California basketball preview: Cuonzo Martin's star freshmen are out to take down Arizona in the Pac-12.
This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
The contrast of old-school ideals and new-age vibe was on display at a recent practice as coach Cuonzo Martin spent 10 minutes directing a hard-nosed defensive close-out drill while Rich Homie Quan provided the background music. The Bears’ success this season will depend on just such a blend of old and new: They have the Pac-12’s best returning player, 6'5" senior point guard Tyrone Wallace, and the conference’s top NBA prospect, 6'7" freshman wing Jaylen Brown.
Expect Cal to attempt to recapture the up-tempo magic Jason Kidd brought to Haas Pavilion in the early 1990s. Everything starts with Wallace, who spent his summer polishing his pull-up game, adding 12 pounds of muscle and addressing his poor foul shooting (59.8% for his career). He averaged a team-high 4.0 assists last year and should blow past that mark. “With the weapons we have,” Wallace says, “it’s easy to dish the ball off.”
Brown, a slasher who can finish through contact with ease, will serve as his top new target. Both he and five-star freshman forward Ivan Rabb have bought into Martin’s defense-first philosophy, which has helped them jell with junior guards Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews. Veteran savvy and fresh talent should send Cal to its first Sweet 16 since 1997.
Stephen Domingo, 6'7" junior guard
Domingo, a junior transfer, barely played at Georgetown, but he’ll be a knockdown-lockdown specialist off the bench for the Bears. Not only can he stretch the floor, but he can also guard four positions.
“We’re not robots. We want to play free, with independence and confidence. The days of walking the ball up the floor are long gone. We didn’t have the personnel last year, but we ran anyway and now we’ll be better. Tyrone Wallace is our best player, and you can see in the way he walks that he gained a lot of confidence. He’s really improved finding guys and is finishing strong at the rim.
“One of the keys to winning will be our versatility in our man-to-man defense. We can have a lot of guys like Matthews [6'4", 203], Bird [6'6", 198], Domingo [6'7", 217], Brown [6'7" 225] and San Singer [6’4”, 205] who can guard multiple positions and give us an edge of toughness. And the best sign so far is that Brown and Raab both have a tremendous amount of humility in their games.” — Cuonzo Martin
Projected depth chart
Projected conference race
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