Giving Randle the freedom to fire away from the perimeter was a leap of faith for Montgomery. Making the move in this direction is merely returning to his roots.
At the heart of things for Cal will be two big bodies, 6-foot-8, 250-pound junior power forward Harper Kamp and 6-7, 265-pound center Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
Neither gave the Bears much a year ago, mostly because of health issues, but things have changed.
Kamp, who sat out last season due after knee surgery, is as healthy as he will be. His knee will need managing, but Kamp is a smart, tough player who will make his teammates better.
No one will benefit more than Sanders-Frison, who arrived at Cal as a junior-college transfer a year ago, weighing 293 pounds. He's shed nearly 30 pounds of that, and along with strengthening his core, the weight loss has helped relieve back pain he suffered last season.
"We've lost a lot of people," Montgomery said. "They're our veterans, really, our two oldest kids. It's going to be critical they stay healthy because of their leadership and maturity."
The Bears' third experienced player is junior guard Jorge Gutierrez, a tenacious defender and inspirational leader who will get the first opportunity to replace Randle at the point. If one of Cal's younger players evolves at the point, Gutierrez could be shifted back to one of the wing spots.
Those three players -- Kamp, Sanders-Frison and Gutierrez -- give the Bears a level of toughness that will allow them to play more of a bump-and-grind style this season, reminiscent of the way Montgomery's teams played at Stanford in the mid-1990s.
The Bears won't be as explosive -- or as good -- as a year ago, but they won't be any fun to play, either.
NOTES & QUOTES
LAST YEAR: 24-11 overall, 13-5 in the Pac-10
HEAD COACH: Mike Montgomery, third year at Cal (46-22 at Cal; 593-266 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Their attitude's terrific. They had a great summer, really worked hard, and look good physically. They're freshmen, making an adjustment both academically and on the basketball floor. And they're going to be freshmen till they're not. There's a learning curve, but I like their talent level, like their attitude." -- Cal coach Mike Montgomery, on his five freshmen.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: In reality, there are only three certain starters heading into the season -- Gutierrez, Kamp and Sanders-Frison. Gutierrez, who has played primarily off the ball in his first two seasons, will get the first shot at point guard, but it's a fluid situation. Two perimeter spots are open, and freshmen Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin Jr. have as good a chance as anyone to secure them. But sophomore Brandon Smith, generally disappointing a year ago, could emerge at point guard, allowing Gutierrez to slide into one of the wing spots. Franklin and fellow freshman Emerson Murray also could compete at the point, while freshman Alex Rossi will challenge for time on the wing.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Montgomery secured a very strong recruiting class, headed by Allen Crabbe, a 6-foot-6 wing who was the California high school Player of the Year last season and has a nice all-around game. Gary Franklin Jr. is a combo guard with good offensive skills, and Canadian Emerson Murray is a wild card, boasting great leaping ability and excellent court sense. Alex Rossi is a Chicago-area recruit who is adept at coming off screens to shoot it. And 6-8 F Richard Solomon, a high school teammate of Crabbe, is raw but athletic.