The buzzer blared. With their heads hanging and solemn looks on their faces, the players of the Cal men’s basketball team walked to their locker room, certainly shocked, but more than anything disappointed. The scoreboard read 77-66. No one expected the 13th-seeded Hawaii to pull off an upset over the 4th-seeded star-studded Bears. Nothing could be more bitter for Cal than a first-round exit after so many had predicted that the team would go deep into the tournament known as March Madness with such a seemingly-loaded roster.
Fast forward three months from that fateful NCAA Tournament game and Jaylen Brown, Cal’s young superstar, has declared for the NBA draft, and highly publicized sexual harassment allegations have surfaced against assistant coach Yann Hufnagel. After violating UC sexual harassment policy, Hufnagel’s contract was terminated — albeit he was quickly picked up by the University of Nevada. Accusations flew everywhere, and speculation even rose that Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin knew of the incidents occurring, but did not do enough to stop them.
With the early exit from the NCAA Tournament, the departure of Brown after only one year and the backlash of allegation, all eyes turned to Martin — who has coached the last two years at Cal without an official contract. Instead, Martin was hired under a binding term sheet in April 2014.
But Martin signed an official contract June 6 to remain at Cal, although terms of the deal were not announced. Many were worried that Martin would opt to leave and use his previous successes as a stepping stone to a lucrative opportunity. Cal athletic director Michael Williams was extremely happy with Martin’s decision.
“Cuonzo has demonstrated that he is an educator, first and foremost, and cares deeply about developing young people into responsible and productive adults,” Williams said to ESPN. “Not only have we seen outstanding results on the court, his teams have shown a deep commitment to their work in the classroom. We couldn’t be happier with the trajectory of the program.”
Every team that Martin has coached has shown growth over his years with the program. He coached at Missouri State and Tennessee before his time with Cal. At both schools, Martin managed to achieve an improvement in wins each year, with an unbelievable 13-win improvement at Missouri State over the first two years and even a CIT championship with the team, and a Sweet 16 appearance at Tennessee.
Martin lead the Bears to a 41-26 record over his two years at the helm and boasts a lifetime record of 165-108 (0.604). For the 2014-15 season, Cal achieved a perfect 1000 Academic Progress Rate score. Then in 2015-16, Martin managed to accumulate a five-game improvement and claimed a program-best 4th seed in the March Madness tournament.
Despite Cal’s early exit in the round of 64, the Bears still have a lot of returning potential. Only Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown are leaving the roster next year. With star Ivan Rabb returning, along with Jabari Bird, and the addition of Charlie Moore, former 5-star recruit Marcus Lee and Columbia transfer Grant Mullins, the pieces are in place for the Bears to make the spectacular run that they couldn’t pull off this year. As long as Martin is coaching, Cal will certainly have enough continuity to become a perennial power in the Pac-12.
Contact Tone Lee at [email protected]