New-look California looks to build off last season's strides
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Jabari Bird realizes the scrutiny surrounding the California program for the way last season ended.
It became impossible to ignore given the embarrassing finish on several fronts - the basketball on the court, and what was transpiring off it.
Cal lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Hawaii. There were distractions before the Golden Bears even took the court in Spokane, Washington , however.
''Last year's end of the season was extremely motivational. It didn't end the way we wanted it to end,'' Bird said. ''We had some unfortunate circumstances.''
The university reviewed whether coach Cuonzo Martin properly handled sexual harassment allegations against former assistant coach Yann Hufnagel , now at Nevada. An administrative review showed that all department employees - including Martin - responded properly. The coach received a contract extension Tuesday taking him through 2020-21.
Now, Bird and sophomore forward Ivan Rabb are the two returning regular starters from last season, while point guard Sam Singer played regularly during the absences of injured star Tyrone Wallace.
Here are some things to watch for with the Bears:
RABB'S RETURN: After discussing it with his family, Rabb opted to stick around and extend his college career right at home in the Bay Area - and that's a big boost for the Bears. A surprise to many as well.
Rabb averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 rebounds during his freshman season, helping Cal get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. He had been projected as a first-round draft pick.
''It's great to have him back. I've said it before, one of the best guys I've ever been around as a basketball player, as a young man, and student-athlete,'' Martin said. ''He has all the parts to be successful in life, whether he's playing basketball or not. ... He takes pride in going to class and being successful. Not just going, but he wants to be good. He wants to get a degree. He represents the Bay Area. He takes a tremendous amount of pride in that.''
ONE AND DONE: Jaylen Brown bid farewell to Berkeley after one season to make the NBA leap.
Now, Cal will count on big contributions from 7-footers Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks.
Martin realizes some players will only stay for one year, and he accepts that.
''I recruit young men that I like to be around,'' he said. ''I don't care if they're rough around the edges, they come from East St. Louis, like I come from, wherever they come from, I just want to be a part of a young man's life to put him in a position to be successful in life.''
SWITCHING SHOOTERS: When guard Jordan Mathews unexpectedly decided to transfer to Gonzaga, the Bears needed another shooter. They landed Grant Mullins, a graduate transfer from Columbia who will certainly be called upon to help pick up a chunk of the scoring load in his one season for the Bears.
TOP FRESHMAN: Freshman Charlie Moore, a 5-11 guard from Chicago, was considered a top recruit out of Illinois and should make an immediate impact. His teammates have been impressed with his speed and maturity adjusting to the college demands.
Moore averaged 28 points, seven assists, five steals and four rebounds during his senior high school season at Morgan Park.
''He's dynamic,'' Bird said. ''Super talented for a kid that young to come in. He hasn't really hit a bump yet as far as I've seen so far in practice where he couldn't have handled it.''
THE SCHEDULE: The Bears went a school-record 18-0 at home in Haas Pavilion, where Cal will be tested with most of its early games on the schedule in Berkeley and a date with powerhouse Virginia on Dec. 21 before Arizona visits Dec. 30 to open Pac-12 Conference play. Cal is riding a 19-game home winning streak overall.
The Bears also face San Diego State on Nov. 21 at new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento - the home of the Kings - that will host the NCAA Tournament next March.