Point guard Joel Brown is turning out to be the kind of player whose value isn’t fully appreciated until he’s not around.
The Cal basketball team’s performance last weekend in Washington certainly suggests that. Without Brown — left home while isolating in COVID-19 protocols — the Bears lost to both Washington and Washington State.
“We obviously missed Joel over the weekend,” Cal coach Mark Fox said in the video at the top of this story. “We missed his speed, his defense. We missed his rebounding, quite frankly.
“And obviously the rhythm that results from him being in the backcourt. When you move everybody around, it gets a little disjointed. We understood his value before the weekend, but certainly not having him over the weekend just made it more apparent to us how important he has been to our team.”
Without their point, who plays about 30 minutes per game, Cal averaged just 56 points against the Huskies and Cougars and had only 17 assists vs. 25 turnovers.
Brown not only is Cal’s best perimeter defender and a player who grabs nearly four rebounds per game, he also organizes the offense in a way no one else is equipped to do.
Because he is just the team's No. 5 scorer, averaging 5.0 points, his importance to the Bears is easy to overlook. He's not a good shooter and is a sub-par free throw shooter. But Brown was averaging a team-best 3.4 assists per game entering last week and he dished out a career-best nine against USC a week earlier.
Fox started Jarred Hyder in both games but he has never found a rhythm this season following off-season surgery. Makale Foreman has played some point guard off the bench the past two seasons, but he is dealing with a chronic foot injury that literally slows him.
The reality is both Hyder and Foreman are combo guards, more scorers than facilitators. Jordan Shepherd is an effective passer but moving him to the lead guard spot leaves a hole at shooting guard.
Shepherd talks in the video above about Brown’s importance to the Bears.
Brown will be back in the starting lineup Sunday when the Bears (9-9, 2-5 Pac-12) take on No. 3 Arizona (15-1, 5-0), which sits atop the Pac-12 standings and has moved ahead of Gonzaga to No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET computer rankings.
Cal hasn’t played since last weekend, so Fox said Brown has had the chance to get his legs back after being forced to stay away from the game for a week while isolating. Fox talks about that in the video below.
Brown actually was cleared to travel last Saturday and made it to WSU just before halftime. His plane was delayed or he might have arrived before tipoff, Fox explained.
With 17:01 to play in the second half, Brown went into the game. With 15:33 left, he sat down again. For all the travel hassle, Brown played 88 seconds seconds without a shot or an assist.
“He hadn’t practiced or touched a ball in a week, so we gave it one roll of the dice, one swing of the bat,” Fox said. “We could tell as soon as he was in the game that he was just out of rhythm, he just wasn’t himself.
“I thought we owed it to him to give him a chance. Our team welcomed it. Had he stepped on the floor and played well, maybe we would have kept him out there for a while.”
Fox acknowledged the Bears are in need of another point guard on the roster and said they will try to recruit someone to support Brown, who is a junior.
“We do need to add another player in that position,” Fox says in the video below.
Cover photo of Joel Brown by Kelley L. Cox, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo