In Defense of Cal Basketball

<p>No question about it, this is a troubled time for Cal basketball fans. In the midst of the NCAA tournament, Bear fans are left to dwell on the disappointment of the last two seasons and the uncertain prospects for the year ahead. </p>

While there are always good reasons to challenge a coaching staff of a program that is not winning, much of the public (and principally online) dialogue concerning Ben Braun has reached a point of absurdity.

Let’s analyze a few of the recent diatribes:

“The NCAA basketball graduation rates for freshman entering in 97-98 shows the Bears with a 0% graduation rate, and therefore Ben Braun is failing at managing the academic side of the equation.”

While many Cal alums are disappointed that Sean Lampley failed to graduate by last spring, the fact that he did not is not really a strong indictment of the academic health of the program.

“Braun has had several setbacks in recruiting, including some “one-and-dones”, early transfers, a lack of early production from erstwhile “star” recruits, etc. This all shows that he is bereft of skill in scouting talent and managing the roster.”

Primary among these arguments is the criticism that the team does not have enough ball handlers and pure guards. Bear Insider readers have pointed to Antonio Kellogg, Quentin Thomas, and others as examples of coaching oversight.

The fact is, Kellogg was never seen as a “fit” for the Bears. His struggles thus far at Connecticut are less relevant than the fact that sometimes teams don’t pursue the technically superior player available because of team chemistry and/or personality issues.

With regard to Quentin Thomas, remember that serious conflict issues can be created by recruiting star local PGs in back-to-back classes. Lute Olson offered Ayinde Ubaka a scholarship and Ubaka strongly considered accepting that offer. It is possible – though this is just speculation - that in order to land a recruit as highly sought after as Ubaka, Cal made some promises about not recruiting over him.

“Ubaka is an absolute bust and the biggest recruiting mistake in college basketball since Jelani Gardner.”

Newsflash: Ayinde has played just one and a half years of college basketball. Moreover, he was forced to start immediately for a team that was struggling.

The point guard position is far and away the toughest spot on the floor, and the most difficult slot for an inexperienced player to fill. While acknowledging that Ayinde is not the ultra-confident, mentally tough kid that once in a while turns up as a frosh - like a Jordan Farmar - the chances are good that Ayinde will turn out to be a solid player in the last two years of his career at Cal.

“Ben Braun relies on walk ons and everyone knows you can’t win with walk ons at a high major basketball program.”

If that were true, someone should let Bobby Knight, Bill Self and Lorenzo Romar know about it. Romar and Knight are led at PG by former walk-ons and they are still playing basketball in late March. While Self’s Jayhawks were upset in the first round, they had a very successful year while starting a walk on at center

“Youth cannot be an excuse for this Cal team. Look at how UCLA did this year starting three freshmen. Throughout college basketball, there are myriad examples of freshman playing well. Why not at Cal?”

Why not indeed! Cal had two players on the 2004 All Pac-10 frosh team, one of them the Pac-10 frosh of the year. This year, Cal got solid contributions from Vierneisel and especially Hardin who ended the year as the Bears best post defender. The point here is that experience wins college basketball games. For every one UCLA, we can name ten examples where inexperience loses.

Still think youth is not a valid excuse? This years All Pac-10 team featured not one single underclassman, and only two honorable mention players were freshmen or sophomores. We find further proof in the NCAA tournament: teams that start 4 or more upperclassmen dominate the sweet sixteen.

“Next year Cal won't be much better, the team doesn't have the talent or coaching to succeed.”

Let’s start with talent. Did Dan Grunfeld play well this past year? How about Rod Benson? The biggest jump a college basketball player makes is between his second and third years. While it’s good that many Bear fans admit to surprise at the progress that Paris and Benson made this year, it's a bit humorous that those same fans seem to feel that Kately, McGuire and Ubaka will not similarly improve as they too move from their sophomore to junior year. With Leon Powe returning, the team finally gets an on-the-floor leader, and players like Midgley and Kately can be relieved of the burden of being the go-to guy. This team will improve markedly next year.

“But the Bears can't shoot and shooting is a skill you don't learn. Either you have it or don't!”

Oh really? Has anyone told that to Bobby Jones of the UW Huskies? He went from having no jump shot in high school to scuffling his first two years at Washington outside 12 feet (18% on threes his freshman year) to shooting nearly 50% from three this year and averaging almost 3 three pointers a game over the past month of the season.

* * * * *

Barring injuries, Cal will be a lock for the tournament next year and – according to this writer – a likely a top 4 seed. Leon Powe will be a candidate for Pac-10 POY and Cal will have at least two other honors candidates in Midgley and Benson.

Coaching college basketball is at least 50% the players you get to coach. Lorenzo Romar was barely a .500 career coach when he came to UW. He had done nothing to make anyone believe he would have the type of success he is achieving now with the Huskies. Nevertheless, he inherited and then augmented a very talented team. In truth, that Husky team underperformed last year relative to their talent level, but that’s not surprising because they were young. This year, the team has seven of its top eight players as upperclassmen and – surprise? - they are a #1 seed.

Regardless of Braun’s perceived or real deficiencies, if you switched rosters between Cal and UW this past season, you’d be reading UW message boards about Romar needing to leave and Cal fans would be headed to Albuquerque to watch their #1 seeded Bears play in the sweet sixteen.


