Coach Mike Montgomery’s Cal men’s basketball team lost 263 games of NCAA experience when Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp graduated last spring. But with a strong nucleus returning, his squad should weather the losses and make another run at the Big Dance this year.
Despite Gutierrez and Kamp’s departure, Cal’s roster is loaded with experience featuring five players who have started at least 10 games in their college careers.
“I think we’ve got the pieces to be successful,” Montgomery said. “Now it’s our job to put them together and get everybody on the same page.”
Gutierrez’s fiery personality is irreplaceable, but the Bears’ perimeter attack will still be dynamic with Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith.
Crabbe is a pure shooter who can hit from almost anywhere on the floor. He was California’s Gatorade Player of the Year during his senior year of high school in 2010 and he’s averaged 14.3 points per game in two seasons at Cal.
But the Bears will need more than points from Crabbe this season without Gutierrez’s leadership on the floor.
“I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to step up,” Crabbe said.
Smith, the team’s top point guard during the 2010-11 season, will rejoin the starting five this year, allowing Cobbs to attack from the shooting guard position when they’re both on the floor. Highly touted freshman Tyrone Wallace will also log some minutes in the backcourt.
“We’re a little short in the guard line, so Tyrone is going to play,” Montgomery said. “He’s very competitive, he’s long and he surprises with the things that he’s able to do.”
The Bears’ frontcourt will present some mismatches for opponents with 6-foot-10 junior Richard Solomon and 6-foot-9 sophomore David Kravish. The Bears had big expectations for Solomon last year, but he was deemed academically ineligible after only 13 games.
Montgomery said Solomon matured during his time away from the floor.
“I think Richard has really grown up,” Montgomery said. “In a lot of ways, that might be the best thing that has ever happened to him.”
The suspension was also a blessing in disguise because it provided Kravish with more experience than expected during his freshman season.
“Poor David,” Montgomery said. “We would often remark that he was out there just trying to figure out what he was doing.”
But Kravish’s development was obvious as the season progressed. He put up double digit scoring figures only three times in his first 25 games, but averaged 10 points per game over his last nine contests.
Montgomery said the next step for Kravish is being more aggressive on the court.
“David is now in a position to be a real quality Pac-12 big guy,” Montgomery said. “He will get better as the year goes on.”
The Bears will play some big preconference games with No. 23 Wisconsin, No. 16 Creighton and No. 18 UNLV on the schedule. But if they can keep their starting five on the floor this season, a fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years isn’t out of the question.
“You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully, we can put ourselves in a position to do it again.”