2004-05 Men's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 29, 2004
The 2004-05 California men's basketball roster lists six of the Golden Bears' top seven scorers, including four starters, returning from last season's freshman-dominated squad.
With a strong freshman class expected to add support throughout the lineup, Cal will shoot to improve on its 13-15 record and fourth-place Pac-10 finish in '03-04.
'We've got sophomores coming back with a lot of game experience,' said head coach Ben Braun, who enters his ninth year at the helm in Berkeley. 'They'll be more familiar with their roles, the competition and the league. That's going to be a factor, especially early.'
What the roster doesn't show is knee surgery for reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Leon Powe that will keep the power forward on the sidelines for most, if not all, of the season. Powe's injury, coupled with the graduation of center Amit Tamir - last year's No. 2 scorer and rebounder - means the Bears will start the upcoming campaign with just 53.8 percent of their scoring and 46.7 percent of their rebounding from a year ago. In contrast, a healthy Powe would have put those figures at 75.6 percent and 72.8 percent, respectively.
The 6-8, 245-pound Powe, who led the Bears in scoring (15.1 ppg) and became the first freshman in the history of the conference to pace the Pac-10 in rebounding (9.5 rpg) last season, underwent a two-part procedure during the offseason - April 21 and Sept. 8 - to strengthen a left knee he first injured after his junior year of high school. Braun is not ruling out a return for his star post player this year, but understands that Powe needs to be fully recovered before he steps back onto the court.
'With Leon out, I think all the players know that everybody's going to have to step up,' added Braun, who owns a 153-94 record in Berkeley and a 486-329 mark in 27 years overall. 'We have to build our team early, so we're going to look at the preseason as a time for our team to grow. Without our leading scorer and rebounder, the challenges are going to be there for us.'
Braun doesn't have the benefit of a senior on the team this year, but even with Powe on the injured list, Cal features a host of other veterans with a combined 100 starting assignments over the past two seasons, including three players - junior guard Richard Midgley, sophomore forward Marquise Kately and sophomore guard Ayinde Ubaka - who have earned Pac-10 All-Freshman recognition during their careers. That trio should compose the corps of the Bears' perimeter game with Ubaka at the point and Midgley and Kately filling in on the wings.
Midgley, as the elder statesman, is expected to provide a steadying force for the Bears. After a slow start last year, the 6-2, 205-pound native of Burgess Hill, England, averaged 13.1 points per game over Cal's final 15 contests to raise his season rate to 10.6 ppg. The Bears' top three-point specialist, Midgley enters 2004-05 with 84 treys to his credit, and he set a school freshman record by making 44.9 percent of his long-range attempts two years ago.
'Richard seems to rise against tougher competition,' Braun said. 'I think this will be a great year for him - not just in terms of playing and scoring, but also in terms of leadership.'
Owner of 26 double-figure scoring games during his career, Midgley's most notable moment came during Cal's 76-74 win over North Carolina State in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. With the clock ticking with just 3.9 seconds left at the end of overtime, he nailed a three-pointer to lift the Bears to victory.
Alongside Midgley in the backcourt is the 6-3, 200-pound Ubaka, who led all Pac-10 freshmen last year in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.96:1). He poured in 6.4 ppg and dished out 3.9 apg in '03-04 while directing one of the youngest lineups in the country.
'Ayinde improved as the year went on, and I expect he will play with more confidence this season,' Braun said. 'I thought we handled pressure pretty well last year, and a lot of it is due to Ayinde. He's just a solid ball-handler. I'd like him to be more aggressive this year.'
Ubaka twice tallied a high of 13 points last season - in home wins over Washington and UCLA - and he offered a best of nine assists in Cal's overtime victory over Oregon. In fact, the Bears were 6-0 when he reached double digits in the scoring column.
Providing back-up support at both guard spots is junior Martin Smith (5-11, 175), a third-year walk-on who has seen his role steadily increase. The son of former NBA All-Star Phil Smith, Martin saw action in 23 games last year, and provided a spark each time he was on the court, especially on the defensive end with his high-energy style of play. His best overall effort came at Arizona in January when he set career bests with five rebounds and six assists - both team highs vs. the Wildcats.
The 6-5, 220-pound Kately returns at one of the forward positions after being Cal's most consistent scorer a year ago. He ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in field goal shooting (53.5%) in averaging 10.5 ppg, and his premier outing came in a home victory vs. Arizona State when he tallied 24 points and five rebounds. Kately was also rewarded with Cal's Best Defensive Player trophy following the season for his relentless pressure and ability to close down opposing scorers.
'Marquise had a solid freshman year and was one of the top freshmen in the league,' Braun said. 'If Leon wasn't Freshman of the Year, he might have been a candidate for it. He was our best defender, and he was consistently scoring for us. He can do a lot of things.'
Dominic McGuire, a 6-8, 210-pound sophomore, was Cal's top reserve last season when he contributed 4.3 ppg and 3.4 rpg. An athletic player who excels on the break, McGuire grabbed a high of 11 rebounds at Arizona and also paced the Bears with 22 blocks on the year.
'Dom is an all-purpose guy who can play a number of positions for us,' Braun said. 'He's been a great defender and shot blocker, and hopefully, he'll get more consistent in his scoring.'
Up front, juniors Rod Benson and David Paris look to increase their prospects this season. Benson, a 6-10, 210-pounder, was Cal's Most Improved Player in 2003-04 after he totaled 15 blocks and added 2.6 ppg and 1.7 rpg. Benson particularly came up big vs. Oregon with eight points and six rebounds in an overtime victory at home.
The 6-8, 260-pound Paris is poised to make a bigger contribution after waiting in the wings much of the past two seasons. He averaged 1.5 ppg and 0.8 rpg in limited action last year, but has shown the ability to get good position on the block where he can make strong moves to the basket.
'This is a good opportunity for David,' Braun said. 'He can help us inside and offer a great presence.'
Junior Jordi Geli rounds out the returning frontcourt players. The 6-10, 205-pound forward from Spain, however, will get a late start to the year following preseason foot surgery.
All of Cal's newcomers are 6-7 or taller, but unlike last season, none will be pressured to carry a major load right away. Instead, they will have the chance to gradually work their way into the lineup in a more natural progression.
The lone Californian in the newcomer group is 6-10, 225-pound power forward DeVon Hardin, a first team all-area choice by both ANG Newspapers and the San Francisco Chronicle at Newark Memorial High School. Hardin averaged 12.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg and 4.4 bpg as a senior and is the most athletic post player among the recruits.
Also up front is 7-0, 270-pound Sam Rayburn, who offers good passing and outside shooting skills for a big man. He is currently recovering from a pair of knee surgeries, although he still managed to average 16.0 ppg and earn honorable mention all-state honors last year at Sunset High in Portland, Ore.
Eric Vierneisel and Kevin Langford round out the freshman class. Vierneisel, a 6-7, 200-pound forward from Jacobs High in Algonquin, Ill., is an excellent long-range shooter who poured in 18.7 ppg as a senior to claim all-state status, while Langford - a 6-8, 225-pound forward and brother of Kansas guard Keith Langford - was a first team all-state choice at North Crowley High outside Fort Worth, Texas, after leading his team with 17.6 ppg and 11.9 rpg.
'Eric has the ability to come in and knock down the three-point shot for us,' Braun said. 'Kevin is an intelligent post player who has a tremendous upside.'
In addition, sophomore Omar Wilkes, a 6-3, 195-pound guard from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, will work out with the team this year after transferring from Kansas. However, he won't become eligible to compete until the 2005-06 season.
Cal opens the season Nov. 11-12 when the Bears host one of four, four-team regionals in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The championship rounds will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Office Depot Golden Bear Classic Dec. 22-23 features Pepperdine, Arkansas State and Hampton, and the 11th annual tournament will serve as a tune-up for the Pac-10 opener at Washington Dec. 31. The regular-season schedule concludes March 5 at home vs. Washington State, with the Pac-10 Tournament set for March 10-12 in Los Angeles.
'We're going to be tested, especially without Leon,' Braun concluded. 'I think we've got good depth, and I hope that will be a strength. We're going to have a young team, which is always a big challenge. But I like our team's spirit and our will to compete.'