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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While there are always good reasons to challenge a coaching staff of a program that is not winning, much of the public (and principally online) dialogue concerning Ben Braun has reached a point of absurdity.

Let’s analyze a few of the recent diatribes:

“The NCAA basketball graduation rates for freshman entering in 97-98 shows the Bears with a 0% graduation rate, and therefore Ben Braun is failing at managing the academic side of the equation.”

While many Cal alums are disappointed that Sean Lampley failed to graduate by last spring, the fact that he did not is not really a strong indictment of the academic health of the program.

“Braun has had several setbacks in recruiting, including some “one-and-dones”, early transfers, a lack of early production from erstwhile “star” recruits, etc. This all shows that he is bereft of skill in scouting talent and managing the roster.”

Primary among these arguments is the criticism that the team does not have enough ball handlers and pure guards. Bear Insider readers have pointed to Antonio Kellogg, Quentin Thomas, and others as examples of coaching oversight.

The fact is, Kellogg was never seen as a “fit” for the Bears. His struggles thus far at Connecticut are less relevant than the fact that sometimes teams don’t pursue the technically superior player available because of team chemistry and/or personality issues.

With regard to Quentin Thomas, remember that serious conflict issues can be created by recruiting star local PGs in back-to-back classes. Lute Olson offered Ayinde Ubaka a scholarship and Ubaka strongly considered accepting that offer. It is possible – though this is just speculation - that in order to land a recruit as highly sought after as Ubaka, Cal made some promises about not recruiting over him.

“Ubaka is an absolute bust and the biggest recruiting mistake in college basketball since Jelani Gardner.”

Newsflash: Ayinde has played just one and a half years of college basketball. Moreover, he was forced to start immediately for a team that was struggling.

The point guard position is far and away the toughest spot on the floor, and the most difficult slot for an inexperienced player to fill. While acknowledging that Ayinde is not the ultra-confident, mentally tough kid that once in a while turns up as a frosh - like a Jordan Farmar - the chances are good that Ayinde will turn out to be a solid player in the last two years of his career at Cal.

“Ben Braun relies on walk ons and everyone knows you can’t win with walk ons at a high major basketball program.”

If that were true, someone should let Bobby Knight, Bill Self and Lorenzo Romar know about it. Romar and Knight are led at PG by former walk-ons and they are still playing basketball in late March. While Self’s Jayhawks were upset in the first round, they had a very successful year while starting a walk on at center

“Youth cannot be an excuse for this Cal team. Look at how UCLA did this year starting three freshmen. Throughout college basketball, there are myriad examples of freshman playing well. Why not at Cal?”

Why not indeed! Cal had two players on the 2004 All Pac-10 frosh team, one of them the Pac-10 frosh of the year. This year, Cal got solid contributions from Vierneisel and especially Hardin who ended the year as the Bears best post defender. The point here is that experience wins college basketball games. For every one UCLA, we can name ten examples where inexperience loses.

Still think youth is not a valid excuse? This years All Pac-10 team featured not one single underclassman, and only two honorable mention players were freshmen or sophomores. We find further proof in the NCAA tournament: teams that start 4 or more upperclassmen dominate the sweet sixteen.

“Next year Cal won't be much better, the team doesn't have the talent or coaching to succeed.”

Let’s start with talent. Did Dan Grunfeld play well this past year? How about Rod Benson? The biggest jump a college basketball player makes is between his second and third years. While it’s good that many Bear fans admit to surprise at the progress that Paris and Benson made this year, it's a bit humorous that those same fans seem to feel that Kately, McGuire and Ubaka will not similarly improve as they too move from their sophomore to junior year. With Leon Powe returning, the team finally gets an on-the-floor leader, and players like Midgley and Kately can be relieved of the burden of being the go-to guy. This team will improve markedly next year.

“But the Bears can't shoot and shooting is a skill you don't learn. Either you have it or don't!”

Oh really? Has anyone told that to Bobby Jones of the UW Huskies? He went from having no jump shot in high school to scuffling his first two years at Washington outside 12 feet (18% on threes his freshman year) to shooting nearly 50% from three this year and averaging almost 3 three pointers a game over the past month of the season.

* * * * *

Barring injuries, Cal will be a lock for the tournament next year and – according to this writer – a likely a top 4 seed. Leon Powe will be a candidate for Pac-10 POY and Cal will have at least two other honors candidates in Midgley and Benson.

Coaching college basketball is at least 50% the players you get to coach. Lorenzo Romar was barely a .500 career coach when he came to UW. He had done nothing to make anyone believe he would have the type of success he is achieving now with the Huskies. Nevertheless, he inherited and then augmented a very talented team. In truth, that Husky team underperformed last year relative to their talent level, but that’s not surprising because they were young. This year, the team has seven of its top eight players as upperclassmen and – surprise? - they are a #1 seed.

Regardless of Braun’s perceived or real deficiencies, if you switched rosters between Cal and UW this past season, you’d be reading UW message boards about Romar needing to leave and Cal fans would be headed to Albuquerque to watch their #1 seeded Bears play in the sweet sixteen.


©Copyright 2005, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this very active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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