BERKELEY -- As evidenced by the fact that nearly two-thirds of California’s offensive possessions on Friday were not based in half-court sets, this Bears basketball team will feature a run-and-gun offense, and the only way that can work is if this team is conditioned.
“For me, it’s not necessarily wondering whether or not it’ll work, because it’s been proven. I’ve played in the system, so to speak. I’ve coached in it. I think the key is having fresh legs, and I think that equals having fresh minds. I think they go hand-in-hand,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin.
The genesis of many of the fast-break and transition possessions were the point guards: Tyrone Wallace and Sam Singer. After playing both at the point on Friday, Martin came away with at least one conclusion: They both bring something to the table.
“I’ve been around. I’ve played in the Big 10, and I’ve coached in the Big 10 and at quite a few programs, and you see Dee Brown and Deron Williams that play. You’ve got two guys who can make decisions on the floor, you’ve got a chance to be good,” Martin said. “The more ball handlers and decision-makers you have on the floor, you’ve got a chance to be a pretty good team. That means minimizing your turnovers on the floor, and enhancing your profile as a decision-maker and as a playmaker. For me, the more ball-handlers and decision-makers we have on the floor, the better off we are.”
Wallace played off the ball primarily last season, and both he and Singer switched off at the point on Friday. Wallace has no qualms about replacing the departed Justin Cobbs at the one, though.
“I feel like I was recruited to come and play the one,” Wallace said. “I’m very comfortable playing on the ball. I actually kind of like it more, being the point, so I’m definitely very comfortable handling the ball. I think, when you can have two point guards on the floor, it makes everything much easier, especially when teams start to press. Then, we have Sam and me in the backcourt, and we can both bring the ball up. It makes the game easier.”
Wallace is particularly taken with the new, more fast-paced offense.
“I think it’s definitely appealing,” Wallace said. “Last year, we were more of a half-court team, and this year, with our personnel, coach figured that we’ve got a lot of good guards and we can get the ball and run. I think it’s definitely fun for us, to play that style, but, obviously, we have to be good on the defensive end, too, or we’ll find ourselves playing half-court more than we’d like.”
Wallace and Singer combined for five assists, 31 points and two turnovers – both from Singer. In all, Cal had 13 turnovers on the night against a clearly-overmatched Cal State East Bay team.
“The thing we talk about is tightening up screws, paying attention to detail, doing the little things consistently, being consistent with your box-outs, spreading the floor, wings sprinting to where it’s supposed to go, taking care of the ball. 13 turnovers in an exhibition game is not bad,” Martin said. “We try to get 10 or less throughout the season. Making good decisions with the basketball, weakside defense, continue to do the things we need to do, because if you’re strong with your defense on the strong side of the ball, you’ve got a chance to be good. I think if your weakside defense is good, you’ve got a chance to be great, but you’ve got to continue to improve in those areas.”
Wallace, for one, admitted that there was some sloppy play on both ends of the floor, but primarily on defense.
“I mean, yes, but I think it’s kind of expected, with it being the first game of the season,” Wallace said. “But, I think we weren’t bad. I think we were a little better than what coach had expected us to do. We just got to look at the film together, and take strides from there.”
Both Martin and Wallace noted offensive spacing as an issue that needs correcting, and there was a marked concentration on that during Tuesday’s practice.
“A lot of times, we tend to come up and call for the ball, and beg for the ball and get anxious,” Wallace said. “We just need to keep the floor spaced and execute our plays, set screens, taking our man to the screens, stuff like that.”
Given Martin’s predilection for rebounding, the fact that Cal allowed 18 offensive rebounds to the Pioneers is an issue, but not one that overly concerns Martin.
“No, not at all. Not for me. That’s why you play exhibition games,” said Martin. “The great thing for me, with exhibition games and scrimmages, it gives you a chance to go back to the lab, so to speak, and you watch film, you talk to players about, these are the things that we stress, let’s correct them. We don’t want this to happen again. For me, it’s always great to go through something, see it in live games, and go back and try to correct it, because once Nov. 14 hits, it all counts.”
In fact, playing two exhibition games open to the public and the media – including one this Thursday that will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks, with Mike Montgomery on the call – is very important to Martin, who regularly got 10-15,000 fans during exhibitions at Tennessee.
“With a new team, a new style, a new coaching staff, you want to get those games, and more than anything, you want to get under the lights, playing those games,” Martin said. “Sometimes, you scrimmage behind closed doors and all of the sudden, you get out in the lights, and you’re exposed to the fans and the atmosphere, you have new guys and guys who haven’t proven that they can play on that stage, it can be frightening, for some guys. That’s why it’s important for us to get those exhibition games. I think it’s great for our guys, because you have so many guys that are playing a new role.”