Cal Hoops Season Preview

Over the next few weeks will endeavor to bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2003-2004 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. The seventh part of this multi-part series looks at the California Golden Bears.

California Golden Bears (Berkeley, California)
2002-03 Record: 22-9 (13-5)
Postseason: NCAA second-round
Returning Starters: 3
Head Coach: Ben Braun (Eighth season)

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starter(s) In BOLD)

PG: Ayinde Ubaka, 6-2, 200 Fr. (Fourth-Team Parade All-American at Oakland HS)
SG: Richard Midgley, 6-2 200 So. (9.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, .471 FG%, .449 3 PT% .719 FT%)
SF: Marquise Kately, 6-5, 220 Fr. (Cal-Hi Sports State D-III Player of the Year in 2001-02)
PF: Leon Powe, 6-8, 245 Fr. (McDonald's All-American; CA HS POY at Oakland Tech)
C: Amit Tamir, 6-11, 260 Sr. (14.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, .410 FG% .394 3 PT% .800 FT%)

Key Returning Reserves:

Gabriel Hughes, 6-11, 225 Sr. (3.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, in 13.7 minutes per game in 2002-03)
A.J. Diggs, 5-10, 175 Sr. (3.2 ppg, 2.0 apg in 20.2 minutes per game in 2002-03)
Conor Famulener, 6-6, 230 Sr. (3.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, in 20.8 minutes per game in 2002-03)
Erik Bond, 6-7, 205 So. (8.7 minutes per game in 2002-03)
David Paris, 6-8, 260 So. (7 minutes per game in 2002-03)
Rod Benson, 6-10, 205 So. (3.4 minutes per game in 2002-03)

Key Losses:

Joe Shipp (20.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
Brian Wethers (15.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

Recruiting Class:

Leon Powe, 6-8, 245 Fr. (Oakland Tech, Oakland, CA)
Ayinde Ubaka, 6-2, 200 Fr. (Oakland HS, Oakland, CA)
Marquis Kately, 6-5, 220 Fr. (Maine Central Institute, San Francisco, CA)
Dominic McGuire, 6-7, 205 Fr. (Lincoln HS, San Diego, CA)

Recruiting Class Grade: A

Powe is arguably the best recruit from the 2003 class in the entire West. He's strong, savvy and skilled in the post; basketball comes naturally to him. He is coming off a torn ACL and that might hinder his athleticism every so slightly in the short term. Ubaka is one of the best point guards on the West Coast coming out of high school. He is very well built, quick, athletic and excellent with the ball in his hands. He will contribute heavily right away and probably become a starter sooner than later. Kately comes to Berkeley after a stint at prep school in Maine where he was able to gain initial eligibility and hone his skills without expending a year of eligibility. He is very strong, athletic and versatile, the quintessential wing for Ben Braun's system. McGuire is more of a prototypical small forward He's long, lean and athletic with tremendous upside.

Team Overview:

Ben Braun's program kicks off the 2003-04 season with a school record-tying four straight NCAA-Tournament appearances square in its sights. In seven seasons with Braun at the helm in Berkeley, the Golden Bears have made it to the "Big Dance" four times, including each of the past three seasons.

Despite losing two of its three top players -- Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers -- Cal is poised to have a season with little or no drop-off due to the return of All-Conference performer Amit Tamir, and addition of a recruiting class that ranks among the nation's best, headlined by Leon Powe, a McDonald's All-American.

Powe is an imposing, physical power forward who should have a huge, immediate impact at Cal with his advanced low post game and court savvy. Despite the fact that he is coming off a torn-ACL, suffered a year and a half ago, Powe is nearly back at full strength. He is a leading contender for Freshmen-of-the-Year honors in the Pacific-10.

Most exciting for the Golden Bears, Powe is a player whose style of play is extremely complimentary to returning star senior Amit Tamir, who is more inclined to face the basket and shoot the ball from the perimeter. Together, the two form a formidable inside-outside threat that should compare favorably with just about any team in the nation.

Add to the combination of Tamir and Powe a deep frontcourt featuring no fewer than four other post players who should factor into the rotation and you have arguably the deepest bench in the league up-front.

Last year's starting center, senior Gabriel Hughes, a player who is the most traditional center on the squad, will now come off the bench and spell either starter. Hughes has always been athletic, but now, in addition to being able to run the court and block shots, he is a more consistent defender with an emerging low post game.

In addition to Hughes, senior Conor Famulener, an intelligent and versatile player who is one of the better defenders on the team, should see significant playing time. Braun trusts Famulener implicitly and you will often see him on the court in crucial situations despite the fact that he is not as naturally talented as other available options.

