Ugly Basketball

<p class=txt>We're now one weekend into the Pac-10 season and it's already hard not to want to avoid Haas Pavilion in favor of watching Insight Bowl highlights. <p classs=txt>Looking back, the excitement and anticipation preceding the 2003-4 Bears basketball team now appears to have involved some blinkered optimism.</p>

In hindsight, the expectations set for this team were unrealistic. Surprisingly, the team and the coaching staff are as guilty of buying into the hype as were overzealous fans and press hacks (CyberBears included).

On paper, it looked so good. There was tremendous momentum for the program after three straight NCAA appearances, with six of the top eight players from a year ago returning, and then with the addition of arguably the best recruiting class in Cal basketball history: what wasn't to like?

The essential fact is that a lot of preseason assumptions haven't been borne out. The two returning guns for the Bears, Richard Midgley and Amit Tamir, have struggled mightily, both in terms of their scoring and (perhaps more importantly) their leadership. The team maaay be the youngest team in the nation, with five of the top six players underclassmen, four of whom are freshman. Regardless of how talented the incoming recruits might be, the Baby Bears have been asked to shoulder a load that we now understand to be unrealistic for a team with NCAA tournament aspirations. Not only are they asked to bear the brunt of the team's scoring, rebounding and play making, they are also asked to become leaders.

The once lauded Cal bench now looks awfully thin. The team is bereft of upper classmen who might be difference makers. A. J. Diggs has struggled on the court as he tries to assume a leadership role, and fellow (former) walk-on Conor Famulener is finding his ability to compliment the more talented players around him a moot point. The unfortunate reality is that a series of (historic) recruiting stumbles involving gambles on risky academics, early NBA entries, sick mothers and flat out bad scouting, have forced Coach Braun and his staff to bet the 2004 season on four freshman.

The bottom line now is that this team is not ready to play D-1 basketball, nor (now more realistically) should any of us have expected them to be. Although Leon Powe has established himself as the Bear's best player, his lack of fundamental skills validates the thesis that relying on young if talented freshman is a risky strategy.

The bottom line is that this Cal team is playing very un-Braun-like basketball. Since Ben arrived in 1996, his Cal teams have been known for tenacious defense, a positive turnover margin and smart, heady play. Not only is this Bear team among the Pac 10's worst in field goal defense and turnover margin, they are among the nation's worst when it comes to making good decisions on the court.

Is all hope lost? Of course not.

The key is leadership. Until this team matches its undeniable talent with an equal dosage of heart and mental toughness, inconsistent play is what Cal fans must expect.

Ben Braun is not a "personality" coach, who by default is a team leader like a Bobby Knight or a Mike Montgomery. Instead he is a player's coach who relies on his ability to scout and to teach in order to win. He is not going to change who he is overnight, nor can he magically create a leader in this team's mid-season.

Leon Powe clearly has many of the attributes that can evolve into leadership, but asking him to adjust to the academic rigors in Berkeley, to be the team's best player, and to perform as a leader - all in one freshman season, may be too much to ask.

Amit Tamir has the experience and resume, but he is not the ultra-confident, hard tack leader this team needs. If a Bear player is going to break this team out of its funk, it's more than likely going to be Richard Midgley.

Richard was expected to be part of a three-headed monster (along with Powe and Tamir), that would be impossible for opponents to shut down. His mental toughness was on display during his freshman year at Cal, and he seemed the to be the likely heir to Wethers and Shipp as Cal's go-to scorer in the clutch. Regrettably, the switch from point guard to the wing has led to a "sophomore slump" that not only has affected Richard's shooting - but his ball handling and decision making as well. His two unforced turnovers on Sunday night against the Cougars can be taken of the season thus far.

Ugly.

©Copyright January 2004, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

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CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

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In hindsight, the expectations set for this team were unrealistic. Surprisingly, the team and the coaching staff are as guilty of buying into the hype as were overzealous fans and press hacks (CyberBears included).

On paper, it looked so good. There was tremendous momentum for the program after three straight NCAA appearances, with six of the top eight players from a year ago returning, and then with the addition of arguably the best recruiting class in Cal basketball history: what wasn't to like?

The essential fact is that a lot of preseason assumptions haven't been borne out. The two returning guns for the Bears, Richard Midgley and Amit Tamir, have struggled mightily, both in terms of their scoring and (perhaps more importantly) their leadership. The team maaay be the youngest team in the nation, with five of the top six players underclassmen, four of whom are freshman. Regardless of how talented the incoming recruits might be, the Baby Bears have been asked to shoulder a load that we now understand to be unrealistic for a team with NCAA tournament aspirations. Not only are they asked to bear the brunt of the team's scoring, rebounding and play making, they are also asked to become leaders.

The once lauded Cal bench now looks awfully thin. The team is bereft of upper classmen who might be difference makers. A. J. Diggs has struggled on the court as he tries to assume a leadership role, and fellow (former) walk-on Conor Famulener is finding his ability to compliment the more talented players around him a moot point. The unfortunate reality is that a series of (historic) recruiting stumbles involving gambles on risky academics, early NBA entries, sick mothers and flat out bad scouting, have forced Coach Braun and his staff to bet the 2004 season on four freshman.

The bottom line now is that this team is not ready to play D-1 basketball, nor (now more realistically) should any of us have expected them to be. Although Leon Powe has established himself as the Bear's best player, his lack of fundamental skills validates the thesis that relying on young if talented freshman is a risky strategy.

The bottom line is that this Cal team is playing very un-Braun-like basketball. Since Ben arrived in 1996, his Cal teams have been known for tenacious defense, a positive turnover margin and smart, heady play. Not only is this Bear team among the Pac 10's worst in field goal defense and turnover margin, they are among the nation's worst when it comes to making good decisions on the court.

Is all hope lost? Of course not.

The key is leadership. Until this team matches its undeniable talent with an equal dosage of heart and mental toughness, inconsistent play is what Cal fans must expect.

Ben Braun is not a "personality" coach, who by default is a team leader like a Bobby Knight or a Mike Montgomery. Instead he is a player's coach who relies on his ability to in order to win. He is not going to change who he is overnight, nor can he magically create a leader in this team's mid-season.

Leon Powe clearly has many of the attributes that can evolve into leadership, but asking him to adjust to the academic rigors in Berkeley, to be the team's best player, and to perform as a leader - all in one freshman season, may be too much to ask.

Amit Tamir has the experience and resume, but he is not the ultra-confident, hard tack leader this team needs. If a Bear player is going to break this team out of its funk, it's more than likely going to be Richard Midgley.

Richard was expected to be part of a three-headed monster (along with Powe and Tamir), that would be impossible for opponents to shut down. His mental toughness was on display during his freshman year at Cal, and he seemed the to be the likely heir to Wethers and Shipp as Cal's go-to scorer in the clutch. Regrettably, the switch from point guard to the wing has led to a "sophomore slump" that not only has affected Richard's shooting - but his ball handling and decision making as well. His two unforced turnovers on Sunday night against the Cougars can be taken of the season thus far.

Ugly.

©Copyright January 2004, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to CyberBears so that you can participate in the CyberBear Insider community - and get access to the premium content across the entire Insider's network.

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

= GreyBear, Webmaster

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