BERKELEY -- On Friday, the California basketball team will officially begin the Cuonzo Martin era at 7 p.m., against Alcorn State. The Bears begin every practice with the same words: “Together, we attack.” Those words have become more than a motto, more than a hashtag, more than a catch phrase. It’s an invocation, a prayer, a belief, a promise.
One word has pervaded every interview with every player that BearTerritory has conducted in the lead-up to the season.
“I think we’re ready. We’ve been practicing hard. We’re just trying to attack every game the same way, with intensity,” says Tyrone Wallace, who will start at the point on Friday. “You can only control what you can, so, on the defensive end, we’re playing hard.”
“Coach Martin really teaches going as hard as you can, on both sides of the court, every play,” says Jordan Mathews. “It’s tough, but we like it … Our team now is in full attack mode, the entire game.”
“I think, as a coach, it’s not me relaying it to them, to say it to the media,” says Martin. “it’s just what you hear every day. We talk about trademarks. I think the sense of a program is what a player hears every day. If you have to draw it up and say it and write it down as a coach, it’s not very good, but, you saying it, and it becomes a part of game day, that’s what it is. I think attacking is on both ends of the floor. You have to be aggressive. You have to be assertive.”
Attack is, Martin says, “one of” the team’s trademarks, but, “it’s not the blueprint. It’s just one of the words.”
Those other words? Defend. Rebound. Play hard. Play together, and, Martin says, “do that all the time.”
“As long as you’re wearing that jersey, you have to do that all the time.”
That includes the two exhibition tune-ups the Bears have had.
“Any time we step on the floor, it’s live, and it’s real,” Martin says.
On Friday, it will finally be for real.
“The thing we did, we played hard, we played with passion, we played with energy,” Martin says of the two exhibitions. “The thing we try to coach those guys, especially the last 10 minutes of the game, is to move the ball, to make that extra drive or that extra play to get a guy better. I thought they tried to do that.”
“Coach Martin says, ‘You don’t run all the suicides, you don’t put all this work in to finish last,’” says senior center David Kravish. “You don’t put all this work in to finish fifth. You put this work in to finish first, to win it all. You don’t practice and run to finish in the middle.”
That attitude of playing with passion has had perhaps a greater effect on the psyche of the team than even Martin realizes. Or, perhaps, it’s what he’s intended from the first day he arrived on campus.
“We want to play harder than what they’re asking us,” says Kravish. “Coming out with energy is huge for us. I think there were some times last year where we came out flat, or we would come out, play really well and the other team would go on a run, and then our energy would die down. One of the things we’ve really been focusing on is just working on bringing a constant energy – high energy, all the time.”
That starts, of course, with the point guard, Wallace.
“When I talk to him, I tell him, ‘Always be in attack mode,’” says Martin. “What happens is, you program your mind when you become a point guard, to pass every time there’s an opportunity. For him, in order for us to be successful, he has to attack the rim, put pressure on the defense and make plays, and then pass the ball and facilitate, according to how the defense is playing. He needs to be in attack mode for us to be successful.”
Martin had the same sentiment last week for wing Jabari Bird, saying, “I think he played aggressive, and you want him to stay aggressive, but knowing when to attack, knowing when to run the offense, knowing when to catch-and-shoot, those sorts of things, I think he can be more explosive in transition. Those one-on-one, in-transition [situations], when you have your defender backpedaling, he made some lay-ups, but there needs to be more explosion when he’s attacking the rim in transition. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
It’s not just on offense that the Bears will have that attacking mindset, either. Instead of playing position defense, as Cal did last year, the Bears will be much, much more aggressive.
“It’s everything,” Kravish says. “Defense has been our biggest focus, every practice. Even when we’re working on our offense, it’s mostly about the defense. Defense is the main focus, and the main priority … I think we’re more aggressive in terms of denying the ball and making it harder to make catches, instead of defending from certain spots and up to certain spots. It’s about making it as difficult as you can on the offense to run their offense, without being to aggressive and getting beat, or being too aggressive and getting back-doored.”
When asked what he would tell Cal fans will be different about this year’s edition of Cal basketball, it’s no wonder what word Wallace used most.
“I would tell them that is’ going to be a more exciting style of play,” he says. “We’re going to be moving up the court a lot, transition, really trying to make plays. We’re never really going to back the ball out unless everybody’s back and we have to get in half-court. For the most part, we’re trying to attack, attack.”
The same goes for Kravish.
“We’re going to be attacking,” he says. “We’re going to attack a lot on offense. We definitely have sets and stuff like that, but I think attacking and really getting the other team on their heels will be a big component of our offense. You have to pick and choose your opportunities, but we’re always looking for the break first, and you flow from there to trying to attack on defense and offense. Everything gradually will flow into a pick-and-roll.”
A NOTE ON Brandon Chauca
Freshman point Brandon Chauca will not be available for the Bears this weekend, as he still has an unspecified NCAA issue that needs to be cleared up. There is currently no timetable for his debut.
“It’s just a matter of what they’ve said, we’ve done our end,” says Martin. “Compliance has done a great job for us, getting information, gathering information. We’ll just wait and see.”
Martin says that the issue is “not at all” related to academics. As for extra benefits, Martin says, “I don't think so. It’s definitely not academics, and I don’t think it’s an extra benefit thing, either.”
Cal has received an explanation, but, Martin says, because it still needs to be worked out, he has to “wait just to speak clearly about that.”