Cal Media Day Quotes

Oct. 23, 2006

BERKELEY - California held its annual men's basketball media day Monday. The Golden Bears began practice Oct. 13 and host Sonoma State in an exhibition game Thursday, Nov. 2 in Haas Pavilion. Head coach Ben Braun discussed Cal's prospects with the media, and below are his quotes from the press conference.

Opening comment:
We're starting to get our guys back health-wise. That's been great. It seems like the last couple of seasons we haven't been able to go into our season at full strength. DeVon Hardin's been back from a shoulder injury. Nikola (Knezevic, knee) is practicing now - not at full-tilt, but he's able to get into drills. But I think he'll be able to go by the time the season's underway. Having those guys back is good. And I think the rest of our team is pretty healthy. It's just good to have bodies out here.

Last year at this time, I think we were good for four-on-four, which would be good for half court but not full court. Our first (intrasquad) scrimmage was on Saturday before the Washington (football) game, and that's always interesting. I thought our guys competed, we had some fun, and our practices have been extremely competitive so far. That's been a real plus for us. We have a lot of competition and depth at the wing spot, and actually having three guys who play point guard has really made things interesting in practice. When we're back at full strength, that will really help us.

What will you miss with Leon Powe gone?
What we're going to miss with Leon, obviously, is that toughness. Certainly they're finding out in Boston right now with the Celtics that he has a certain toughness about him. He rebounds, he defends. Ironically, what he's doing is taking charge of defending and he's now earning playing time. He called me yesterday to tell me about his defensive prowess and how he was well drilled in college. It's good to hear that. So, he's doing well.

We're going to miss that go-to player. Leon is a guy who could get you to the foul line and get you an open shot. By the same token, sometimes our team became dependent on Leon. So, I would agree that our team will have the opportunity to open things up this year, to get some baskets in transition and to create some three-point opportunities.

This may be one of the best shooting teams we've had. In our first scrimmage, we were 35-for-39 from the foul line. That's pretty good. It was one of the better free throw shooting exhibitions I've seen. When you get guys that can get to the foul line and shoot at that rate and knock down shots, that certainly opens up the floor. We will get some scoring from different areas.

A lot of it's going to come down to DeVon still being the guy that can solidify things. We have DeVon working hard in the paint, but at the same time we have guys on the perimeter, like Jordan Wilkes and Ryan Anderson - those guys can knock down shots. They have three-point capability. I anticipate those guys being perimeter threats for us. And Taylor Harrison is showing well. I think we're always going to be a team that has an inside presence. But we may not be dependent on that inside presence to score. You're going to probably see some of our post guys stepping out more this year than they have in the past, again, opening up scoring opportunities.

On junior center DeVon Hardin:
He's working hard right now. This is the time of year you have to bring your lunch pail to work. He has to work everyday in practice. He's got two guys breathing down his neck pretty hard. Taylor Harrison is one of the most physical players we've had here at Cal. And to score over Jordan Wilkes is not that easy - a seven-foot player who is pretty long. Everyday in practice he's going to get pushed to another level. I think that's great. Leon started that last year - he made DeVon a better player by going at it everyday. I'm happy that we have that same competitiveness in practice. Because of what he has to face in practice, DeVon's going to be a better player this year. He's not going to wait until game time to be challenged. He's challenged everyday in practice.

On sophomore center Jordan Wilkes:
Jordan has put some weight on. He's probably 15 pounds heavier than he was. His durability is going to be better. This time last year, Jordan wasn't playing in a lot of consecutive practices. It seemed like he was always in the training room. For him to be healthier and stronger is going to help our team and give us a big lift. He has good basketball knowledge. He's a guy that can score from the perimeter, knock down free throws and make intelligent reads up the court. He's just getting better and better as time moves on.

On the team's expectations:
Our team comes in expecting to challenge for a Pac-10 championship. Those expectations are a sign that our program has that mindset every year. Our team got very close to a Pac-10 championship last year. I think this team can draw from that experience - what are the areas that we did well in and what are the areas we need to improve? Little things make a difference.

Will Ayinde Ubaka see more action at off guard than point guard this season?
Ayinde is somebody who is going to have to score for us. There are times at the point guard where it's going to be a little more difficult to do. But at the same time, he plays that position awfully well. We need to give him some opportunities, bring him off some screens, let him get loose on the break or have him get out in front of the break. We're prepared to play him there. I feel that both Jerome (Randle) and Nikola play the point guard well enough that that will allow Ayinde to get some minutes at the two. He's improved in every facet of his game. Whether it's at the point guard or at the off guard, those are areas that can help out team.

Will Omar Wilkes and Theo Robertson, who shared a position last year, play more together this season?
I thought last year Omar gave us a valiant effort. We had him matching up against 6-6, 6-7 guys. Those were some tough match-ups. I thought he gave us great effort. Obviously, with Omar as a guard, we went with a three-guard line-up and were able to gain ground and improve our three-point percentage. He was our leading three-point percentage guy. This year, we're giving Omar an opportunity to play more of that off-guard position. If we were to play a game right now, those two guys will be playing alongside of each other. They make a pretty good combination. At the same time, we've got some guys - Eric Vierneisel and Patrick Christopher - who are playing well. We've got good depth there.

I'd give Omar and Theo a little nod in terms of where they are right now. But those other guys aren't far behind. That gives us a pretty good blend. If you look back last year at the Arizona game, the DePaul team, we struggled rebounding. I think Theo had 12 rebounds in our (intrasquad) scrimmage on Saturday.

On Omar Wilkes' scoring abilities:
I think Omar has the capability of scoring. He did a good job for us last year in transition. He also was a player that created for other players by cutting and slashing to the basket. At the same time, he's somebody you want at the other spot. If somebody kicks it back out, Omar's a perfect guy to catch and score because he's a threat from three. And if you come at him out of control, he can beat you off the dribble. He's very dangerous getting up and down the floor in transition.

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