Ben Braun Media Day Quotes

Oct. 19, 2005

BERKELEY, Calif. - Cal men's basketball head coach Ben Braun addressed the media Wednesday at the team's annual media day at Haas Pavilion. The Golden Bears tip off the season with a home exhibition against Humboldt State Nov. 14 before travelling to Eastern Michigan Nov. 18 for the regular-season opener.

Following are some of Braun's comments from today's media gathering.

General comments about injuries:
'Martin Smith is out with a pelvis stress fracture, which is a tough break for us. Rod Benson has a stress fracture in his heel. Those guys will probably be out another three weeks. They are making strides and should be ready for our season opener. Richard (Midgley) and Omar (Wilkes) are looking better. They are recovering.'

How did Martin get a pelvis injury?
'I think wear and tear. It's something that happens from over use. Martin pushes himself really hard. It's tough, it was probably frustrating. Martin was pretty healthy this summer. Rod, I thought, was playing a little hobbled this summer, and I don't know if he has fully recovered from the summer, but he is making strides and he will be okay. Our goal is to get him back for the season opener. Omar is recovering from a thumb sprain; he should be cleared for contact this weekend. Richard has been back from his bone bruise in his hand; he has been practicing at full go-he's ok. I think Jordan Wilkes is out, he's been out with an ankle injury for a couple days, no contact, we hope he'll be back this weekend.'

Have the injuries affected these first few days of practice?
'It's been tough to practice. That's why I am happy about our trip to Europe; thank goodness we had our trip to Italy because we had a chance to put a lot of things in. Right now, we are going back to review and refine those things. If we didn't have that trip, this would be a tough pre-season camp right now because we would be way behind. Because we had that couple weeks to practice, getting off to a slow start this week and next we are just going back to individual workouts. When our guys and our team are healthy, it's exciting. It's great to see what our team can do when we are all out there. I am excited about our team because we anticipate our team coming back and being healthy, and I think our team is going to be pretty good.'

'It has been a good group. This group has been very intent, our attention span has been good, our concentration, our enthusiasm has been good. It has just kind of been a carry over from this summer. I think it has been a good atmosphere for our team.'

On leadership:
'Leadership stepped up. I really like what Richard Midgley has been doing. That started this summer. Richard is becoming more vocal, he's got a really good idea of what the coaches want, he's a senior. I think he has exhibited really good leadership on the floor. He stayed after practice the other day and worked with the young guys on plays and positioning. He's become more and more vocal. He's vocal in our conditioning workouts, and he's vocal at our practices. He is stepping up. He is doing things that I think earlier in his career were harder for him. He really wants to win; he's made tremendous strides since a year ago. I think at this point he is probably 15 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He'll make us a better basketball team, and that is something he initiated. Richard said I need to be quicker, he wanted to be quicker off screens, quicker with the ball, and he's quicker defensively. He has really put time in there, and he has done a great job. He's playing as well as he's played since he's been at Cal.'

Will Richard benefit more now that he doesn't have to be the focal point?
'I think Richard has been good when he hasn't been, he's been better. He can be a focal point in a different way; he can be a focal point leader in terms of being vocal. The pressure is not on him to carry our team from a scoring stand point or toughness factor. He was kind of the tough guy on our team last year. You know we have a couple other tough guys coming back this year. You got Leon Powe as tough guy, DeVon Harden is getting harder. I don't think Richard has to be the guy to carry our team with a swagger. He's always willing to step up and take a challenge. We have guys that are willing to take some of that pressure off Richard. He kind of had to carry us last year, and that was tough to ask of him. You put Omar Wilkes around Richard and suddenly the pressure isn't on Richard. Teams are going to have to make decisions on where they help off of, and I don't think there are a lot of options when you have Richard, Ayinde (Ubaka) and Omar out there. There are not a lot of spots you can say lets play off of this guy because who ever you play off of will burn you. We haven't had that in a while so I like that.'

'Richard can help us whether he's scoring or not. Like I said, he can help us defensively. He can help us in leadership, with his toughness. He is such a threat on the floor that he always makes it a factor. I like making sure Richard is on the same side as our post ups because you're not going to double off him. The same can be said about Ayinde and Omar. You're just not going to come off those guys a great distance to help on the post because they are pretty good scorers. All those guys are agile enough to break their man down on the dribble. I like that aspect of this group. They did a lot of that this summer; they worked well with each other. They were able to drive and dish. We haven't had a lot of that, and we are getting a lot of that now. That is a pretty good way to score when you can break your man down defensively.'

Do you see playing Richard, Ayinde and Omar together a lot?
'Yeah, that's the guard combination we played this summer, and it was a great combination for us. I see no reason to change that. I also like the ability to bring in Martin Smith, who has so much experience for us now. We are bringing Martin Smith in and Eric (Vierneisel), who is really shooting the ball well and Theo Robertson. Those are three guys we can bring in at the guard position that I don't think we are going to lose a lot in terms of savvy and toughness and skills. Those guys are pretty skilled players. Those are three really good guys to step up and play their roles for us.'

Numerically what do you expect from Leon Powe?
'He's a guy that you look up, and he's got double figures before you know it. That is not going to be surprising to see Leon crack double figures in either rebounding or scoring. We have the kind of team where Leon is also becoming a better passer, and he has really increased his skills. Again, I think that is going to help stretch the defense that we play against. Leon has really become a more versatile player. His versatility is a lot better. It's just great to see him healthy again and playing without any regard for playing back-to-back games, back-to-back practices, he hasn't had a break. We have not given Leon Powe a break, and he has responded greatly.'

Is Leon healthier now more so than he ever has been?
'I think so; I don't think he has ever been healthier than he is right now.'

Who is the most improved player?
'This summer from the games we played in Europe, it's hard to say one guy who was really the most improved. Just seeing Ayinde healthy was really enjoyable. It was great to see him happy and playing well and being confident. He had some great games for us. He probably helped us win two out of our five games just with the way he was shooting the ball, toughness and ballhandling. He really had a great trip for us. He has shown some improvement being healthy and his confidence is getting better. I think his confidence has improved.'

'DeVon Harden has improved his skill level and his durability. He is running the floor better than he did a year ago. I think one of the keys for DeVon is playing against Leon every day in practice. I can't tell you how much that has helped DeVon's development. I think it has helped Leon, as well. It has really helped DeVon. He has gotten tougher. You can't take a day off against Leon. When you play against Leon, you're fighting for your life. You have to play as hard as you can or Leon will destroy you. DeVon has taken on the challenge, which was hard for him to do initially, but he is starting to take the challenge of coming up and going against Leon in competitive drills and in practice. DeVon has improved when he's played against Leon and when he's played with him. He has definitely improved. There is no question about that.'

Is Ayinde becoming more aggressive?
'What I like about Ayinde too and I think some of it is because of our team, is that he has the ability to be aggressive with the ball because we also have some wing players. Our wing players actually now can shoot. We have range at the wing. Because of that, he has more ability to break down his defender because there aren't people sagging in at the wings. Sagging off of people a year ago that was what we faced, one and usually two guys sitting in the paint waiting for penetration. We had a tough time breaking our defender down. This year with our perimeter shooting and our ability to carve out some space in the block our spacing is better and our driving angles are better. I think as a result, he has prospered. Now he has the ability to break his guy down.'

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