Cal brings in 2 top recruits, embraces big expectations
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) California’s recruiting class features a pair of blue-chippers in forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb who are already generating major chatter on campus in Berkeley and well beyond.
Not that they’re doing much talking.
Coach Cuonzo Martin has established that kind of team-first approach as he begins his second year running the program, with the expectations bigger than they’ve been in years for the Golden Bears to chase a Pac-12 championship and make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
”Jaylen and Ivan do a great job not buying into their hype,” junior guard Sam Singer said. ”They’re very humble. They’ve done a great job handling it and focusing on the team and not themselves.”
Returning senior and leading scorer Tyrone Wallace is ready to lead the way for a program that won its first conference championship in 50 years during the 2009-10 season and is determined to make it another special season in the East Bay as neighbors to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The Bears – picked to finish second in the conference behind Arizona – don’t mind people paying attention to their new-look roster, and they hope to back up the talk.
”It’s good to know,” Wallace said. ”We could start the season and not do well and we’re not on the national map.”
Here are some things to watch for with the Bears this season:
MARTIN’S SECOND YEAR: Martin wants to keep building a close-knit group that competes hard on both ends of the floor all game.
He is one who never handled losing well as a player and is working to prepare his players for the mental and physical aspects of basketball.
”I’m not one of those guys who has slogans all over the locker room because those things fade,” Martin said. ”The biggest key is being on the same page, going through adversity. We have the parts to be successful.”
WALLACE FACTOR: Wallace chose to return to school for his senior season, and he looks to become the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
He led the team in scoring with a 17.1 point average last season.
”I have to stay vocal in practice rallying the guys,” he said.
Fellow returning junior guards Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird averaged 13.6 and 10.5 points, respectively, and will be called upon to keep improving and complement Brown and Rabb.
”They’ve played in a lot of big games,” Martin said of the two star freshmen. ”Regardless of their talent, this is a different level. They are very talented guys, understand how to play, and want to be part of something successful.”
THE HYPE: Cal is determined to go about its business without focusing too much on the pressure to be atop the Pac-12 and chasing defending conference champion Arizona.
”We just have to focus every day, don’t look too far ahead,” Wallace said. ”When the games come we just need to handle those.”
REAL TALK: The Bears have been using weekly ”Real Talk” chats in the locker room to boost their camaraderie, discussing topics from outside the arena such as current events or other issues that might affect their lives.
That rapport began developing during a late-summer trip to Australia.
”The chemistry is the most helpful thing,” Wallace said of the trip. ”It also shows where we need to get better at.”
DEFENSIVE MINDSET: Cal’s players point to the little things that weren’t right defensively during their tour of Australia, and that is a point of emphasis during the preseason.
”I think we can wear every team down. We’re going to bring more guys and keep putting more on you,” junior transfer guard Stephen Domingo said. ”That’s what coach Martin is trying to instill, attack mode full 40 minutes.”
Domingo, a transfer from Georgetown who returns to his Bay Area roots after growing up in San Francisco, will be among Cal’s top perimeter defenders.
”It was great that coach believed in me,” he said. ”He knows he can trust me on defense. That’s what I’ve tried to pride myself on.”