BERKELEY -- The California men’s basketball team has one glaring weakness: The Bears have precisely two post players with significant Division I experience. One of them is Cornell transfer Dwight Tarwater, and the other is senior David Kravish.
What does that mean for the Bears? Recruiting-wise, that means that new head coach Cuonzo Martin’s pursuit of Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd five-star Ivan Rabb and five-star Fort Wayne (Ind.) Homestead center Caleb Swanigan is beyond crucial.
What that means on the court is that Cal may have to play four-out more often than not.
“I think we had our prelude to that last year, in the NIT, without Richard [Solomon] for a couple weeks,” said Kravish. “It shouldn’t be anything unusual to us, and coach Martin is preparing us for everything that’ll get thrown at us.”
“I think [Martin]’s preparing us for whether we’re playing two bigs or one big or whatever it’s going to be. Whatever we’re going to run is going to suit us perfectly, and I’m really excited for the season to start.”
Playing four-out is nothing new for Martin, either.
“We’ll do both ways. It’s putting your team in position,” Martin said. “We practice both ways; we practice four guards, pushing the ball, having spacing, making plays. I’ve done it both ways for years. I’ve done it both ways during a season, during a game, so it’s not a case of, ‘Let’s try something new.’ I’ve always done it that way, and I feel comfortable. A lot of times, we’ll go four guys on the perimeter, and now, you give a big guy a chance to operate and make a play. We’ll post guards up, too, if you have a big guy that can make shots and make plays. We’ll post our guards up, as well.”
Luckily for Martin, he has several long, rangey guards that can get to the hole and hold their own in the paint, chiefly 6-foot-6 Tyrone Wallace, who’s gotten bigger and stronger during the offseason.
“I would imagine, just watching practice, he’s one of the better guys in the country in getting to the rim,” Martin said. “That’s a major asset for him, because he’s strong, he’s physical, he knows how to attack the rim and make good decision. I like what I’ve seen out of him in that position.”
Wallace has proven versatile enough to play three different positions, as he showed last season, playing the point at times, off the ball and as a slasher and a penetrator at the baseline.
Wallace was the Bears’ third-leading scorer last season, and is second among returners behind Kravish, and he shot 43% from the field and 32.1% from three with a sometimes-awkward shot. He doesn’t want to mess with that shot, too much, though.
“Not necessarily. Just getting shots up. I think, the thing with him, he’s probably a better driver, as opposed to a three-point shooter,” said Martin. “He can make those shots, but I don’t want that to be his game. I want him to use his ability to get to the rim and make plays, get to the free throw line. Now, when an opportunity presents itself from the three, shoot the ball, but don’t settle for a three-point shot.”
Wallace’s development and growth also helps solve another problem – having three potential point guards on the roster, including sophomore Sam Singer and true freshman Brandon Chauca.
“All three of them, with Sam, Tyrone and Brandon – all three of those guys are doing a good job,” Martin said. “They’re very aggressive, which is a big part. Now, we’ve got to minimize those turnovers. This time of year, you try to get to know your guys. Everything is sped up, the defense is at another level. Being able to make good decisions without being out of control [is important].”
The race for point guard will be tight, and it likely won’t be decided completely until after Cal’s two exhibition warm-ups against Cal State East Bay on Fri., Oct. 31 at 7 p.m., and Cal State San Marcos on Thurs., Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m., on the Pac-12 Networks. Both games will be in Berkeley at Haas Pavilion.
How will minutes at the one be determined before those two dates?
“Without a doubt, but your gauge is what you do in practice,” said Martin. “You earn those minutes. It’s not a case in an exhibition, ‘Let’s give a guy 30 minutes,’ if he didn’t earn them in practice. We’ll play four guards. You might see two of those guys on the floor at the same time, quite a bit, so that’s not a problem at all, because the more ball-handlers you have on the floor, the more decision-makers, the better you are as a team.”
At this point, the starting five will likely look like this:
PG: Sam Singer, Soph., 6-foot-4, 204 OR Tyrone Wallace, Jr., 6-foot-6, 200
SG: Tyrone Wallace, Jr., 6-foot-6, 200 OR Jordan Mathews, Soph., 6-foot-3, 205
SF: Jabari Bird, Soph., 6-foot-6, 198
PF: Christian Behrens, RJr., 6-foot-8, 226 OR Dwight Tarwater, Gr., 6-foot-6, 230
C: David Kravish, Sr., 6-foot-10, 240
The wild card is Roger Moute a Bidias, who’s improved greatly thanks to a trip to China with other Pac-12 players during the offeseason for an exhibition slate.
“I think it’s a case of a guy that really worked hard in the summer time at getting better,” Martin said. “Great athlete. Runs the floor. Gets in the passing lanes defensively. Has the ability to be a great offensive rebounder. I think, for us, it’s putting him in position. Right now, he’s at three or four, so if you go four guards, he’d be the four. Because he improved his shot, I don’t want that to be his game. I want him to take three-point shots when they present themselves, but have that mindset to attack the rim off the dribble and get offensive rebounds. He’s done a great job for us.”