October 28, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- The Cal men's basketball team has been picked to finish second in the Pac-12 this season, garnering 13 first-place votes to preseason conference champion pick UCLA's 14 first-place nods. The voting was very, very close, with the Bears earning 405 total points, and the Bruins earning 421. Third-place pick Arizona -- ranked in the top 25 -- was just one point behind Cal.
Among the notes from the first two teams to take the podium -- Arizona State and Oregon State -- are the fact that Sun Devils skipper Herb Sendek is "in favor of deregulation" when it comes to the recent relaxing of NCAA recruitment rules in regards to basketball.
Arizona State finished 12-19 last season, and was picked to finish ninth in the conference.
Beavs head coach Craig Robinson brought Jared Cunningham, and when asked if he'd move more towards playing man defense, Robinson said that there will be more man defense than in his previous years at the helm with added depth and athleticism, but that he will still mostly run the 1-3-1 zone.
Oregon State was picked to finish eighth in the conference.
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins spoke on heralded point guard Chason Randle:
"I think we definitely got better at that position. I believe Aaron Bright is probably our most improved player, which is exciting. I believe Chason Randle gives us depth there, and is a young man that answers a few of our questions about how we are going to compete in the Pac-12.
"When I first saw him, I thought he was a winner. His team won state last season, so he comes from a winning culture. His team was terrific, and he led them."
Dawkins also said that Randle has the ability to hit the perimeter shot, penetrate, attack and create on his own and get the ball to teammates.
The Cardinal were picked to finish sixth in the conference.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman brought in eight new scholarship athletes to Eugene this year, among them: Bay Area product Jabari Brown. Brown was the leading scorer on the Ducks' trip to Italy, and so far, Altman has liked what he's seen.
"He can score baskets, works hard in all phases of the game, and he will play a significant role," Altman said of Brown. "I like our increased athleticism and depth, we will take time to gel as a team, but we've had a good first two weeks of camp."
Altman brought with him guard Garrett Sim, who said that he thinks that Oregon can "compete with any team" in the Pac-12. The Ducks were picked to finish fifth.
Washington State -- voted 10th, along with Colorado, with each team earning 119 points -- is beginning life without Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto.
Coach Ken Bone said that it's a "new team and a new time to shine" for this group, and looks forward to seeing Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd bringing a "toughness element, experience now that he's a four-year college guy, a little bit of grit on the defensive end."
Ladd sat out last season and helped to push Thompson physically in practice.
Bone brought along Marcus Capers, one of his locker room leaders. In the offseason, Capers has worked on his ball-handling, his mid-range jumper and being more aggressive on the offensive side.
Capers was asked who was the most difficult player in the Pac-12 to guard.
"Allen Crabbe. He dropped buckets on us the last time we played them. He gets that title," Capers said.
Utah brought along new head coach Larry Krystkowiak and David Foster, and Krystkowiak is trying to get a handle on a program that adds eight new players this season.
"With a coaching change comes a culture change," Krystkowiak said.
So far, perfect attendance to class, on time for weights and on the track for conditioning. Asked whether he has an edge over any Pac-12 coach because of his recent coaching stint with the New Jersey Nets, Krystkowiak cited all the great coaches in the conference, and wouldn't presume to have any kind of leg up on any of them.
Last season, Foster set the school record for blocks, and was asked if defense will still be a focus of his.
"Defense is what I love to do, I love blocking the shots, rebounding the ball, but I've been working a lot more in the offseason on the other side, so we can have another threat on the offensive end," he said.
On joining the Pac-12 -- a constant line of questioning -- Foster said, "Couldn't say back when I signed that I'd get the opportunity to play in such a great conference. It helps with our recruiting, and it helps our team get better."
Krystkowiak very aware that Utah is picked to finish a "distant last," in the Pac-12 this season, as the only team to earn double-digit points (74).
"Just because we're picked last, that doesn't have any relevance to it," he said. "There's always two or three teams in every league that exceed expectations, and two or three who don't live up to expectations. Everybody has to make their predictions, but we'll be competitive, and we're going to find some wins along the way, and I hope we're one of those teams that exceeds expectations. We're in the foundation stages. Whatever's broken on Thursday and Saturday night in our league, we get a chance on Sunday and through the week to fix it."
Colorado is up next, with coach Tad Boyle and Austin Dufault.
Boyle and the Buffs lost 75 percent of last year's scoring, and with four seniors, they'll be a bit of a mix-and-match bunch this season, with Dufault playing a big role.
"On his international trip, Austin gained a lot of confidence, shooting the ball extremely well," Boyle said. "We stat all of our shots in practice, and this guy's led our team in both two-point and three-point shooting. I think he can have a breakout season much like Levi [Knutson] did last season."
Colorado set a school record with 24 wins last season, getting to the NIT Final Four. That, along with a new practice facility opening in August, have helped the Buffs in recruiting.
"Recruiting starts with coaching staff and the enthusiasm of the players selling the program," Boyle said. "There's a lot of things that are coming together right now that are very exciting.
Boyle and the Buffs will be playing Georgia as part of their non-conference schedule.
"I think in any league that you're in, I think it's on all of us to hopefully have great preseason games and win some of those games," Boyle said. "I think that's how your league is judged."
More to come as the day moves along.