Oct. 31, 2007
BERKELEY - Men's basketball media day was held this afternoon in the Club Room at Haas Pavilion with head coach Ben Braun addressing the media and taking questions, followed by interview opportunities with players. Afterwards the Golden Bears held an open practice session. Cal enters the season coming off a 16-17 overall record and a 6-12 finish in the Pac-10 in 2006-07. Coach Braun is entering his 12th season at the helm.
Here are Braun's comments:
I've been pleased with our progress in practice. It's great to have our front-line people back. There's something reassuring about looking out at the practice floor and seeing some big guys back. We ended the season last year with a number of guys on the sideline. To have those guys back really gives us a new face and familiar territory to us. I expect to see big guys back, running up and down the floor and knocking into each other. It's something that's given us a lot of confidence. I think we're going to be a team that's going to compete with anybody on the front line. It's great to have those guys back. Specifically talking about [senior center] DeVon Hardin, when he's on the floor, we've got a different look to us. He's a guy that commands a lot of attention both offensively and defensively and changes a lot of things. [Sophomore forward Ryan Anderson] has been playing well, great to have him back and to have his counterpart DeVon Hardin back on the floor.
On sophomore center Jordan Wilkes:
Jordy has stepped up. Jordan has been a guy that didn't really realize how much we missed him last year but to have his presence inside -- he knows how to play, he can knock down shots, he's a smart player.
On freshman forward Harper Kamp:
Harper Kamp has been a really, really impressive freshman. He's probably been the most pleasant, if you want to call it, surprise. He didn't really surprise me in that I've seen him the last three years win state championships so he's brought his winning ways and his efforts to Cal. I've been really impressed with him. He's really gained the admiration of his teammates, he belongs. He's playing really good basketball right now.
On sophomore forward Jamal Boykin:
Jamal Boykin is somebody who will join us in December. Jamal's playing well. It will be a very welcome addition when he's ready to go in December. I anticipate Jamal playing a couple positions for us. He's a guy that can post up, he can get out to the high post and take from the arc. He can take a shot, he can take it to the basket, he can make plays off the dribble. He's a very agile player for us. He's the type of player that will give us some flexibility and some mobility.
On sophomore forward Taylor Harrison:
Taylor is still recovering from some soreness in his knee. He's been practicing all preseason but we've given him the past couple of days off. We've got to let his knee quiet down a little bit. He came off surgery last year. I thought he had a pretty good summer. But now that he's coming back to basketball rigorously, it catches up with you so we're going to give him a few more days to see if it quiets down.
On freshman center Max Zhang:
Max is somebody who's also had a knee injury or a knee banged up so he's been out for a couple of weeks. I think he's got to be off for another week or so. We'll see what happens after he comes back, but we're not going to rush his development.
On junior forward Theo Robertson:
We're still awaiting his return to the court in terms of contact. He's really at this point shooting, that's all he's been cleared to do. We hope that we can get him back but we don't want to rush him back on the floor. I'm concerned about Theo, I don't want him to come back unless he's really ready to play and take the rigors of a full-fledged practice and then get into a game, so it's still kind of a wait-and-see with him. Obviously he's a big part of our program, a big part of our team. To get him back would be huge for our team because he is our most experienced returning player right now in terms of at least perimeter play. He's going to be very valuable for us.
On sophomore guard Jerome Randle, who had a kidney biopsy on Oct. 30:
Obviously, you've heard about Jerome. Jerome, yesterday he actually got out of the hospital and I think he's going to be recuperating for at least a couple days, getting back to class, and then waiting for the results from his biopsy. We're optimistic that when the results come back, they're positive, they come back and there's nothing significant, we'll get a treatment plan for him and he'll hopefully resume with our team in about a 3-4 week period, that's what our optimum is right now. We don't know [what the doctors are looking for]. They're looking at abnormality and a level that they were concerned about. They want to know why that level is what it is. This is more about health. If he is cleared to come back, he's got to recover from the biopsy which is involved, which entails bleeding and entails scaring and they want that to heal before he comes back, so that's why a normal recovery time is 3-4 weeks and we don't want to rush that. We're hoping that they can determine a plan to treat Jerome so that he'll come back healthy. That's more important than a basketball concern, to make sure that he's in a position that they can treat him. What I've been told is that if he comes back and the tests aren't favorable, that even if it involves treatment, it should not affect his ability to come back to play and rejoin our team, that's what we're told. You hate to make any statement until the results come back. We're hopeful. I'm hopeful that we come up with a plan for his long-term treatment and at the same time, when he is cleared to come back, that he is able to resume normal activity, which I hear is a good possibility that will happen.
