Basketball Defectors Form Chain of Fools

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It was around this time two years ago. I was fed up. Tired of the disrespect. Disgusted with the time I had put in for him, only to be treated this way.

I was a contributing writer and the assistant sports editor for this very newspaper. I had made stories about men's golf readable. I wrote notebooks about Pac-10 basketball better than the games themselves.

"I'm transferring to the Berkeley Daily Planet where I can get the respect I deserve," I told the guy who was the sports editor at the time.

"Matt, how many quarts did you have down at The Bear's Lair?" he responded.

"You won't let me write a column. You placate me with a couple stories about spring football practice just to keep me happy. I've got the skills to write why Tom Holmoe will take us to the Rose Bowl and how Ben Braun's got couple of big guys named Nick Vander Laan and Gabriel Hughes that are going make him look like John Wooden."

"Duffy, you're going to be the sports editor next year and you can write whatever you want. You've paid your dues, you're next in line."

Staff/Ben Miller
Nick Van Der Laan hardly broke any Cal fans' hearts with his transfer to Virginia last year, but recent losses have been more serious for the Bears.

"I don't care. I don't like you. I'm gone. Release me from my scholarship."

"You're not on scholarship. You came up here one afternoon in September and you won't go away."

Eventually the buzz wore off and I realized what I had in front of me.

Unfortunately for the Cal sports community, a lot of players in the basketball program aren't as smart as I am.

Five scholarship players have left the program since the end of the 2000-01 season. It's gotten to the point where guys are deciding they don't want to be in Berkeley even before they get here.

A quick review of the "we hardly knew ye":

Nick Vander Laan: Transferred to Virginia a year ago, where he had to sit out one season. He had one of the best seats for college basketball's biggest collapses of the year.

Saulis Kuzminkas: Lithuanian big man went back home last summer and never came back.

Julian Sensley: Where to begin? Let's not.

Jamal Sampson: He was the first to admit his offensive game wasn't what it could be, but he's 6-foot-11 so he can go to the NBA. We'll see.

Gabriel Hughes: Sat the bench for two years. With Sampson's departure, would've had all the time he could handle. He'd rather transfer, meaning he'll ride the pine for another year.

And now we come to Kennedy Winston, Braun's highest rated recruit in this year's class.

Winston was named Alabama's Mr. Basketball and Cal appeared to win a fierce recruiting battle with Alabama when he signed a National Letter of Intent last fall.

Now Winston reportedly wants out of his binding commitment to stay close to his ill mother.

If that's the real reason, you can't blame Winston for opting out of his agreement. But in the world of hoops recruiting, we only get the story years after the fact-see Chris Webber and Michigan-if we get it at all.

What's happening right now with Cal is worrisome for Bears fans, but it's commonplace in the world of big time college hoops.

In the spring and summer there is nothing for hoops fans to do except worry about their team. There are no games to get excited about or victories to celebrate. Is this player going to transfer? Is this kid going to commit?

Is the recruit going to pass his SAT?

Are we paying our studs enough to stick around for another year?

Of course, if you're worrying about that last question, you probably don't have to worry about the first two, but you certainly have an entirely different set of worries.

But before we stray too far into the muck, let's take a peek back inside Haas Pavilion.

The coaches and players who believe in the program are still there. They believe in what they are doing and the way they are doing it.

Next year's team isn't finalized yet and the Bears still have two or three scholarships to offer.

Torrey Pines High School senior Rod Benson-nobody's McDonald's All American-should fax his Letter of Intent to Braun today. The kid is 6-foot-9, and cut more in the mold of Dennis Gates and Ryan Forehan-Kelly than Sampson and Sensley.

Thank goodness.

Top-50 recruits are more interested in being first-round draft picks than they are making the NCAA Tournament. Guys like Benson, who has a 1300 SAT, just want to play college ball.

What guys like Gabriel Hughes want, I don't really know.

If they don't want to be here, let's not make them stay. As I would have found out, the alternative just isn't as good.


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