Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin previews match-up with No. 11 Oregon

Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin talks about the emergence of Kameron Rooks, the mindset of Tyrone Wallace and Thursday's home tilt against No. 11 Oregon.

Martin on first game against Oregon Ducks, when Cal did a lot wrong, but still only lost by 3: “They’re a good team. I just think, when you’re talking league games, everybody does something that poses a challenge, in most cases. Some guys might play four perimeter guys, some have a traditional big, some shoot three-pointers more, some score on the blocks more. You have cases where some teams post up their guards. You have to make adjustments, but I think the thing with them, they score the ball, they’ll attack you off the dribble, they’ll make plays, they’ll take advantage of mismatches. In some ways, Dillon Brooks and [Elgin] Cook, both of those guys, 6-5, 6-7, they can do things that twos, threes and fours can do. In some cases, they can guard fives. So now, if that happens, if you’re not gaining an advantage with your five man offensively, it can be a problem, and I think that’s where they get a lot of teams. You have to impose your will, and have an advantage with your traditional bigs, if they’re in the game.”

“I think we match up with them well. It’s just a matter of doing the things we do, taking care of the basketball, executing what we’re trying to do, because in transition, they’re one of the best teams in the country, because what happens is, they have sometimes five guys on the floor that can make plays offensively, that spread you out.”

“Now, they dribble penetrate, and they can shoot the ball, so it makes it tough, when you’re running back in transition, going against it.”

Oregon is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, are turnovers a critical issue? “I wouldn’t necessarily say a critical issue. It’s a stat line. I think, for us, it’s taking care of the basketball, doing what we need to do, being strong with the basketball, making the right decision. When they press, get over the top and score the ball. If you don’t have an opportunity to score, move the ball, get the ball where it needs to go offensively.”

Playing the first-place team in conference: “It’s an opponent. It’s a team that you play against. They’re on your schedule. It’s not like when you’re playing outside of league. We understand it. For us, more importantly, it’s protecting our home court, and I think that’s the biggest key for our guys – playing the way you know how to play and protecting our home court, and move on from there.”

Oregon is No. 3 in RPI, does having that team at home help? “Without a doubt, it does you good from that standpoint, but I think, ultimately, you have to look at it as, we’re protecting our home floor. I think when you start looking for other different reasons why you should win a home game, you have a problem.”

“I think the most important thing is trying to win every home game. Then, all the results that come behind that, it is what it is.”

Coaching job that Dana Altman has done this year with the new pieces and the returning guys: “I think it’s good. I think when you have a guy like Boucher, he’s a difference maker in what they do, because he’s a big guy who can make shots, and he can block shots. Then, Tyler Dorsey’s a talented player, so he fits in to what they’re trying to do. [Casey] BensonDillon [Brooks] and [Elgin] Cook are guys who have been in the program, [Dwayne] Benjamin, talented guys that have been a part of the program. But, when lose one of the leading scorers in the league in Joe, and you bring in Tyler Dorsey as a freshman, scoring the ball, of course Joe (Joseph Young) was a senior and did a lot of great things, but Tyler’s a talented player, and you bring in [Christopher] Boucher, a guy who can block shots to add to what you do on the post. They added good pieces to what they're doing, so I'm not surprised."

Going back a few months, when you heard the hype, what was his reaction, especially now, seeing how hard it can be: “You take it one day at a time as a coach, because when you see guys every day in practice, you know what they need to work on. You know that, if everything falls in place, if you consistently work on the things you need to do, you’ll be successful. Now, when games present themselves, you don’t put yourselves in the best position to win games. Expectations are what they are – good, bad, or indifferent – but as a coach, you deal with your team, not necessarily what’s on the surface, and you try to manage that with your guys, and understand that it’s really tough, especially when you have expectations, because that means you’re expected to be this, if they’re high. Now, can you handle it? Can you do it every day, night in and night out?”

On the fact that Cal had 6 assists to 26 FGs last time against Oregon: "I think there’s something we can do about it – really attacking the press. I thought we did a good job of scoring in transition, when we got across and attacked, but more than anything, it's not taking quick shots. Sometimes it presents itself as an easy look, but make the extra pass and get a better shot. Make the extra pass and get a lay-up. Those are the things we have to take our time and understand, because we had so many missed opportunities in that game. You learn from it, watch film on it, and move forward.”

