The Cal basketball team began practice on Monday for the 2022-23 season and coach Mark Fox is feeling optimistic for a variety of reasons:
— BALANCE AND DEPTH ARE IMPROVED: So says Fox, who is beginning his fourth season and hoping to end a five-year stretch of losing seasons.
“I would say that outside of the pandemic, we anticipated the other hurdles that would be in place in a rebuild,” Fox says in the video atop this story. “What we’ve worked really hard to do is put together a team that has the physical matchups that give you a chance to compete every possession. And then get depth at each one of those positions, and we finally have that.
“That allows us to play a much more aggressive way. That’s how we have always wanted to play and now we have a roster that will allow us to do that. It’s about learning at this point, how do we play more aggressively but also with the intelligence needed to play mistake-free basketball.”
The bottom line with the Bears is that haven’t had good players, or least enough of them.
“It’s finally a team that has more depth, more balance, more athleticism than we’ve had,” Fox said.
— ATTITUDE HAS BEEN GOOD: It’s been a productive offseason, Fox stressed.
“I’m excited about the group. I think their mentality and their approach this offseason has been tremendous,” he said. “We’ve just had so much voluntary cooperation. It’s really been a fun group to coach because I don’t have to fight ‘em every day.”
Fox wasn’t suggesting his previous teams were difficult to coach. Rather, he seems enthusiastic about this group of players and their willingness to do whatever is necessary to take a big step forward.
— EUROPEAN TOUR PREP TIME INVALUABLE: The Bears took a 10-day preseason tour to France, Belgium and Germany last month. They were scheduled to play three games, but one was scratched because of a leaky gymnasium ceiling.
The Bears split their two games, but those two 40-minute outings weren’t the major benefit of the experience.
“The benefits were the 10 practices we had before we went,” Fox says in the video above. “Certainly to get some guys in game action was important. But the real benefit in a coach’s eyes were the 10 practices we had leading up to it.
“It gives us a little bit of a head start on this year. It helped us identify where guys are comfortable on the floor, or where maybe they aren’t quite as comfortable. We were super-encouraged by a lot of things that we saw.”
Beyond the basketball, players and coaches had the chance to spend time together on cultural outings, including a visit to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
“When you travel abroad,” Fox said, “your team has a chance to navigate being in foreign waters together, even though we have an international flavor to our team. It builds chemistry.”
— OPTIMISM THROUGHOUT THE ROSTER: Senior center Lars Thieman got to show his teammates the region where he grew up in Germany and the Bears played (and lost to) his old club team. Even so, Thiemann believes the team will be improved in every way, and his confidence is apparent.
“It’s been a couple tough years but it’s not easy to win, especially in the Pac-12. We’ve put in the work and started to build this team,” Theimann says in the video above. “I think it’s time now that we show what we’ve worked for. We’ve had a great summer, a great preparation, so there’s nothing stopping us.”
“Since we’ve all gotten better overall and we’ve added new guys, I believe the sky’s the limit for this team,” added senior forward Kuany Kuany.
— SURPRISE OF THE SUMMER: The Bears have four newcomers on the roster, including transfer guards Devin Askew and DeJuan Clayton. Freshman big man ND Okafor has impressed his coaches and teammates so far, but no one is a better surprise than 6-8 combo forward Grant Newell.
Newell averaged 10.0 points in the two games in Europe, sharing team scoring honors with 11 points against the German team Leverkusen.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the biggest surprise for us has probably been Grant Newell. He’s had a terrific summer,” Fox says in the video above.
“He really came in and from Day 1 has been impressive with how he works, how he finishes, how responsible he is. He just has a lot of positive traits, on and off the court, that just really stuck out this summer.”
— CELESTINE RECOVERY UPDATE: Junior wing Jalen Celestine, the team’s top returning scorer at 7.5 points per game, underwent surgery on his knee last spring and missed all summer activity, including the games in Europe.
Celestine remains sidelined, but Fox says in the video below that his recovery process is ahead of schedule. There still is not clear timetable for his return, but it’s unlikely he will be ready to play in the Bears’ Nov. 7 opener against UC Davis.
20220-23 CAL BASKETBALL ROSTER
Senior point guard Joel Brown
Senior center Lars Thiemann
Senior forward Kuany Kuany
Senior combo guard Jarred Hyder
Junior wing Jalen Celestine
Sophomore forward Sam Alajiki
Sophomore forward Obinna Anyanwu
Redshirt sophomore forward Monty Bowser
Sophomore shooting guard Marsalis Roberson
Graduate transfer guard DeJuan Clayton
Junior guard Devin Askew
Freshman center ND Okafor
Freshman forward Grant Newell
Freshman guard Jack McCloskey
Freshman guard Josh Ragsdale
Cover photo of senior center Lars Thiemann by CK Hicks, Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo