College basketball programs are limited in the number of hours a team can practice. The additional time together with the coaches in practice and in games gives the team a sizeable advantage.
More importantly for Cal, over the past two seasons team chemistry has been a challenge and the opportunity for the team to play together and get acquainted with each other (remember both Leon Powe and Omar Wilkes are new to this team) is invaluable.
In particular, there are a few things the coaches will be following closely during the tour:
- How does the presence of Powe impact Richard Midgley (the team's best all around offensive player) and Marquise Kately (the team's most athletically gifted player). With opponents focusing their defense on Leon, I expect Midgley to score more points than last year on fewer shots and with more consistency. Kately will go from being told he was the team's number one option to being the third or fourth offensive option, and I think as a result he will thrive. Both Marquise and Richard perform better when they are not bearing the weight of carrying the team.
- What happens at the PG position? Does Ayinde return full time to the lead guard role and if so, how does he perform? Ubaka has two agendas during the summer. Can he use the pass rather than the dribble to initiate the offense and set teammates up in half court sets? Can he become more aggressive in using dribble penetration to score or set up a teammate? This latter point is dependent on him going north/south to the basket and using his strong body to create leverage like Midgley (who was clearly Cal's best penetrator last season)does.
- How much have Eric Vierneisel and Devon Hardin improved? I expect Hardin to make a big leap in terms of his basketball IQ. As a defender, rebounder and shot blocker, I see Devon improving markedly. With Eric, the team needs his three point shooting touch to become more consistent and for his defense to improve.
- What role will Omar Wilkes play for this team? Will he coming off the bench as the sixth man? While only a sophomore eligibility wise, will Omar become the vocal leader on/off the court the team needs? Will he be an aggressive scorer or look to defer to his more experienced teammates?
- How will the "new" Rod Benson and Leon Powe play together down low? Rod became an All Pac 10 caliber offensive player last year and he did not see too many shots he didn't like. He will likely get fewer touches in the block this year and will have to learn to create offense from the high post. I would look for Rod to become a more effective weak side shot blocker on defense and continue to score from the offensive glass.
Regardless of whether any of the questions above are answered, it's hard not to view the team's Italian vacation as anything other than positive. On paper, this Cal team is loaded with talent and experience. Learning to mesh together as a unit and finding the confidence that's proved so elusive these last two years are the potential windfall of visiting the old country. That and some awfully good pasta and chianti.