On players stepping up due to injuries on the roster:
Nikola [Knezevic] has returned well, he's doing well. He's been healthy. His knee has held up well this spring, summer and fall so far. [Sophomore guard Patrick Christopher] and [senior forward Eric Vierneisel] are playing probably more minutes than I would like to but they're probably playing as many minutes that they'd like them to, but you know how that goes. They're taking advantage of the opportunity and those two guys are going to have to play significantly for us in the preseason. They're going to have to step up and log a lot of minutes. They're playing well right now. I'm very pleased with Eric, he's playing like a senior. I'm very pleased with Patrick [Christopher] in terms of him taking a big step from his freshman to sophomore year. We're going to ask Patrick to do some things maybe that he didn't have to do last year that we're going to expect him to do this year, especially with Theo [Robinson] out. It's not inconceivable that we're going to ask players like David Liss and Nican Robinson to step up this first part of the nonconference schedule and help our team because those guys are going to have to relieve Nikola, who is our lone point guard right now. We've been down that road before, and unfortunately injury has dictated that, but it's something that we have to do and I think those guys are capable players. They're walk-on players but they were both decent high school basketball players. They're quality guys who have been in our program for a year.
On sophomore guard Nikola Knezevic:
So far, Nikola has been, and he has been since his freshman year as well, he's playing great defense. He's really putting pressure on the ball, he really covers ground, he's a great help defender. He sees players on the floor offensively. I think he gets guys in the flow, he's really a natural finding guy. He's got a knack for getting the ball where it needs to go and that's something he did before he came to Cal. He did that for us his freshman year. He helped Leon Powe put together great highlight film when Nik was a freshman. We're counting on him to do those things. I think he's still got to get acclimated. We want Nikola to be confident to knock down open shots. He's worked hard on his shooting and we'd like him to knock down shots, not hesitate, get to the rim, be aggressive with the ball. Sometimes Nikola has a habit of trying to please the coaches and please the team but I want him to be aggressive take opportunities to make things happen for the team. We're really tough on him in practice, we pressure him, we allow our players to get up on him and make him play under duress and he's getting better. He's really improving in those areas. He's a guy that understands the game. I think what's good about Nikola, I think he understands that those are areas that he's worked so hard to improve, he knows those are things that will help our team. When he gets pressured, he's got to blow by guys. He's quick enough and he's strong enough. He's a strong player. He's the kind of player that can give other teams' players fits. He defensively does a great job of pressuring the ball and he's a tremendous defender. He gives our team a lot of defensive presence. He was that good as a freshman, which was interesting. A lot of players from Europe maybe aren't as good as I thought he was defensively. He does a great job.
On competition for point guard:
[It has been] playing out every day. I think it's been great. When Jerome was healthy, we really had four guys going out at each other. With Jerome out right now, you've got three guys rotating in David, Nikola and Nican, but they're only going to be that much stronger when Jerome gets back. But it's giving these guys an opportunity to play, log some time, get some minutes. I think it's always good to have support people, support role players playing for you. You don't move quicker than you would like but that's the circumstances that we have. We want Jerome to come back at a pace where he's healthy, that's our number one concern. We're not thinking about basketball in terms of Jerome coming back, it's about his health. When he can get back to our team and rejoin us, I'm not concerned about him, he's a tough guy and he'll be fine. We want to clear that first hurdle and that's to make sure that he's cleared to come back and play and resume his normal activities, which if the tests come back OK, he should be able to do.
On sophomore guards Nican Robinson and David Liss:
Nican, I think, is another guy who can put very good pressure on the ball. He's a good defender, he's quick with the ball. We're going to need that in Jerome's absence. Jerome gave us ball pressure, he gave us quickness up and down the floor. Jerome plays at a level that very few people play at in terms of quickness. He's as quick a player as we've had at Cal. I think that he is one of the quicker players in our league, if maybe not the quickest. He can get up and down the floor and give us a tempo offensively and defensively. I think Nican can do that. David Liss also, since he played last year, he had a few minutes here and there, he's used to playing at a high level. He's played on a state championship team. David's a good basketball player. David and Nican give you two different looks. But I think both guys are effective and we're going to show all the confidence in the world in those guys and they're going to have to step up and help us in Jerome's absence. That's going to entail, at this point, some basketball games. Jerome's going to miss some games this year, we're not sure how many.