On conference surprises: "More surprised with Washington than USC. I saw it in USC, because you have good guards, but, it's a case where you have new guys transferring in, trying to adjust to what you're trying to do, it takes time. Once they’re able to gel, you can see that. They probably have one of the best back courts in all of college basketball. USC is quick. They can score the ball, they can get to the rim, they can defend, they can push it. They do a lot of things and they have guys that can make shots. They have post guys who can make plays, so not necessarily USC [was a surprise]. I kind of saw that one, if they continued to work together, but Washington, yes, when you gel that many freshmen. You have to give a lot of credit to Coach Romar, who’s done a tremendous job. I think you have to give a lot of credit to Andrew Andrews, as a senior, rallying the troops with young guys, and putting them on his back, so to speak, and giving them a level of confidence, because they’re talented guys, but they’re still freshmen. He’s given them a level of confidence and believing in themselves and playing good basketball.”

On guard Casey Benson, who leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.1): "I think he just does his job, nothing spectacular. I don’t say that to degrade him, because he's doing a real good job of doing his job. Sometimes, simplicity is not always rewarded, but does a tremendous job of keeping keeps balls alive, getting the ball to where it needs to go, not losing possessions, not trying to make flashy plays. He makes open shots. When he drives the ball, he’s making the right decision. That's a valuable, valuable guy, and I would guess you would not just call him a point guard, but the quarterback, because he sees it all and he makes the right decisions. Any time you’re going into games where you have less than 10 turnovers, you give yourself every chance to win basketball games, and he does a really tremendous job of that.” Tyrone Wallace's mentality while injured: “Obviously, extremely hard, especially as a senior, a guy who wants to be on the floor with his teammates, that’s a hard thing to deal with. I think, in Tyrone’s case, he’s probably been more vocal than I’ve been around him, these two years, as far as communicating with his guys on the floor, what he sees from the bench, translating into the locker room. Those are the things we’ve really been looking for, from Tyrone. He’s done a great job with that, now. Now, it’s just a matter of understanding, ‘OK, when I get back on the floor, I’ve got to do some of these same things,’ and being consistent with that. He’ll go out and play, he’ll compete, he’s a competitive basketball player, but the other parts – the leadership and giving his guys information, directing traffic – those are the things we want to see. Not that we’re not seeing them now, but he’s not playing right now.”

Could Wallace be back by next week: “I think he sees the doctor on Thursday, and then we just kind of go from there. I really try to stay completely out of that, until they tell me yes or no. I don’t want to get my hopes high. I’ve never been one to get my hopes up high and hope on one thing and assume on one thing. You keep moving, you coach your team, what you have, and you roll from there."

No chance he’d play against Oregon: “I don’t know. He hasn’t live practiced. He dribbles the ball with a certain hand, but he hasn’t been up and down on the floor. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t rule it in.” (8:31)

Cal is 11th in the conference in assists per game, Sam Singer has had 8 one game and 9 another, and it took Wallace a year before he did that. What has Sam brought, and when Wallace come back, could Sam be the one and Wallace at the two: “I think what Sam does, is Sam is a pass-first guy, and Tyrone is a scoring guard. Sam’s a pass-first guy, he’s looking to pass the ball, looking to make decisions. That’s how he plays. That’s who he is. Tyrone's a guy built to score the ball. He’s a score-first, pass-second [guy]. Now, will they both be on the floor together? Yes. Sam’s doing a good job for us. I don't have a timetable, who starts, who comes in, who comes out. The next time Tyrone plays this year, the first time he steps on the floor, I think Sam will still be the starting point guard. After that, who knows?”

How would he ease Wallace back in: “When guys are injured, my gauge is always, if he’s cleared to play – I’ve never understood when somebody says he’ll play 15 minutes … I don’t know what that means. If he’s cleared to play, that means he’s playing. After that, you kind of gauge it with his conditioning and his feel for the game. I don’t think a guy comes out, and hasn’t played, and all of the sudden he’s playing 38 minutes, that means we’re probably in really big trouble, if he’s playing really well. I just think it’s a case where you see how a guy feels and you go from there. But, if he’s cleared in my mind, he’s part of the rotation.”

