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Back In Camp: Men’s Basketball

Sep 26, 2022
ND Okafor (left) and Lars Thiemann battle in the paint during Cal's first official practice of the 2022-23 season on Monday.

BERKELEY – If a lack of depth limited the Cal men's basketball team in recent seasons, it doesn't figure to carry over to the 2022-23 campaign.
With a productive offseason already under its belt, a deeper and more balanced Golden Bear roster took the floor for its first official practice Monday with sights set on a month of preparation leading up to a Nov. 7 season opener against UC Davis.
Four newcomers – freshmen Grant Newell and ND Okafor and transfers Devin Askew and DeJuan Clayton – as well as the extended return of Monty Bowser, who redshirted last year due to an injury sustained in the preseason, have fourth-year head coach Mark Fox feeling confident about the pieces his program has added to a returning group that includes four experienced seniors.
"What we've worked really hard to do is put together a team that has the physical matchups that give you a chance to compete every possession," Fox said. "It's finally a team that has more depth, more balance, more athleticism than we've had."
All four newcomers are expected to be in Cal's rotation this season, each bringing a unique skill set and experience to the team. Askew, who spent the past two seasons at Texas (2021-22) and Kentucky (2020-21) – where he started 20 of 25 games for the Wildcats as a true freshman – was the consensus No. 1 point guard in the class of 2021 prior to reclassifying to be a part of the 2020 class. Clayton will play a rare seventh collegiate season with the Bears after amassing more than 1,500 points and 400 assists at Coppin State (2016-21) and Hartford (2021-22).
Okafor, one of two Irishmen on Cal's squad, stands at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds and has already earned the respect of his fellow big man, Lars Thiemann.
"(ND's) going to be a great addition to this team and help us out at the five (position)…he's just going to be another piece that we need. I love him so far," said Thiemann, a senior center. "I think he's going to be – defensively and offensively – a great addition."
No player has surprised Fox and his staff more than Newell, however. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman from Chicago arrived on campus this summer after spending a postgraduate year at the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida and in two games played during Cal's foreign tour of Europe, Newell averaged 10 points and scored a team-high 11 against Leverkusen.
"I don't think there's any question that the biggest surprise for us has probably been Grant Newell," Fox said. "He's had a terrific summer. He really came in and from day one has been impressive with how he works, how he finishes, how responsible he is. He just has a lot of positive traits, on and off the court, that just really stuck out this summer."
Though top returning scorer Jalen Celestine remains out after undergoing knee surgery this spring, the Bears' core remains athletic and balanced. Seniors Joel Brown and Kuany Kuany took strides as juniors and are expected to contribute to a faster pace of play this season while sophomore Sam Alajiki, who earned a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honorable mention after shooting 50 percent from 3-point range last year, impressed by averaging 13 points and six rebounds for Ireland at the 2022 U-20 FIBA European Championships this summer.
"From a roster standpoint, this is the most complete collection of guys that we've had." Fox said. "Now it's about whether that collection of guys can become a team; can we help each other; can we learn how to play collectively rather than as individuals. There's a lot of work to be done."
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