Oct. 25, 2001
BERKELEY - Cal held its annual men's basketball preseason media luncheon Thursday at Haas Pavilion. Here are selected quotes from head coach Ben Braun and several players, both new and returning. The Bears, who return four starters from last year's 20-11 team, hold their first exhibition Nov. 5. The regular season opener is Nov. 15 against Princeton in the first round of the BCA Classic in Haas.
Head Coach Ben Braun
On who will emerge in place of the departed Sean Lampley:
It's important to have a lot of the same familiar faces back. And that's reassuring. There are some familiar faces, so some of the things we were doing from last year to do this year is simply review and refining, which is good. Now if you were to say, 'who's going to take that last shot?' Today, I couldn't tell you. And I don't think our team could. And that could be a negative. Last year, Sean Lampley was going to have the ball in his hands and the whole world knew it. You can say that's good news or bad news depending on how it ended up, but it was a given. UCLA had Earl Watson, he was going to have the ball in his hands to make the play. Each team has that go-to guy, so now, we have to go back and our team has to reestablish that part of its identity. And that's to go out and get that go-to guy or somebody that our team can respect, people they respect as a guy that's going to take over. And it may not be just one guy this year. It may have to be a couple of guys. It might be one of a couple of wing players. It might be Shantay Legans at the point. It might be Solomon Hughes now stepping up and really wanting the ball at the post. So its going to have to come from a couple of different areas this year and that could end up being a positive, so I don't want to say that is a negative. That might make us a little less predictable in some respects, where as last year we probably were predictable. People would say last year, 'Coach, you ran a very predictable offense.' And I said what Pete Newell used to say: 'Give your best player the ball, because if it's in his hands, you're running a pretty good offense.' It may be predictable, but it's a pretty good offense.
On leadership of the team and learning each others' strengths:
This year, Dennis Gates has been stepping up in that regard. They've already gone bowling, they've done a couple of activities. It's so great to see players do that. The coaches can't dictate to the players on how to get together. You can't tell the guys, 'all right, go bond.' It sounds good, but the players know they have to have a legitimate respect for one another. And they don't need the coaches to tell them to do that. You've got players like Dennis Gates. He's not a senior - actually a graduate student - but fourth year, basketball-wise. He's already organized some of these things. And he's become a leader in that respect. I think our team realizes the importance of camaraderie and support. They've spent a number of weekends already, three solid weekends on team building, just on understanding each individual's differences and what each person can bring to the table. And that's really a lot of what basketball is. Chemistry is really important in basketball. Obviously, it's not always the most talented team that wins, it's the team that can support one another and get the most out of each other, and that's what our team is focusing on. Even in practice yesterday, we went into practice with the statement, 'how do you make the guys around you better? How can you take somebody's strengths and accentuate them and maybe, even if you don't hide a weakness, at least not have a weakness that will be detrimental?' You need to play to your strength. If you know a player is a catch-and-shoot player, if you know a player is a catch-it-and-put-it-down player, if you know a player can create off the dribble, coming off screens, that's what our team has to figure out for us to be good.
On the frontline:
Yeah, it's suddenly getting a little better. It looks like we're going to have four guys that are 6-10 or better. I think that's pretty good. If all four guys can stay pretty healthy, that should help us in our rotation up front. I think Solomon (Hughes) is having a very solid preseason, I think he has played very well for us early. Jamal Sampson is coming along slowly with his ankle. It's amazing what he could get done even at 50 percent, 60 percent. As he gets healthier, he's going to be a real force for us. Amit Tamir has brought his experience here. He's an older, more mature player that will help us considerably. His poise and demeanor is just a welcome sight. How he operates both offensively and defensively, he's always a step ahead of things. And Gabriel Hughes is really coming around. He's put some weight on and I think he's an active player. Maybe he's as active a player as we have. At 6-10, he's quick, he can run the floor, block some shots and snatch some rebounds. He's still working to improve his consistency on the offensive end, but those are the guys that we have that I think will solidify the middle and give us an opportunity to play a couple of big guys at the same time if we need to do that.
I think one of the changes you'll see is that our big guys will be out on the floor more this year. We've actually changed some things offensively for our big guys to occupy the high post, get out on the floor on the motion and occupy either spot on the break. We're really giving our big guys, who I think are very mobile, an opportunity to go out on the floor. I don't want those guys always shooting threes, but I do want them out on the floor facing up, taking their man away from the basket. And they're all agile enough that they're going to create some problems for our opponents because they can come out on the floor and they are agile. We're finally making that type of an adjustment.
I don't think we're going to have two big guys together in the game early on in the season. There'll be spot where we will, but as the year progresses, we're going to be able to do more of that. Early, it will be a little difficult, but as the year goes on, there is no reason not to.
