California (16-12, 6-9 in Pac-12) vs. Oregon State (17-11, 8-8)
TV: Pac-12 Networks, 12 p.m., Ted Robinson and Lamar Hurd
RADIO: KGO 810 AM (Todd McKim and Jay John)
Last Meeting: Cal 88, Oregon State 83, Jan. 11, 2014 in Corvallis, Ore.
Location: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
Streak: Cal has won four straight.
Redshirt junior power forward Christian Behrens is not sure whether Sunday’s Senior Day game against Oregon State will be his last home game in a California uniform, but he will be walking to center court before the noon tip to be recognized along with Cornell graduate transfer Dwight Tarwater -- whose father will be in attendance (it was an employee at the elder Tarwater’s law firm, who lived next door to Bears head coach Cuonzo Martin, that made the initial connection between the former Cornell forward and Cal) and senior David Kravish.
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Asked if he’s gone after this year, Behrens let loose with a rapid-fire “No, no no no,” but then backpedaled.
“I’m not quite sure exactly what grad program I want to pursue yet. I’m keeping my options open a little bit,” says Behrens, those options meaning potentially other schools. “Right now, I’m going to graduate this year, and I’m working towards getting into a grad program here, at Cal, to extend my career,” Behrens says. “I came in here with David, and we’re graduating this year, so it’s only right that I go through this ceremony my senior year.”
Behrens wanted to take part in the ceremony with his good friend Kravish -- Cal’s all-time blocks leader, who’s also among the school’s all-time leaders in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as well, ranking fifth in Pac-12 history in career blocks (217) and 36th in league history in career rebounds (875) -- because the two have been through the ringer together. Behrens felt so strongly about it that he was the one who approached Martin to request to take part, even though he has a year of eligibility left, which he’s trying to use by taking graduate courses at Cal.
“It was something he wanted to do, and obviously, because of David Kravish, and being injured, but now he’s able to play, so I don’t know if he thought he could play, really, but being able to play, I think it helps him,” says Martin. “It’s better for him. That’s a fine gesture. Obviously, the guy came in with him, he’s a great teammate, a great friend, so he’s more than welcome to do it, because the next phase, he graduates, and he goes from there.”
“It was an option that was given to me,” says Behrens. “It’s the year I graduate, so it seemed like the best thing to do, for me. Dave is one of my better friends on the team, I came in with him, and it make sense to experience that with him. It just feels right, this way.”
As for grad school, he and Tarwater have spoken about the possibility that, if he can’t get in to graduate school in Berkeley, he may have to go elsewhere. But, he would prefer to stay put. If Cal loses Behrens, they’ll have precisely two big men – neither of whom would have more than one year of experience -- on the roster, not counting this weekend’s big visitors.
“Obviously, I want to stay a Golden Bear as long as possible. That’s the plan, as of now,” says Behrens.
Behrens has been through quite a bit in his four years in Berkeley. He’s re-torn the same ACL he tore in high school, and had a three knee operations while at Cal, including the latest to remove what doctors termed a “loose body” in his right knee – a piece of bone removed three weeks ago. Behrens lost a year due to his second ACL surgery, and wore a knee brace for much of his redshirt sophomore season, but was determined to play this season without the encumberment.
“It was going to come off,” says Behrens. “Immediately after the season ended last year, I took it off, and I started to work out without it. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be in contact, like I was in the season, so it would be an easier transition, to when I actually came up to this part of the season. Just experience without the brace, and having the whole offseason to strengthen it, really got me comfortable with it, to the point where I don’t even realize it.”
When Martin and the new coaching staff came in, Behrens – who had never started a game – wasn’t thrust into the role of starter, despite Cal not having any other experienced big men on the roster, save for Kravish. Behrens had played 40 games in his career, and had never averaged over 7.6 minutes per game, so he had to prove himself.
“With coach Martin, nothing’s ever given. You have to earn everything. There’s nothing I could tell him; I had to show him,” Behrens says. “He’s a guy that preaches toughness every day in practice, and I think I’ve had my ups and downs in practices, but I think that I’ve really grown in toughness this year, and I think that that’s what he’s looking for, in the team.”
Behrens is having the best season of his career so far this year, playing in 25 games with 15 starts, and averaging 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. He posted a career-best 20 points to go along with eight rebounds in the win over Eastern Washington Dec. 19.
“Christian is a relentless worker,” says point guard Sam Singer. “He is very self-motivated. When his back is against the wall, he responds really well to criticism. So in the summer, when coach Martin challenged him, he said, “Christian, you can either come with us or we are going to leave you behind.” Christian said, “I’m coming with you and I’m going to lead this team. I’m going to help lead this team.” Now you can clearly see the result of that. He’s doing a great job.”
One of the biggest things Behrens has contributed to the Bears this season has been hustle, at times diving for loose balls and trying to push to make what Tyrone Wallace has called “momentum plays.”
“He gives us momentum plays. We feed of off those,” says Wallace. “CB is great at giving his body up for us and that’s just a big play. Those are just great plays that we need to get better at doing and CB does that on the regular.”
Behrens learned that attitude from former teammate Jorge Gutierrez, now of the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I think it’s influenced me a lot, actually. That’s great you brought that up, because I will never forget some of the things that Jorge did,” Behrens told BearTerritory. “He hustled out there, making plays for his teammates. It helps the momentum of the game, and those are huge plays.
“I do know that he was a leader by example, and he was a quiet guy on the court, but his presence, you could feel his leadership, and that’s something that I took away. I can be vocal at times, but at the same time, it’s almost more effective to lead by example.”
Kravish has had to step up to be that kind of leader as the lone true senior this year. His story has been the opposite of Behrens’s, as he had to start early and often because of an academic suspension, and hasn’t given up his starting role since. Kravish has played in and started every game for the last three seasons, and has now played in 130 games in his career, with 120 starts.
“You know, I never knew, when I came in, to really expect,” says Kravish. “You never think about stuff like that. I just came in thinking I’d have to fight for playing time, and I came in wanting to play as hard as I could, to earn a spot on the team, and I think I did that.”
“The great thing about David Kravish is that I can truly say he brings his hard hat every day,” says Kravish. “He’s a guy that competes in practice every day, and I don’t think he’s ever taken a day off in practice. Injured, minor injuries where he could have sat out a practice, he continues to practice, and he does it at a high level, to his credit. He never complains. He has a tremendous work ethic, and that’s why he will be successful in whatever he decides to do, whether it’s in basketball or in life. A guy that, for us, that was needed to be a physical presence, to do more than we wanted him to do around the post for us – banging and that sort of thing. That’s tough on a guy, when a guy would rather face up, make plays, catch and shoot. He’ll post up some, but we need him to do more, and sometimes, that’s what you need to do in life – you have to do more than expected, and I thought he did, and he continues to do a great job with it, because he doesn’t complain, and continues to bring his hard hat every day in practice.”
Kravish has had an up-and-down senior season, but hit a high note with a career-high 23 points against Stanford. That high note wouldn’t have been possible without his fiancé, Ashton Pohlman, who goes to Arkansas. The two have been dating since junior year of high school, Kravish says, and will be married this summer.
“Really, I had a nice little kick-in-the-head moment when I was talking to my fiancé one night, a couple days before the Stanford game, and beating myself up,” Kravish said. “She snaps at me – not in an angry way – telling me, ‘Who’s telling you not to believe in yourself? You’ve been doing this for how-long and you don’t think you can do this and you’re beating yourself up over this, but you’ve been doing it for however-many years,’ and she’s like, ‘If I was there, I’d punch you right now. Don’t ever say that again. You need to believe in yourself before anybody else can believe in you.’ It was just one of those moments where you sit back and remember where you are, and everything that’s gone down and it was a good moment.”
And, if Kravish has anything to say about it, that won’t be his last moment.
“It still hasn’t really hit me that it’s coming to a close, like that moment where the four years flash before my eyes in one second, that hasn’t happened yet,” he says. “My appreciation for everything that’s happened is probably not where it could be, but we’ve got some season left to play.”