Sophomores David Paris and Rod Benson should see increased game minutes as well. Paris is a big, physical player who is capable on the low block with his nice footwork while Benson is more of a natural basketball athlete, long, thin and explosive with the ability to rebound and block shots. Jordi Geli, a Spaniard in his second year with the club will also compete for playing time.

While Cal is extremely deep in the frontcourt, the team will be forced to rely heavily on only a few guards. The sure-fire starter at one spot is sophomore Richard Midgley, an Englishman who started most of his minutes as a lead guard last season but will now switch over and play the shooting guard. One of the best pure shooters in the league, Midgley will fair well on the wing offensively but he will also have tougher defensive assignments more frequently, and that could prove to me a key area of concern for the Bears.

Midgley's shift off the ball is precipitated by the arrival of freshman point guard Ayinde Ubaka, a standout at the high school level who is physically gifted enough, when combined with his advanced skill level, to step in and make an immediate contribution, perhaps even start.

Making the decision to move Midgley even more palatable is the fact that mainstay A.J Diggs, a senior defensive stopper, remains at Braun's disposal. Diggs may start at the position at times, particularly early in the season as Ubaka acclimates.

The biggest position battle on the team figures to be at the small forward position where three players are in a virtual dead-heat for not only that starting nod, but the distribution of minutes. Third-year sophomore Erik Bond has had an up-and-down couple of years in Berkeley, but he was recruited as a shooter hopes to settle into a more consistent role this season, perhaps even start.

The other two players vying for starter's minutes on the wing are freshmen Marquise Kately and Dominic McGuire. Kately has a year of prep school under his belt and, since he's the player most similar to outgoing Shipp and Wethers, would most likely be the favorite were it not for a nagging leg injury that has slowed his progress. He is physical, athletic and aggressive, capable of playing either wing position and will be the most likely back up for Midgley at the wing guard position as well. McGuire is a long, lean forward who has tremendous natural athleticism and developing perimeter skills.

As a team Cal is equipped to perform exactly as Braun prefers. He favors tough, hard-nosed man defense as a hallmark of his program, and this team has the breadth of talent to show well in this regard. Braun's teams have always been among the most fundamentally sound on this end of the floor, regardless of scheme. His players are fantastic at reading and reacting to cuts, picks and screens, and they execute on a level that surpasses that of most college programs.

Interesting Factoids:

-Cal has won at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons and made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of those seasons as well…Amit Tamir was an All-Conference selection in 2002-03 as well as a Pac-10 All-Academic selection…Richard Midgley made the league's All-Freshmen team…Amit Tamir, Gabe Hughes and Conor Famulener attended the Pete Newell Big Man's Camp in Las Vegas this summer…Midgley set a school freshmen record by shooting 44.9% from three-point range (44-of-98)…Tamir is a pre-season candidate for both the Wooden Award and Naismith Award, each given annually to the best player in college basketball

Best Case Scenario:

Leon Powe is to Cal what Ike Diogu was to Arizona State last year: a dominating low-post presence. Only difference is, with Amit Tamir the Golden Bears have an inside-outside tandem that is among to be the best in the Pacific-10 Conference. Ayinde Ubaka is able to seamlessly integrate himself into the starting rotation over the course of the season and provide the trigger mechanism for a potent offense. Someone steps up at small forward out of the trio of Erik Bond, Dominic McGuire and Marquise Kately, and Ben Braun is able to work his defensive magic, pushing the squad to a run at Arizona and Stanford for the league crown.

Worst Case Scenario:

The loss of veteran leadership, scoring and defensive toughness Cal experiences with the departures of Josh Shipp and Brian Wethers is more difficult to make up for than anticipated. Defensively the team struggles on the perimeter with Richard Midgley moving over to the wing guard position and the small forward position being occupied by someone with little or no experience. The team struggles at shooting from the perimeter other than Midgley and Tamir. Powe and Ubaka are good, solid freshmen, enough to ensure a fourth-consecutive NCAA berth, but not enough to take out the teams at the top of the Pacific-10.


Cal will be good, of that there is little doubt. With solid veteran depth and leadership in the form of players such as A.J. Diggs, Conor Famulener and Gabe Hughes, the Bears have less downside than most of the middle-tier of teams in the conference. Ben Braun is a fabulous coach; his defenses are always superb and he has a firm grasp on the nuances of fielding a solid team each and every night. Powe won't have quite as much of an impact as Diogu had last year, but he is still the leading candidate for freshmen of the year in the Pac-10. If there is a team that will challenge Arizona and Stanford at the top of the conference race, this could be the one.

Pac-10 Prediction: 11-7
Postseason Play: NCAA

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