Did you have a conversation with Wallace when he got injured that he’d develop as a vocal leader: “Just watching film. Those are things I always talk to him about. I don’t get to a crisis situation or a situation like that and say, ‘Now, be a leader,’ because we talk about that all the time. Just, understanding, now, you have a chance to see what I see, as a coach, and I think that helps him. He actually said it: It’s different when you see it from the bench. You hear coaches saying this, this and this, but now, you see it. ‘OK, I see what coach is saying.’ I had many injuries, and I was able to see sometimes, what coach was saying. When you’re out there, you’re just out there. You’re playing basketball. There’s a game plan. But, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and say, ‘OK, I feel it, I understand it,’ and then it’s just a matter of doing.”

Wallace needed to work on being vocal: "Through the hustle and bustle of competing in competitive games, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, sometimes, it’s always good to take a breath and step back, and say, ‘OK, let’s regroup and let’s go.’ I think, in my opinion, everything works for a reason, happens for a reason. I think he’ll be OK because of it.”

Being vocal was the biggest thing he had to work on: “Yes, yes. He's not a quiet guy; he does talk, but it’s just a matter of being loud, being aggressive, maybe it's more of me wanting something from him than what his nature is. At that position, and being a senior leader, it’s what’s needed for our team. I learned that from Gene Keady, my college coach: Any time you’re a senior or an upperclassman, it's what's expected, whether you’re a walk-on or you’re a starting point guard. You’re a leader, and we expect these things out of you every day.”

Is that difficult when you have a naturally soft-spoken guy like Tyrone: “Not difficult in a bad way, but the difficult part comes in, because you can have a guy like that, but you can have other guys, maybe a junior, who steps up and those guys are more vocal. I guess I’ve just been around a lot of teams where somebody’s rattling off at the mouth all the time, communicating and letting guys know that this is what needs to be done. Now, he does that, but it’s more of a kind of, ‘Hey, guys, let’s communicate,’ but sometimes, you need to raise it a level.”

Kameron Rooks has had 38 rebounds in last 4 games. What's been the key for his emergence? "Just work. To these guys’ credit, they put time in. Kam Rooks, in all sincerity, he works like a guard. I've been around big guys that work, when it’s time to work, or they're scheduled to work. Kam puts work in. Kam works extremely hard, and he likes to work out. He’s one of the few big guys -- we have workouts in the offseason, preseason, 30-minute workouts -- and he's one of the few big guys who can complete a 30-minute workout by himself. That might sound easy, but the stuff we have them doing, Kam can complete the workout, and it’s not where he's not falling down. That, right there, told me all I needed to know. It’s just a matter of, now, getting reps under his belt and playing basketball, getting up and down the floor, mentally getting over that knee injury. All those things take time. Getting the knee brace off him, that takes time, and that really helps him, because Kam’s a competitive basketball player, and he’s a lot more competitive than I thought. I didn’t get a chance to coach him last year, just seeing him from afar, but Kam wants to be a good ballplayer, and a lot of guys talk about being good, but Kam wants to be good, and he puts the time into it. Now, you’re starting to see the results of it.”

Is he to the point where they have to worry about matching up with him: “Yes. You have to give him a chance, because he works hard. When guys work hard, as a coach, you want to see them do well, and his mistakes are good mistakes. Whatever it is, you know where his heart is, and I think that’s the biggest key with Kam, he puts the time into it, and he has to impose his will on the floor. He has a presence. Once Kam truly realizes how good he can become, then he'll be a special talent."

Did you see that work ethic when he lost all that weight: “It wasn’t really then. It was more when we came back from Australia. I thought he really struggled in Australia. He knew he struggled. When he came back, school started, just putting the work in. It wasn’t so much the required workouts. He started putting the work in on his own, and started doing stuff that you see most guards do. Most big guys are working at that level, but not consistently, by themselves. We’re starting to see the results.”

“What happens is, with most guards, it’s always going to work on ball handling, work on shots, getting shots all the time. There are four required workouts, then they’ll do four more workouts, just all day. Well, most big guys, ‘These are my required workouts, and that’s my four.’ Kam, he’ll take eight, because he wants to be good. Now, you’re starting to see the results.”

"Most guys love to score the ball, and Kam wants to score, but Kam takes a serious amount of pride in trying to be a good defender. He doesn’t like, when big guys switch on the smaller guard, defending on him, and the guy goes around and scores. He doesn’t like that. He wants to be able to guard that guy. That says a lot about him.”

Not always the case: “Not at all.”

