Cal's Randle Becomes Key Leader

Jan. 6, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Mike Montgomery interrupted Jerome Randle to correct his point guard's grammar.

'Me and Patrick ...,' Randle began.

'Patrick and I,' Montgomery quickly chimed in after a game the other day, and Randle started his sentence over. He didn't mind one bit the coach's gesture, and just smiled.

Randle is thriving so far during his junior season at California under Montgomery's guidance - and the Golden Bears have been downright tough to beat.

Randle is the Pac-10's second-leading scorer at 19.5 points a game behind James Harden of Arizona State and Cal (13-2) received 122 votes in this week's AP poll after sweeping the Sun Devils and Arizona at home last weekend for an impressive start to the conference schedule. This is the same team that finished ninth last season and is picked to place eighth in the Pac-10 this year.

Randle's 5.1 assists rank third in the conference and he is making 56 percent of his 3-pointers, good for third in the Pac-10.

'He was a horrible shooter before we got him and now he's a great shooter,' joked Montgomery, the former Stanford and Golden State Warriors coach who took over in Berkeley this season for the fired Ben Braun.

In Sunday's 81-71 victory over Harden and now-No. 20 Arizona State, Randle matched his career high with 26 points, handed out a career-best 10 assists, went 8-for-8 from the line, 7-for-10 from the field with four 3s and had five rebounds. He also converted a crucial four-point play with 2:13 remaining.

'He's really a good basketball player and I don't want to sit here and take credit for his ability,' Montgomery said. 'There's never been a time he hasn't wanted to be as good a player as he can be.'

Randle still has his lapses. Like the time this season when speedy 5-foot-10 guard was yanked and scolded by Montgomery for too much fancy dribbling that led to a turnover, or for making an ill-advised pass while trying to be flashy - but those moments have been few and far between.

Early on, Montgomery talked to Randle about the talented point guards he's coached, such as Brevin Knight. Montgomery's credibility - 18 successful seasons at archrival Stanford - already spoke volumes with his new players.

'He should take some credit on how I'm playing, just having the faith in me to go out there and run the team,' Randle said. 'That's what he wants me to do. I say I'm a decent player, but the system is great. I'm able to penetrate and kick and get a lot of shots. I had a lot of turnovers last year. Just being patient and letting the game come to me, knocking down open shots and looking for my players.'

Randle's leadership and emergence have been important factors in this early success for the Bears. The team lost last season's Pac-10 scoring leader, Ryan Anderson, early to the NBA and is still trying to establish a steady inside game.

Randle came to Cal from Chicago, eager to experience a new place.

'I think he's really understanding how to be a complete point guard in terms of assisting and shooting when he's open and all the things a good point guard does,' Montgomery said. 'You mature into who you are. Credit has to go to Jerome for having the ability, No. 1, and for having the maturity to pay attention and say, 'OK, let's see if that works,' and it's working for him. It's not like anything revolutionary.'

Patrick Christopher, who arrived at Cal with Randle as a freshman, has watched his teammate's progression It's obvious both are buying into Montgomery's approach, considering they sound a lot like their coach when they speak.

'The thing about Jerome is he's always been a great player,' Christopher said. 'Coach Montgomery doesn't take the credit. It's all about maturity. He's definitely made big strides from his freshman to his junior seasons.'

The Bears are encouraged by what they've already accomplished, but they also know what it's like to start off well only to lose close games because of defensive mistakes or other miscues. That happened regularly last season, when Cal went 17-16 overall and just 6-12 in the conference. Cal has placed eighth or ninth in the Pac-10 in three of the last four years.

Montgomery won't let his players get too excited now.

'I just told them don't get goaded into the controversy,' he said. 'I've been at this a while.'

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