New Faces Signal Promising Future for Gritty Cal Squad
Monday, March 28, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Basketball (Men's)
When the defending Pac-10 champion Cal men's basketball team took the floor for its first game of the season, only three players were actual defenders of that crown.
When the lineups were first announced, bewildered fans at a half-empty Haas Pavilion glanced at one another trying to figure out who these guys were.
Starting the season, Cal had lost eight players from last year's team. Two months later, the Bears would lose one of their most heralded freshmen, Gary Franklin, to a surprise transfer.
Even coach Mike Montgomery, a 28-year head coaching veteran, admitted that he had "never seen anything like this before."
And that is how the 2010-2011 Bears built their identity. Montgomery entrusted the only players with any collegiate experience, Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison, to lead a crop of unproven freshmen, transfers and walk-ons into the uncharted waters of conference play.
Most of these players had already been tested against some of the nation's top squads - San Diego State, Notre Dame, Temple and Kansas - in nonconference play, but the weekly grind of a Pac-10 schedule would require a new attitude and dedication.
Starting with a narrow 73-71 loss at Arizona, Cal established itself as an undermanned, unrefined and unrelenting group of fighters.
"We're just a gritty group of guys," Montgomery said after his team steamrolled Stanford in its final regular season home game. "We're not going to win any glamour contests."
While there would be no repeat of a conference championship and no NCAA Tournament berth, the Bears' season was not short of excitement. The Bears were involved in eight conference games that were decided by five or fewer points including three overtime bouts - most notably a thrilling triple overtime loss to regular season Pac-10 champ Arizona.
No coach in any major conference was faced with such extreme circumstances, yet Mike Montgomery refused to ever utter the phrase "rebuilding" when describing his team.
"I don't know what a rebuilding season is," Montgomery said.
The Bears not only made themselves feared within the conference, but established an exciting future.
Gutierrez earned first-team All Pac-10 honors, Kamp earned second-team and Sanders-Frison, the team's lone returning starter, battled a nasty case of plantar fasciitis to become a legitimate presence in the post and the team's most improved player.
Most exciting was the rise of Allen Crabbe, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, who was forced to take a more active role in the offense after Franklin's transfer. To say that he flourished would be an understatement.
Crabbe flashed scoring brilliance the rest of the season. Whether it was going toe-for-toe with the conference leading scorer, Klay Thompson, for a career-high 30 points or recording four consecutive 20-plus point games near the end of the season, Crabbe showed not only a tremendous knack for scoring, but maturity and tireless work ethic.
Only two days removed from a victory in the first round of the NIT, Cal traveled one time zone over before ending its season with a 89-72 loss to Colorado, a team regarded as the biggest tournament snub. Playing most of the game without the injured Gutierrez and Sanders-Frison, the Bears ended the season much like they started it - undermanned but fighting until the end.
Gabriel Baumgaertner covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]
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