Ben Braun Discusses 2004-05 Season

Oct. 28, 2004

BERKELEY - Head coach Ben Braun discussed his team's prospects for the upcoming 2004-05 season at the team's annual media day Thursday. The Bears are in their second week of practice heading into their exhibition game vs. Chico State Nov. 2 and season-opener vs. UC Riverside Nov. 11.

General comments
So far practice has been going well in terms of intensity. I've been pleased. Our players have been playing hard. We realize that we're not going to have everything in or solved. It's going to be getting habits started from Day 1. Our biggest emphasis right now has been on intensity and competitiveness. Those are the things we're looking hard to establish. Once we establish those habits, then I think we can get into some specifics, in terms of lineups and combinations and roles and those sorts of things. Just getting our players going, getting our tempo going, playing with a lot of intensity and purpose, those are important things, that's what we're working on right now. And guys settling into their roles, that always takes a long time. But we're trying to get those things established right now. Building camaraderie amongst our team, those are important things. They don't show up always in practice, but we spend a lot of time with our team off the court as much as we do on the floor.

On junior center Rod Benson
Rod really ended with a lot of activity last year. That is what Rod does. That's a good word for Rod. He really plays, he's active. He gained some weight - I think a little under 10 pounds. He really is working, he's an active guy. He's someone with his experience who can help us. Defensively, he knows where to be, what to do. He's really intelligent there. He's got great reaction on the defensive end. He's becoming more solid offensively. He's done some good things for us. I think he's still got to improve some areas. He really is working on those things. He gave us a lift last year. I hope those things will help us again this year. He really is an agile 6-10 player. He can run well. He plays hard. Those are good traits. And he is effective defensively for us.

He's one of those guys whose metabolism is such that he will probably never be a big, heavy guy. He could probably use some extra calories. But he's pretty agile, and I think his ability to play, his effectiveness is not going to be built around his weight. It's going to be about how agile he is and how much he moves. That's what we have to understand. He is who he is, we are who we are. We're going to have to play with what we have, kind of in the context of who we are. If Rod's not that post-up guy that's going to command a lot of attention, he's got to be a guy that's going to beat you with quickness, beat you with tenacity and second-effort. Those are the things he's got to do for us, and we're going to count on him to do that. I thought he did that last year - Arizona, Oregon - there were a couple of games where he really stepped up and did that for us.

On sophomore guard Ayinde Ubaka
He is a player that, sometimes last year, was trying to do a lot of things just to keep our team going. We'd like to see Ayinde become more aggressive, more assertive. He's certainly one of our team leaders, Richard being another one, Martin Smith being another guy. You have to command that type of demeanor. It's important for you to take a lot of leadership and be aggressive, be assertive. You can't take for granted anything when you're playing in that position. It can't just come from the coaching staff, it must come from the player. If he can become more aggressive in everything - I'm not just talking scoring, I'm talking about being verbal - those things really help our team. He's getting better, he's improving in that area. I think Richard's helping, Martin Smith is helping. It's not just on Ayinde's shoulders. That would be a mistake to say this all comes down Ayinde. It doesn't. There are times that Ayinde's going to be playing at off-guard this year. There's going to be times when Martin will be in the game at the point, Richard will be at the point. It's not only going to be Ayinde's shoulders. But I would like to see him, just in general, whether it's leadership, it's being vocal or just in his play, I'd like to see him be aggressive with the ball. That's important, that he remains aggressive. He's shooting the ball well right now. That's a good sign. Through this past week in practice, he's about 46% from three. He's shooting the ball well. He's knocking down jump shots. That's a good sign. He's aggressive in that regard. You're not going to back off him, he's going to nail shots on you. So that's an important sign. He's really worked hard, he's been in the gym, he's worked on his shooting. That's going to help us. When a point guard can knock some shots down, that sets him up to be very effective.

On Ubaka having difficulties last season
Anytime you're a freshman into a program, it's always difficult. You're really fighting just to get your feet wet. Now you've got the dual responsibility of developing yourself and having responsibility for the team. That's hard for any freshman, I don't care who you are, that's a hard role. There's nothing probably harder than being a freshman point guard; that's the toughest position you could be in basketball. I really believe that. A big guy can go in and rebound, block shots, screen; you're not going to do as much as you expect a point guard to do. He's getting better.

On the team's enthusiasm in practice
We chart our practices. We chart how many times you give physical and verbal cues. We chart how many high-fives you give. I want them to know after practice how many times they huddled their teammates, how many times they made contact with their teammates, how many times they praised their teammates. I have a manager stat those things in practice. That's how important those things are. It's something that we're tying to work really hard at. You can't define your game just if your jump shots falling. That's not how were going to define our game. We had a drill the other day, and one of the requirements for our drill was you had to have non-stop chatter and enthusiasm. At the end of that drill, we needed to hit two threes with four seconds to go. The encouragement was at a really high level. The two guys knocked their shot down at the buzzer, and I think a lot of the reason they were excited was because their was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of vocal stuff going on. We can never have enough of it. We feel we've got guys who are eager learners, who are willing to step in the same direction, but we need that direction, and it's got to come as an extension through our coaching staff, it's got to come from your players. Those are the areas right now that we're spending a lot of time on. It's got to come in the form of direction, leadership, on the court. We've got to really be communicating, we've got to be clear, on the same page.

