Bears abroad: men’s hoops squad kicks off European tour

Cal posts 18-point win in Sunday opener, resumes play Monday morning

Emma Lantos/File

This week, the Cal’s men’s basketball team will be have an “us against the world” mentality … literally.

The Bears got off to a good start as they tipped off their five-game northern European tour with an 89-71 win against the Swedish league’s Solna Vikings on Sunday.

Cal is hoping that this European tour, which goes until Aug. 22, will help improve team chemistry before the upcoming 2011-2012 season. In addition to playing regular starters like sophomore guard Allen Crabbe, who scored 25 points the tour opener, the team will use the trip to give early game experience to newcomers like forward David Kravish, redshirt freshman guard Alex Rossi and Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs.

“It’s not about winning, it’s just a big learning experience for us,” said Cobbs when players spoke just before the team’s flight on Thursday. “The new guys, me and the freshman, just learning how to play together. It’s all the young guys coming together and learning. Learning first, the physicality of the game and the competitiveness.”

Added junior point guard Brandon Smith: “I think, more than improvement, just the bonding experience we can get over there. It gives you an advantage ’cause you’re going into the season with momentum.”

The Bears ended their offseason early with 10 full practices and a couple of scrimmages heading into the summer tour. They may not quite be in midseason form, but the players felt confident and ready for the competition they would face in Europe.

Cal is back in action on Monday at 10 a.m. (PT) against Swedish club team Upsalla Basket, and the rest of the tour includes games against the Norwegian and Danish national teams. They’ll be facing talented players, including a number of current and former Division I products and ex-NBA Developmental League members.

“They’ve got good players, so I think those will be good contests,” said coach Mike Montgomery during a media conference call on Tuesday.  “Maybe we’ll point more towards those national teams, but as I say, the objective is to get people some time. We’re going to play a lot of players, move starting lineups around, move people to different positions, you know, we’re going to try and get some guys some experience.”

The Bears will have to adjust to a number of factors during their tour. They’ll be playing under international FIBA rules, with different court dimensions, violations — and even a different ball. Luckily, this won’t just be a basketball trip, as the players will have plenty of time to sight-see and explore during their off-days.

“It’s about travel and it’s about meeting other people, seeing other cultures, experiencing other places, so just to walk around town during the day and do other things,” Montgomery said. “That’ll be kind of fun for the guys. There’s a lot of stuff that we’ll be doing.”