Nov. 3, 2011
BERKELEY - California men's basketball head coach Mike Montgomery and several Golden Bear players met with the local media for Bay Area Media Day on Thursday afternoon (Nov. 3) at the Haas Pavilion Club Room. Cal opens the 2011-12 regular season with a home game against UC Irvine on Friday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. PT.
Cal is ranked No. 24 in both the preseason AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls. The Bears were picked to finish second in the conference by the Pac-12 media, and are coming off an 18-15 season in 2010-11 that saw them advance to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. Cal returns four starters, led by first-team All-Pac-10 selection and team MVP senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, who paced the squad in scoring with 14.6 ppg.
2011-12 Men's Basketball Season Outlook
With a rare blend of youth and experience, the California men's basketball team looks to return to championship form as the 2011-12 season ushers in the Pac-12 era on the west coast. A core group of veterans will join forces with a highly touted crop of newcomers, all with their sights set on seizing the first Pac-12 championship.
Winners of the 2010 Pac-10 crown, a young squad of Golden Bears were confronted with one of the most treacherous preseason schedules in the nation, last year. The always-competitive nature of the Pac-10 left Cal with an 18-15 overall mark and tied for fourth place in the conference at 10-8.
"It seemed like everyone we faced was picked to win their league or ranked in the top 25," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "With a young team, that might have been a little more than we needed. This year, I think we have a good, competitive schedule, that will test us in enough occasions, and that will get us ready for Pac-12 play. It will allow us to have some highly competitive games and opportunities that will help us develop some depth."
The Bears return key players at several positions but all eyes will be on the fiery Chihuahua, Mexico native Jorge Gutierrez. The senior guard was selected to the Pac-10 All-Conference first team and was also honored with a spot on the conference's All-Defensive Team after a stellar junior campaign in which he led the Bears in scoring (14.6 ppg), assists (4.46 apg), and steals (1.64 spg). Gutierrez ranked eighth in the conference among scorers and was second in the league for assists.
On the wings, Cal will benefit from the return of last season's Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in sophomore sharpshooter Allen Crabbe. Crabbe came alive during conference games, a year ago, to lead the Bears with 16.4 ppg. The Los Angeles native also pulled down 5.8 rebounds in each league contest to put his stamp on his first season at Cal.
Junior guard Brandon Smith ranked sixth in the Pac-10 in assists in 2010-11, and was fifth on the squad with 6.2 ppg. Up front, the Bears also return senior forward Harper Kamp; the team's second-leading scorer, a year ago; and sophomore forward Richard Solomon who posted team-high honors for blocked shots to go with 5.6 ppg.
"We've got players back who have won, before," said Montgomery. "Now, we need three, four, or five more kids to step up to generate depth, but we've got likely candidates. If we can keep that core group healthy, we've got good, experienced players that have won at this level in this league with some guys that could end up being really good depth for us."
Among new faces, the Bears will welcome guard Justin Cobbs to the floor after the Minnesota transfer sat out the 2010-11 season. Cobbs' experience in the Big Ten and his year under the Cal system will make him a major factor for the Bears' opponents to contend with.
One season removed because of an injury, the Bears will add another outside threat in redshirt freshman guard Alex Rossi. While walk-ons Jeff Powers and Robert Thurman saw playing time last season, their offseason improvement will provide Cal with valuable depth and firepower off the bench. Freshmen forwards David Kravish and Christian Behrens could also step in and make an immediate impact.
"This team will have enough scoring threats to put pressure on opposing defenses," said Kamp. "We should have plenty of options to work with. Now, we just have to make sure we can play great defense, as a team, on the other end."
With an offensive arsenal on the court, and added depth on the roster, the Bears have a solid blueprint to work with as the season begins.
"We're going to miss Markhuri Sanders-Frison. He was a tremendous leader. He had a way about him where his teammates trusted him and followed him and he could be vocal with them and they wouldn't take it personally. Gutierrez will lead by example because he plays so hard. Kamp and Smith also have great leadership qualities, but the leadership on this team will develop as the season progresses."
This offseason has been a particularly beneficial one for the Bears. An overseas trip in August through Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, gave the squad more opportunities to practice and play together. The extra time has paid dividends to a team that has another conference title on its mind.
"We've been working hard this whole time," said Gutierrez. "We come together in games, in hard times, and even in practice. One of the biggest strengths of this team is that we play together and we play hard. Our first goal was to win the Pac-10. Now, we want to win the Pac-12."
Cal will open the season as hosts of UC Irvine on Friday, Nov. 11, at Haas Pavilion. George Washington and Austin Peay will visit Berkeley, the following week, for the first two rounds of the College Basketball Experience Classic. The Bears play in the first of 18 Pac-12 games as hosts of USC (Dec. 29) and UCLA (Dec. 31) to ring in the New Year.