Oct. 12, 2007
BERKELEY - Featuring one of the best frontlines in the country, the California men's basketball team begins practice for the 2007-08 campaign with its first official workout session Saturday afternoon.
Headlining the roster is the duo of 6-11 senior center DeVon Hardin and 6-10 sophomore forward Ryan Anderson. Hardin, a preseason first-team All-Pac-10 selection by Athlon magazine, enters the year with more career blocks (95) than anyone else in the conference. In an injury-shorted junior season, he averaged 10.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg, and despite being limited to 11 games with a stress fracture in his left foot, still paced the Bears with 21 blocks.
Anderson earned second-team Freshman All-America notice from Basketball Times after contributing 16.3 ppg and 8.2 rpg as a rookie in 2006-07. Also a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman squad and the Pac-10 All-Tournament team, he was the only player in the league to rank among the top five in the Pac-10 in both scoring and rebounding and is the leading returning scorer in the conference.
"I think that Ryan and DeVon proved that when they were both healthy and playing well and fresh together, it made a big difference for us," said head coach Ben Braun, who enters his 12th season at the helm this fall. "When those two guys are on the floor, I think they complement each other well and really put pressure on the other team."
In all, Cal returns seven lettermen from last season's 16-17 squad that reached the semifinals of the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament, has added four freshmen, and will welcome three sophomores who all received medical hardship waivers for a variety of injuries last year.
The focus of the team should be up front where, in addition to Hardin and Anderson, the Bears have 7-0 sophomore Jordan Wilkes, 6-10 sophomore Taylor Harrison, 7-2 freshman Max Zhang, 6-8 freshman Harper Kamp and 6-8 sophomore Jamal Boykin.
"We are pleased to be back at full strength up front - that's a bright spot," Braun said. "We went in last year thinking we had good depth on the front line. This year, we think that should be a major strength of the team."
Junior Theo Robertson should move back to his more natural position on the wing this year after being forced to play a power forward spot last season when Hardin was sidelined. A starter for all 33 games, he tossed in 8.8 ppg and picked of a team-high 27 steals. The position will be bolstered by senior Eric Vierneisel, who shot a team-high 38.8 percent from three-point range in 2006-07, and freshman Omondi Amoke.
At guard, the Bears must find replacements for departed starters Ayinde Ubaka and Omar Wilkes, and they have a trio to choose from. Sophomore Patrick Christopher has the experience of starting 14 games as a freshman, while the point guard spot will be held down by either sophomore Jerome Randle or sophomore Nikola Knezevic.
Cal, which had five players under go surgery last season, will begin its preseason schedule short-handed again. Hardin is expected to sit out the first couple of days of practice as a precautionary measure with a sore foot, although Braun said he does not consider the situation serious.
Robertson, who had hip surgery in April, has not yet been cleared for contact and may not be ready until late December, according to Braun, while Amoke had surgery on a calf earlier this fall and is expected to get back on the court in about a month.
Finally, Boykin, who transferred to Cal from Duke for the spring semester last year, won't become eligible until after final exams, with his first contest expected to be against Utah Dec. 22.
Cal officially opens the season Nov. 14 when the Bears host Southern Mississippi at Haas Pavilion.