How hard is it for guys like Marquise Kately and Ayinde Ubaka to go from being freshman to two of the more experienced people on the team?
Is it hard? Yes. Looking back, it's easy sometimes to step in as a freshman when you don't know what to expect. But now that you know what to expect, your goals and your objectives change, they increase. You know what to expect and now you can go after it. You have to be specific about what you're looking for. Our players now have a good idea of what to do, but that doesn't make it any easier. They understand now what it takes to be successful, certainly in our league and with early season competition. If they look back to last year, we can point to some of the earlier games and teams we've played. Our players know we're going to have to create an edge somehow. That's what we're trying to do. What are those edges going to be? Maintain camaraderie, teamwork, that's an edge. That's a huge edge. Can a team with less talent, less firepower be successful? If you're a great team and you play with camaraderie and will and spirit, you bet. That's one of the things we've really talked about, that's one of the things we're working on right now. We divide teams up in practice; can your unit find a way to win? You may be less talented, but can you find a way?

On sophomore forward Marquise Kately
Marquise is going to be a focal point. He's going to have to score in transition, he's going to have to score in our sets, he's going to have to score off the defense. I think he'll get a couple of baskets a game just based on the kind of defense he plays and we're going to play, I hope. I think in transition, he's going to be able to find ways. But in the half-court, he's going to have to find a number of ways to score. Whether it's a post-up, whether it's a curl in the lane or a step back and knock down shot and get to the foul line. There are going to have to be a lot of ways he's going to have to look to score. I think he's geared up to do that. I think his teammates recognize his ability to step things up. That's a big challenge for him.

On the same token, I've seen Marquise make a concerted effort to find his teammates and create easy shots for his teammates. That's an area we've challenged him on and he's done that. I never thought I'd say this, but we've actually had to stop a practice or two and say, `That's great Marquise, you found your teammates, but don't forget to look to score.' I didn't have to say that to him last year. I've have to say it to him a couple of times this year. `Hey, when you get the ball around the basket finish, stop trying to pass the ball.' He's finding shots for his teammates right now.

I think he can step it up and I think he will step it up. But I don't think he has to score every game. His output is going to increase. I think you'll see a pretty aggressive Marquise Kately. We want him to stay aggressive and hopefully he'll continue to play the kind of defense he plays.

On sophomore forward Dominic McGuire
I think Dominic is a player that has really improved. He's grown a little bit. He's been maybe our most active player in practice so far. That's what we want him to be. It's nothing specifically that he's done. He's led our team in rebounding in a couple of practices, which is what I know he can do. He's led our team in hustle points, he makes hustle plays. Defensively, he's around the ball a lot. He's helping to recover and playing great help defense. He's able to lead our break from a guard/forward position. He's able to play at different spots. I don't distinguish his spots when he gets the ball off of a rebound. He's as capable of pushing a ball as he is of outletting it, then running wing or getting to the basket. He's really quick up and down the floor. He's been really kind of an all-purpose guy for us. He's been playing like a forward, but he can play a wing position, too. I like his versatility. That gives us a lot of flexibility when he's out there. I think he will end up creating some mismatches for our opponents.

What's going to be different, style-wise, from last year?
I really believe that our team is going to have the ability to convert from defense to offense and find some easier baskets. That's out goal, to find some easier ways to score. I hope that's going to be a change for us. I think that our team can be better in that respect. I think our defense can really create some of our offense. We've got some guys that are pretty aggressive with the ball. I want our guys to continue to be aggressive.

How has Dominic McGuire embraced playing in the post?
He just wants to play. He's happy to play. He'd play anywhere on the court. He's not concerned. He just wants to play, and when he plays, I think we're better. He's a good player, and he makes a lot things happen. I think he has to be more consistent with his shooting, but he's working on it.

On the freshman class
So far, I would have to say that both Kevin (Langford) and DeVon (Hardin) have stepped up early in practice. They've done a really good job of doing everything that they've been asked to do. They're extremely coachable players. Kevin is a guy that understand the game. He's able to get his teammates open. He understands passing, screening, posting, positioning. He plays solid post defense. He's got great poise.

DeVon's a guy that's been really active. He's been one of our most active and strongest guys in the interior. Defensively, he's hard to score against. He makes it hard against his opponents to get easy scores inside. He's a good help defender. His play's been getting much better inside. He's really handling the ball. He's making good decisions inside. DeVon's biggest strength is probably his speed. I think he's as fast as anybody on our team getting up and down the floor. He can really run. He's blocked a few shots already.

I didn't mention Eric (Vierneisel), who's also participating. Eric's given us a lot because he's knocked down shots. He reads screens extremely well. He's solid defensively. He gives us versatility; at 6-7, he's got the good size. He can see over the defense, he can pass, he can shoot it. He's a really skilled guy. I think all those guys, all three guys, will help us this year.