For much of last season, the Cal basketball team had just one available player who was truly suited to play point guard. And when Joel Brown couldn’t play or needed a few minutes on the bench, coach Mark Fox’s options were pretty limited.
Jordan Shepherd filled in, but he was more of a scoring guard. Combo guards Makale Foreman and Jarred Hyder weren't healthy much of the year.
That shouldn’t be an issue this season. Besides Brown, now a senior, the Bears will feature a pair of promising transfers in Devin Askew and DeJuan Clayton. Fox counts Hyder as potentially a fourth point guard.
The Bears began practice on Monday and open their season Nov. 7 at Haas Pavilion against UC Davis. Over the next five weeks they will try to sort out a roster that has lots of questions but perhaps more talent and depth than Fox enjoyed in his first three seasons.
In particular, the backcourt seems better stocked.
Brown averaged nearly 27 minutes a game as the point guard last season. He is a capable ball handler and good defender, but not a scoring threat and a below-average shooter.
Askew was a four-star prospect out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana who played his freshman season at Kentucky (6.5 points, 2.9 assists, 28.9 minutes, 20 starts) and his sophomore campaign at Texas (2.1 points, 1.3 assists, 14.9 minutes, 3 starts).
Clayton also is at his third school, although he played just two games last season at Hartford before a season-ending shoulder injury. In parts of five seasons at Coppin State, Clayton averaged 13.1 points and 3.6 assists while starting 107 games, albeit for teams that were 4-63 outside the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
We talked this week with Fox, and posed several questions to him about the two backcourt newcomers:
Who will be the primary point guard and can some combination of Brown, Askew and Clayton be on the floor together?
“They will all be able to play together. We’ll play a way that allows any combination of those guys to be on the floor together," Fox says in the video at the top of this story. "They could be out there with two bigger wings. We have a lot of versatility with this roster.
"We’ll practice each day with guys all over the place. As we get into the season and the rotation gets established, they may see less time at both (guard) spots. But I think we’ll have the ability to do that if we choose to.”
*** Cal was a poor 3-point shooting team last year, converted less than 31 percent from deep. Brown made just 23 percent (6-for-26), Hyder 19 percent (3-for-16), and Marsalis Robertson was 0-for-5 as a freshman.
Shooting guard Jalen Celestine, the team’s top returning scorer (7.5 points), converted 34 percent (30-for-88) but he will miss an undetermined early stretch of the season while recovering from knee surgery.
Clayton (made 28 percent of his 496 career 3-point attempts and Askew (29 percent of 79 career 3s) are scorers but maybe not shooters.
So where do the Bears get perimeter shooting and can Askew and Clayton make a difference?
“Both have worked really hard to understand which shots to shoot," Fox says int he video above. "Devin and DeJuan have both shot the ball really well. We give an annual shooting test and they both passed it with flying colors last week, so that was good to see.
"Understanding what shots to shoot helps your percentage. I think both those guys will be really solid shooters and playmakers for us. That’s going to be important for us to create the balance we want to have.”
*** Out of necessity, Cal played a defense-first, slow-pace style the past three seasons. The Bears were last in the Pac-12 in scoring the past three seasons.
Can the Bears play at a faster tempo this season?
“Obviously, we’ve played a little slower than we’ve wanted to because of the talent situation. So now we have more depth and I think you’ll see us play a faster pace. You’ll see more balance offensively.
"It’s an area we’ve worked hard on this summer and I think the two transfer guards will impact that end of the floor immediately. We hope we’ll play a little quicker and have a lot more balance.”
*** Askew was a big-time recruit out of high school, departing a year early to enroll at Kentucky. But things haven’t worked out for him at his first two collegiate stops.
Have the past two seasons impacted Askew's confidence?
“I think it’s a good question. Obviously, he took on something . . . I wouldn’t have recommended that he skip that senior year," Fox says above. "But he’s still a very talented player. We’ve worked hard this summer to regain his offensive confidence and his aggressiveness, and I think we’ve been able to that.
"Part of it is physical. I think he would admit he got a little heavy at those previous places, and we trimmed him down. It starts with a great approach. He’s been very coachable and I think he’s gotten a lot of his confidence back. Now it’s about getting comfortable in a system of play that I think fits him better.
"We’re very excited about Devin and all he can bring to our team on both ends of the court, not just as an offensive player.”
Cover photo of Devin Askew by CK Hicks, Cal Athletics
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo