Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin talks about his big men, freshmen Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown, and Tyrone Wallace's development

BERKELEY -- Has Cuonzo Martin settled on a starting five? How are Cal's big men coming along? Who does he want to have the ball with the game on the line? All that and more with video and transcript ...

BERKELEY -- California head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin held a lengthy sit-down with the Cal media on Tuesday, and discussed a variety of topics before practice, including the development of Jabari Bird (more on him coming soon), and his two big men -- Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks.

Martin said that his big men are playing  a lot better. I told both those guys that, they’re playing now, in the past week or so, like they belong. It’s one thing to be a Division I player, it’s one thing to have size, but they way they play, they have a presence. I thought, a lot of times, going to Australia, in the early practices, I thought they were playing like part of a team, and now, they have presence as big guys. It’s not so much how many points you score, but how do you impact the paint, how you’re assertive with rebounding and keeping balls alive, taking care of the basketball, scoring when you have the opportunity to score around the rim, and both of those guys are doing those things.” Has he settled on a five-man rotation?

“Not close, really, and I don’t say we’re far, either," Martin said. "The one thing I always like to try to have, if possible, is a starting five. I’ve never been a guy that tries to change the starting five every other game – not to say it’ll never happen – but I like to get into a starting five, because, even if you’re coming off the bench, you like to know when you’re getting your minutes when you’re going into the game, and I don’t want to shuffle guys every other game, try this five, try that five. My biggest thing as a coach, I’m always trying to get that starting five, and after that, you have different lineups, late-game, two minutes left in the game and need a defensive stop, or an offensive possession, make free throws – that varies – but I like to get a five going into the season, and we’re close, but we’re not there, yet.”

To hazzard a guess, the starting five will likely be:

  • Kingsley Okoroh at center, followed by Rooks, and, at times, Rabb
  • Ivan Rabb at power forward, followed by fellow freshman Jaylen Brown, or, in very small lineups, Bird
  • Brown at small forward, followed by Bird
  • Jordan Mathews at shooting guard (he's on the Jerry West Power Forward of the Year Watch List) OR Bird
  • Tyrone Wallace at point guard, or Sam Singer, who can also play the two, with Brandon Chauca third in the rotation

Will players who started last year (like Bird) have a different role?

“Yes, possibly. For me, the most important thing is winning ballgames," Martin said. "They have every right to be starters, and I don’t have a set lineup before the season starts: Here’s the starting five, no matter what happens. They have to earn it, and they’re working towards earning that and solidifying that, because I never want to go into a situation, in three games, let’s change the lineup, outside of a guy being injured or sick.” Is Martin committing to have one of the two true centers -- seven-footers Rooks and Okoroh -- in the lineup? “If they earn it.”

The process of making that decision, Martin said, is ongoing.

"We’re on pace to get a starting five. We’re probably 75 percent of where I think we will be," Martin said.

Have Rabb and Brown nailed down starting spots? Conventional wisdom says yes, and Martin agreed, with a caveat: “I think so. If they work toward it, yes.”

The third freshman, Roman Davis, did not play hardly at all when the team made its trip to Australia, and, because he could still stand to use some time to physically develop, he may redshirt, though Mathews said that Davis has one of the most impressive work ethics on the court. "That’s something we talk about as a staff," Martin said. "Again, that’s a decision that we’ll make, and ultimately, I’ll have to make, and do what’s best for Roman. The last thing you want to have is a young man [who used to] play 15 minutes a game, have him play three minutes or four minutes, and he doesn’t benefit from that. That’s a wasted year. Ultimately, I have to make a decision on what’s best for Roman and the team.”

How has Davis played so far for Martin in practice?

“He’s played hard. He plays extremely hard, and I think that’s a gift," Martin said. "Nowadays, it’s more considered a skill, when a guy plays as hard as he plays.”

A new addition to the roster is walk-on Nick Kerr. Kerr, the son of Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, and brother of Cal volleyball player Maddie Kerr, comes to Cal as a graduate transfer from the University of San Diego.

Kerr played in six games for the Toreros in 2014-15, contributing 1.5 ppg. He played in 20 games as a sophomore in 2013-14 and scored a career-high 12 points in a win at Pacific when he sank 4-of-6 three-pointers. Kerr redshirted in 2012-13 after a freshman year in which he appeared in 13 games and had a high of eight points in 11 minutes at UC Irvine. Kerr was selected to the NABC Honors Court, the WCC Commissioner’s Honor Roll and the 2013-14 West Coast Conference All-Academic team.

“He’s a guy who can make shots," Martin said. "He’s also a good guy in the locker room, because he’s been in a championship locker room, so he knows that feel. Whether he played in the game or not, he knows what that feels like. He’s seen it. He’s been around his dad – I guess he’s been in a championship locker room since he was a kid. That rubs off, because he’s able to speak through guys, and speak to guys about, ‘Here’s my two cents,’ and this is a group of guys that really embrace that, that appreciate it. This is a humble group, and these aren’t arrogant guys. They’re willing to take the information he’s willing to give.”

Are there minutes for him?

“If he earns it.” Some more selections from the media session:

Does he want Rabb to develop into a true center? “I think, if he’s blessed to be on the path he’s on, I don’t know, and I’m not saying it to sound sarcastic, but I don’t know if there’s a traditional center like Shaquille O’Neal. At that level [the NBA], at this level, he’s going to be a power forward or a center. You look at the championship game, the last NBA Finals, they had a situation where Draymond Green was playing center, so I think those days are over. I think it’s what you present, how you match up against the other team, so I think he’ll be at both positions, when it’s all said and done.”

How has he looked playing center with the small lineups looked in practice? “Yes, he’s been at the five quite a bit, especially when King was out for a couple weeks, he was at the five. He’s been at the five, he’s been at the four. Most cases, he’s been at the four for us, but in late-game situations, he’ll proabably be at the five.”

Can Rabb create difficult match-ups at the four because he can stretch out? “Yes, because he can make his shot. He’s got a really good shot, 15 feet, 17 feet. Even at the center spot, if you’ve got a bigger guy on him, he can get around him, make plays.”

Can Rabb defend guys much bigger than him? “He’s made an adjustment. It was tough in June and July, and some spurts in Australia, but he’s getting a lot better at it, because he knows how to block shots, he knows how to use his length. He’s just getting used to it.”

But you don't want him to have to always defend a guy 35-40 pounds bigger: “I like to put him in the best situation to be successful, and if that happens, he has to do his job defending him. At the same time, Kaleb Tarczewski has to match up with Ivan Rabb. This is basketball. The biggest kids get stops and put the ball in the baskets. It’s what you have to do.”

Who's made the biggest leap? “I would probably say two guys: Tyrone Wallace, in making decisions. The one thing we talk about, as coaches, is having eyes behind your head, and Tyrone’s done a great job of seeing stuff behind him and on the side of him. He’s done a really good job of that, and he showed that in Australia. I think the other guy is Jordan Mathews. He has a really good ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, because he can really shoot the ball, but now he’s thinking of attacking and making strong drives. Those two guys made a noticeable jump in what they’re doing – small things, but really big in how they go about it and take care of the basketball.”

Is Wallace looking more like a true point guard? “I’m not saying he’s this guy, but he’s in the mold of a Russell Westbrook, those type of guys, not necessarily a traditional point like John Stockton and those guys years ago, but he’s a guy who handles the ball, makes decisions, not taking the basketball from him, he can get to the rim, make plays, shoot, he has length, he defends. If that’s what you’re talking about, then yeah, he’s that type of guy. He’s over 200 pounds now, and he uses it well. He gets to his spots. You’re not taking the ball from him. Once he gets in the lane and shoots his pull-ups, he’s tough to guard.” you comfortable with Brown being the guy with the game on the line? “Right now, we probably have four guys, I think, that have the ability, and want the ball with the game on the line. We have four guys who I think have that in them.”

How is Sam Singer playing? “Well. Well. I just texted him last night, and I thought he had one of his best practices. Sam’s strong, he’s physical, he gets to the rim, facilitates, runs the offense. As long as he maintains his level of confidence, he’s a good basketball player, has a good mind for the game, a good feel, a willing passer. Hopefully, he can maintain what he’s doing right now.”

How does it work when Sam and Tyrone are on the court at the same time? “Who’s the point? If it’s transition, it’s whoever gets it off the glass. If one of those guys gets the rebound, he becomes the point, because we flow into our offense, and it’s not necessarily a set play. Now, it depends, if we run a specific set and play on action, if Tyrone knows he’s getting the ball, we need him off the ball to make the play, and he knows he’s off the ball, and Sam handles the ball. It really just depends on what we’re running, but both of those guys bring it up the court, and they can run the offense, and the other one knows where he needs to be.”

Who defends the other team’s point guard, Singer or Wallace? “Either one, but it also depends on the scouting report. For example, fi the point guard on the other team is guarding Sam, when we’re going back the other way, that’s Sam’s man. He’ll defend him, but it depends on personnel, who we’re going against. We might want Sam to chase a guy because he’s a good guy running off screens. Sam might be the guy to defend him, and Tyrone guards the point.” Top Stories