(SAN FRANCISCO) The Pac-12 threw itself a party at its new studios, and invited all 12 schools to attend.
Basketball Media Day finally moved to a central location in the conference, San Francisco, instead of its semi-permanent home in Los Angeles.
It was the hoops-flavored version of a coming-out party – the studios just opened in August – and all 12 schools sent coaches and one player each for a dog-and-pony show.
Not much of basketball substance comes from these, and this was no different. Mike Montgomery led off Cal's 10-minute segment with a standard-for-him clever line – “I've learned over many years of these that the later you are in the program, the better you did last year.” Montgomery knows full well how he and Cal did last year – losing the conference championship on the final weekend. Only Lorenzo Romar and the Washington Huskies separated Montgomery from the lunch break.
“I really, really value conference championships, I know how difficult they are to get,” said the Golden Bears head man. “We were very close last year, but were disappointed in the final outcome.”
UCLA coach Ben Howland (whose team was selected to compete with Arizona for this year's conference flag) singled out the Golden Bears as a difficult team. “They have the best two guards in the conference, in (Justin) Cobbs and (Allen) Crabbe,” Howland said, “maybe the best in the country – and we all know that guard play is the key to success late in the season.”
Cal has an enormous hole to fill with the loss of graduating seniors Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez. Gutierrez was the emotional core and engine of the team for the past several seasons, and Kamp was their “Coach on the Floor”.
With guard Ricky Kreklow recovering from a broken foot, incoming freshman Tyrone Wallace will see significant playing time, at least early in the season.
“Ideally, you want this to be a learning year for your freshmen, you don't want to put too much on them,” Montgomery said, “but Ty will see significant time on the floor with Kreklow unavailable for now.”
Asked what can be expected of Richard Solomon, who missed much of last season due to academic ineligibility, Monty gave his biggest smile of the entire session and said, “I think you're going to love what you see from Richard.” Montgomery went on to suggest that perhaps the loss of eligibility last season was “the best thing that could have possibly happened to Richard.” Solomon has matured, the coach said, into a very different person and player as a result. “Now, don't think he's not gonna dunk and beat his chest afterwards from time to time, but I think you'll see a real difference.”
The coach also said that David Kravish, a freshman post player who was forced into a starting role because of Solomon's loss of eligibility, survived his trial by fire and will be a presence this year. “David only weighed 187 pounds when he got to Cal – he went into the weight room and worked hard and got up to 209, then got the flu in Las Vegas and lost all 12 pounds and never put any more on all year,” lamented Montgomery. “But he's put on about 25 pounds in the off season, all of it muscle. You still won't notice it when you look at him, but he will be able to hold his own physically this year.”
Crabbe was asked about the leadership void, and he said that, “the upperclassmen will have to step up now.” Asked if that meant he would take a more vocal role with the team, the junior seemed a little reluctant – “I hope to lead by example, and I will have to step up and be a little more vocal, I guess. I've been able to be really quiet the first couple of years because we had those upperclassmen, but I guess I need to be one of those who step up now.”
Cal opens the 2012-2013 season on Election Night, Tuesday, November 6, with an exhibition contest against San Francisco State at Haas Pavilion with a 7:30 tip off. Their first game that counts in the standings will be Sunday, November 11 against Cal State Bakersfield, also at home, tipping off at 7:00.