NCAA BK

Cal living with high expectations

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Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt is an Editorial Manager for FOX Sports 1 and a former College Basketball Editor for FOXSports.com and CSTV.com. He has also written for Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, and worked as a sports reporter for two newspapers.

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When Jerome Randle was growing up on the south side of Chicago, he used to write notes in his journal about the things he hoped to accomplish on the basketball court one day.

One of them was to play in the NBA.
Jerome Randle

Cal point guard Jerome Randle would like nothing more than to win a Pac-10 title as a senior.
Jamie Squire


The other was to win a Pac-10 championship.

Now, in his final year at Cal, Randle has the opportunity to make that second dream come true first.

"I'm just trying to live up to those things," the senior point guard said, referring to those boyhood aspirations he penned back in high school.

"I think we have a legitimate shot at winning the Pac-10."

But the Golden Bears don't just have a shot at winning the conference — they're expected to.

In fact, coming into the season, Cal was ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time since 1995-96, holding its highest preseason ranking since 1993-94 when NBA talents Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray ran the show in Berkeley.

"It's really up to us," Randle added. "I'm not the kind of guy to get excited about things that I hear. I'm just more about working toward being better and living up to the expectations."

Even in a down year for the Pac-10 though, there are still some lofty expectations to overcome.

That's because while the Golden Bears boast one of the best backcourts in the country with Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson on the perimeter, they're still rather thin up front. Senior forward Jamal Boykin should provide some some skill and size down low, but he won't be enough for Cal to hold its own on the boards.

The problem is that beyond Boykin, the Bears don't have another big man with any significant game experience.

There's 6-foot-8 junior Harper Kamp, who has yet to play this season due to a chronic knee injury after averaging 19.8 minutes and 3.8 points per game last year.

There's 6-foot-7 junior Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who may be a tad undersized but so far has given the Bears a solid effort on the glass while chipping in on the offensive end.

And then there's 7-foot-3 Max Zhang, who might have the most upside but played in only 15 games last year and averaged just 4.5 minutes in those contests.

"We're not a very physical team inside, so in order to be really, really good, you have to defend, you have to rebound and you have to have a physical presence," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "And it's just something we're kind of concerned about.

"We're going to have to find some other players to step up."

Montgomery might not have found a consistent fifth starter and the second piece to his frontcourt duo just quite yet, but the former Stanford coach at least found a school and program that he can call home now.

Montgomery, after all, was one of several college coaches that took the leap to the NBA, only to have things not work out so well after two seasons in Oakland with the Warriors.

"It's a different animal," he said. "It's a different time."

Montgomery, however, wasn't ready to get right back into coaching after his termination.

Instead, he took a year off, spending time as a television analyst before returning to Palo Alto to take a part-time position in the Stanford athletic department.

Many, on the other hand, thought Montgomery was just waiting for Trent Johnson to relinquish his post as head coach and take back the job he held for 18 seasons with the Cardinal.

But when Montgomery agreed to take over a declining Cal program less than a week before Johnson left Stanford, he was just happy to be back on the sidelines doing what he loves.

"The reality is you're coaching kids," he said. "You're coaching basketball players that want to play all their lives and just have a chance to win.

"I made a commitment to Cal, and that was it. I'm sure there were people that said he'll come back over (to Stanford), but that's not just the way I am. I was perfectly happy here."

Yet little did he know that one year after taking over a team that finished ninth in the conference the season before, he'd have one that's picked to win the Pac-10 and advance deep in the NCAA tournament this season.
Mike Montgomery

Cal coach Mike Montgomery knows the expectations for his team this season are high.
Jeff Gross


"What you didn't know was, well, maybe we're not that good yet," Montgomery said when he first came to Cal. "But it didn't take long to figure out we had some talent."

That talent has remained intact for four years and now is ready to reign over the rest of a conference that lost James Harden, Chase Budinger, Jon Brockman, Taj Gibson and Jordan Hill to the NBA in June.

"We know the expectations are there," Montgomery said. "Maybe, now, we'll get people's best efforts and have their attention."

They already have.

In their season opener last week, the Golden Bears struggled to hold off a Murray State team that rallied from an 18-point deficit late in the second half and nearly pulled off the upset.

"We got a big lead and got complacent," Randle said after escaping with the 75-70 win. "We were just worried about offense. They jumped on us. We have to do a better job of coming out and setting a tone on defense."

Then, two nights later, Cal had some trouble putting away Horizon League foe Detroit, letting the Titans hang around in the first half before eventually surging ahead late for a 95-61 victory.

"We've got to get the killer instinct," Montgomery maintained. "We've got to be able to put a foot on the throat when we get a run going. Once you earn a lead, we can't give that back."

Still, Montgomery hasn't felt these kinds of expectations in quite some time.

In the 2000-01 season, he was across the Bay, leading Stanford to a second-place finish in the conference and a stunning March run all the way to the Elite Eight. This success followed a 1998 Final Four trip.

Now, more than a decade removed from that moment of glory, the 2000 Naismith Coach of the Year is starting over by trying to turn the Cardinal's biggest rival into one of the nation's elite programs.

"I think we can be viable," the 62-year-old Montgomery said. "I think we can win any given game, but when we start talking Elite Eight and winning Pac-10s, we're a long way away from that."

And yet, the expectations will remain just the same.
Tagged: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Arizona, Oakland, Washington, Murray State, Stanford, Southern California, California

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