Scorpion.
After graduating high school, South would become a standout for head coach Willis Wilson with the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders despite a 2015–16 season that ended prematurely due to injury. Wearing jersey number 11, he became a mainstay for a 24–12 squad in 2016–17 that rode a nine-game winning streak to the CIT Tournament final. The Islanders would not replicate that success during South’s final two campaigns, but South only got better along the way.
South was a consistent performer from long range, making at least 36% in each of three full seasons. South’s scoring average of 13.8 points led the team last season, as did his 1.3 steals. He also finished third on the squad with two assists per contest and tied for second in the rebounding department with 5.1 rpg. In short, head coach Mark Fox is getting a well-rounded player with plenty of experience.
South was an obvious team leader in 2018–19, making 31 starts and garnering a place on the All-Southland Third Team. He also racked up a double-double in a February 20 contest against Stephen F. Austin with a final line of 29 points and 12 boards including 5 three-pointers. Not content with simply succeeding on the court, South is an academic standout who has been studying with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
Beyond the statistics, South impresses in many ways. His combination of quickness and body control leads to plays like one he made against Northwestern State featuring a quick dribble, spin move, fadeaway, and bucket. While not a pure point guard, South has playmaking ability. South can thread the needle to a cutting forward while on the run, which is very useful when his man worries too much about him getting up a shot. The other edge of the blade is that he’s a solid finisher, whether from distance or around the hoop. Defenders have to respect both sides of the coin.
One thing I love about South is his body control, which provides the ability to change course quickly. During one sequence, he speeds to the rim and appears to be making a layup attempt before freezing in midair and firing a pass to teammate Jake Babic for an uncontested corner three. Anyone who has seen South celebrate knows that he plays with passion, but it’s a controlled burn. His timing routinely fools defenders: I’ve seen them overcommit to a head fake or even fall down before he ends up taking an actual shot. I can understand why after seeing him sink reverse layups and midrange jumpers alike with ease.
There’s a lot of uncertainty with this roster because of several 2018–19 players who won’t be returning to Cal. I also see some reason for optimism after the signing of international talents like Kuany Kuany. Ultimately, though, South seems like the surest bet among the newcomers to establish himself right away. Of course, unlike the incoming freshmen South will only have 2019–20 to show off his considerable skill set in Berkeley.