When did that change? "He had to understand the importance of how hard he needed to play, and, ‘If I do these things, this is what I can become.’ He had to see that. As a player, you always have a vision in your mind of how you want to do stuff, and how you perceive being, but then you realize, ‘Woah, OK, now I need to get it in gear.’ He doesn’t fight it. He wants to be good. He knows what it takes, how hard he has to play, because he practiced maybe last year in February, and that was about it, and all of the sudden, it’s summer time, and now, he’s realizing, in live games, ‘I’d rather be playing than watching.’ He’s doing everything in his power to be playing.”

His father was a really good player, how has that worked for him? “I think the good part about Kam, even when I talk to his dad, his dad is great from the standpoint of a coach – ‘He’s your player; it’s between you and Kam’ – but his dad talks to him just  about competing, playing hard, working hard. It’s not one of those deals where you need to get as many shots as you can, shoot as many balls. That’s what helps Kam, because the information he gets is sound information, from the standpoint of, ‘Get on the floor and play as hard as you can play, and you’ll stay on the floor.’ Kam can’t lose from that standpoint, because he gets valuable information. ‘This is what you need to do as a big guy.’ We’re not talking about a guy who’s 6-2 and his dad was a big man. His dad was a big guy, and he’s a big guy. It translates for him. Now, it’s a matter of, here’s a guy, ‘My dad, I looked up to him, and this is what he did, and he says to do these things, and I can stay on the floor doing those things.’ I think it helps Kam, because all the information he gets is valuable information, it’s information that helps him be successful.”

Rooks is more confident playing against smaller front courts, and that helped against Stanford. Will you keep that in mind, going against smaller front courts in Oregon and Oregon State? “The thing I’ve talked to him about is, I tell him just to be big, have confidence in being big. Make those guys respect what you’re doing. I think what he does, again, because a lot of times, it's harder for him, defensively, going against smaller guys. Earlier in the year, he didn't play a lot when we played those smaller teams, because we didn't feel like that was an advantage for us on offense or defense. It's different, now, because he’s gaining an advantage, he’s rebounding the basketball, and he knows, ‘If I need to stay on the floor, I need to get rebounds. I need to make my lay-ups.’ Now, there’s an advantage for us, at this point, but it wasn’t the case, earlier in the year.”

 “Those days where a big guy can just stay around the rim [are over]. They’re on the perimeter now. They probably spend 50 percent of practice chasing guys off ball screens and moving, so it’s not an old school, where the big guy is hanging around the rim.”

What made Australia tough for Rooks? "He wasn't physically ready to play. Not that he was injured, but time off doesn't always mean time off, if you know what I mean. You still have to put the work in, if you want to do this for a long time, and I think that probably caught up with Kam."

You worked his stamina last year, even though he couldn’t play: “He went home for a little while, and it’s a great place to go home to. You’ve still got to put the work in.”

Who matches up with Boucher, at 6-10, 190? Do you put Ivan Rabb on him, or bully him with Rooks? "I don’t know if it’s necessarily a match up, because he can block shots, but what happens, offensively, he doesn't play around the rim. They have him on the perimeter, in the corner, because he can catch and shoot and make threes. If you're a traditional big guy, that’s not something you’re accustomed to, guarding a guy on the perimeter and the corner. They’re used to being around the rim. That's where Boucher has an advantage, if he's making three-point shots. Now, if he’s not making shots, that’s probably a little bit different, but it's hard to say they match up against each other, because, in most cases, they play a zone, and offensively, he's more on the perimeter than he is around the rim."

On Dillon Brooks as a recruit: "It wasn’t a case where it went down to the wire, recruiting him. You have the tournaments in July, and I saw him in July, but he reclassified, so he left his senior year of prep school and enrolled at Oregon. I saw him, thought he was a really good player, because I liked how tough he played, how he competed. He obviously made the decision. It wasn’t a lot of work that we put in, because we were already on some guys, and we could probably have gotten in late with him, but when I saw him, I recognized his level of toughness, how he competed."

Cal is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in FG defense, No. 2 in scoring defense: “It feels good. It means we’re making progress. I think we still have a ways to go. At some point, we’ll become an elite defensive team and program. But, it’s just good to see. Also, the guys understand. I think what they feel now is, if we defend, these are the results behind it. But, also, the next phase is understanding that I can still score and do what I do offensively, and play defense. We can’t turn the ball over. I think that’s what’s hurt our team. Defensively, you get stops, like against Colorado, you hold a team to 2-for-20, but you turn the ball over, you foul, they make free throws, that’s the next phase for us, to be sound and be very efficient on both ends of the floor."

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