On Jamal Sampson and his recovery from summer ankle surgery:
There are days when he goes after it and he goes hard and he gets a lot of full court work in, which means he's going to be sore the next day. So we've got to curtail what he does. What we're trying to build up with Jamal is his consistency of practicing. Even though we're trying to build as we go along, we go out there and play consistently. But it's been tough because usually, if it's a full day of full court, next day's going to be tough on him. He's going to be pretty sore. So we're trying to build that right now. We're tying to hold him out of some of the full court work, but really build up through the half court.
We're going to have to gain rebounds. The big guys are going to have to really be dominant on the basket. One of the luxuries, if it's a luxury at all, is the fact that our wings are big. We've got Joe Shipp, Brian Wethers and Ryan Forehan-Kelly. I mean, we've got some big, pretty strong wings. There's no reason our wings can't help us rebound. And we're going to have our wings be more active on the glass and help our post guys.
On the development of Brian Wethers:
I thought Brian Wethers really came on last year and had a really solid finish. We're counting on him this year to step it up again. And that's the challenge that we've issued to Brian. He's welcomed the challenge, worked hard this summer and worked hard this preseason. He's got the opportunity to become one of our go-to guys. He's got those capabilities, the guy that can score off the dribble. He can score off the pass, he's very good in transition, he can go get his own rebounds, he's strong enough to mix it up inside so he's really a multi-purpose player and we're going to count on Brian to do a lot of things for us this year. I think he welcomes that challenge. Brian's the kind of guy that doesn't shy away from challenges. He wants to know that he's important and needed and he's a big part of our team. I really liked his progress last year and he's taken on those challenges on this summer and this preseason and worked very hard.
Freshman forward/guard Erik Bond
On fellow freshman Jamal Sampson:
He's a character. He's funny, he's a comedian. We actually live right by each other so we see a lot of each other. He's a good kid, hard working, and I know he's anxious to get back from his foot injury. I've seen glimpses of his play during his rehab and he's really impressed me so far. So I'm excited when he gets that wheel back in full strength.
On how supportive the upperclassmen have been:
Because it comes back to how close everyone is here. It's like a family. There's no class separation. Everyone is just out there together and really helping us out and teaching us the ropes and helping us with the on-court play and little hints.
Sophomore guard A.J. Diggs
On his role this year on the team:
Last year, I was nervous to shoot the ball, thinking that I was going to get taken out of the game. But now this year, they're telling me, 'you need to shoot the ball if you're open because it's going to help your teammates and the players around you.' I think just a year of experience has helped me a lot. But also over the summer, I worked on my jumped shot a lot. I worked on free throws, offensive things, to help the team out this year.
I have the ability to score, but basically when I'm on the court, I do what is needed at the time. If defense is needed, then I go out there and do defense. If we need an assist, that's what I do. So I mean, if points are needed this year, I feel I have the ability to do that also.
Freshman forward/center Amit Tamir
On his adjustment to life in the United States and at Cal:
I think socially, I fit in very well over here. I feel that the guys accepted me as a part of the team and even respected me. I know that some of the guys are looking forward to playing with me. Basketball-wise, it's been an easy transition, that's why I chose this place over other schools, because I felt much more comfortable with the players over here. And I felt that there is a chemistry between me and the players. I think the players and the coaches over here are very warm people. They are friendly and I feel like every guy on the team is great. I thought other places had good players and coaches but I felt over here, I had the best chemistry.
Junior guard Shantay Legans
On having to find a new go-to player:
In some ways, it's good and in some ways it's bad. The way that it's good is that we have a bunch of scorers on the team and I'm pretty sure anybody can score on any given situation. But the bad way is that some people may get a little hesitant as in last year, we had Sean Lampley, who would take the big shot or demand the ball. This year, I don't see that as much as in just one player. I don't think anyone's going to demand the ball like Sean did, but we're running an offense where everybody has a chance to score and put up shots.
On what coach Braun expects out of him:
I think I'm going to have to contribute leadership, as coach Braun's been telling me. And he's been telling me since day one that I've got to be a leader. And this year, I'm more of a leader on the court. But we have three captains this year. They're all seniors. Solomon Hughes, Dennis Gates and Ryan Forehan-Kelly, they're doing a great job of leading the team off the court and I've just got to pick it up on the court.
On what he's feels like he needs to work on:
Coach Braun's always says that I need to be more aggressive. I've been working on that all summer, shooting a lot more in pick-up games. It's going to be different taking a little bit more shots than usual, but I'm up for it.
Senior center Solomon Hughes
On the revamped frontcourt:
This is probably one of the most talented frontlines I've been with, with the exception of Sean Lampley. They're young guys, but they have good experience. They have good size, which is really going to help us. In practice, it makes it a little bit more intense.
On playing two big men at the same time:
That's something that we've been working on in practice, playing two big men. I think it mainly depends on what kind of effort we put up.
On making the NCAA Tournament last year and goals for this season:
Well, first, it made it reality, because it's something that I've always dreamed of, but the experience, it's made me hungry. I definitely want to be out there again and definitely want to go farther than we did last year. Our goal is to win the whole thing, but I know we have to take care of it game by game.