Most basketball programs, both professional and collegiate, go through rebuilding years — times when a series of unfortunate events, usually the departure of multiple key players, necessitates a recalibration of the ideology and personnel of the program. This upcoming year, the Bears have joined the long list of rebuilding teams.
Cal men’s basketball has enjoyed a few successful years — most notably the 2015-16 season when the Bears went 23-11 and earned themselves an NCAA berth (which they subsequently squandered). Since then, though, the Bears have lost a slew of key players and one head coach, making their prospects for a successful 2017-18 season, quite frankly, dismal.
The Bears lost head coach Cuonzo Martin to Missouri after just three years in the position. In his place will be Wyking Jones, who served as Martin’s assistant coach for the previous two years. The benefits of hiring from in-house are undoubtedly important — it means that Jones will be familiar with the Bears returning players, an important advantage regardless of how few returners the Bears will be welcoming back this season.
The most notable of Cal’s returners is senior center Kingsley Okoroh. Measuring in at 7’1”, Okoroh will become the Bears’ go-to offensive man in the middle. In his three years playing for Cal, Okoroh has only averaged 2.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game — numbers that he is going to have to drastically improve if the Bears want any hope of boasting a winning record this year.
Okoroh and his teammates are tasked with the nearly insurmountable goal of filling the shoes of NBA-drafted Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird, transferred Charlie Moore and graduated Grant Mullins and Sam Singer. Put plainly, the Bears lost nearly their entire starting lineup from last year — with the exception of Okoroh — which means that they’ll have very little in the way of a cohesive starting five.
That being said, though, there are some exciting additions to the Bears’ roster. Transfer forward Marcus Lee is finally able to play after sitting out a year, as per NCAA eligibility rules. Lee put up good numbers during his time at Kentucky and will likely become the Bears’ main offensive weapon. Freshman guard Juhwan Harris-Dyson was a four-star recruit according to ESPN and put up more than 500 points during his senior year of high school. He’s quick on the transition and has undoubtable athletic ability, and he could prove to be hugely important to the Bears’ offense.
Cal’s first test will come this Monday in an exhibition game at home against Providence (2-1). The Argos are an NAIA team, though one the Bears should have no trouble beating. The game will serve as a good gauge of skill for this largely unknown Bears squad. Providence has three players who have averaged 10 or more points per game in the Argos’ first three games, but if Cal can shut them down, Providence has little else in the way of offensive skill.
While the 2017-18 season will be a rebuilding season for the Bears, they may prove to be more talented than predicted — but that’s contingent on big performances from some players whose skill levels have yet to show an ability to do so. Only time will tell, though, if they’ll be able to fill the shoes of all of those who departed.
Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]