Un(bear)able: Cal men’s basketball season recap

Photo of Cal Men's basketball player dribbling the ball
Antonio Martin/Senior Staff

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“Expectations breed disappointment.” 

After finishing the season 12-20, the 2021-22 Cal men’s basketball team may be considered a disappointment by many. Despite the 9-5 start and eventual 3-15 slide, however, this ball club should not be looked at as such. 

With the 66-59 loss against Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament, Cal officially clinched its fourth 20-plus-loss season in the past five years. Furthermore, with no highly touted recruits coming in and the loss of Matt Bradley to the transfer portal last summer, this season was bound to be rough. Sure, a 20-loss season could have been avoided with fewer turnovers and better shot selection. But to have expected anything significantly better is simply foolish. 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” 

At the end of the day, the team is in dire need of structural change. Whether that be tweaking the staff, improving player development or, most importantly, adjusting the recruitment process, there must be change. Four 20-plus-loss seasons in the past five seasons are not only unacceptable for a school as renowned as UC Berkeley; they are also evidence that change should be imminent. 

Cal has no excuses to not be a competent ball club. Many pointed to the pandemic as a factor for why the Bears could not recruit to their fullest potential — but this pandemic was not exclusive to the blue and gold. 

Comparison is the thief of joy, but right across the bridge, a much smaller school by the name of the University of San Francisco is going dancing as a 10 seed. To put that into perspective, Cal was just the 10 seed within its own conference tournament.

With all of that being said, there are still silver linings to take away from the season. 

First, Cal had a few players earn Pac-12 postseason honors: graduate guard Jordan Shepherd, senior forward Andre Kelly and freshman forward Sam Alajiki. Shepherd and Kelly earned All-Pac-12 team honorable mentions while Alajiki captured an All-Freshman Team Honorable Mention nomination. 

Upset or feel-good wins from the Bears come far and few between, so it’s always necessary to highlight them when they happen. 

Cal’s 2-0 Oregon road trip from Feb. 9-12 was certainly memorable. The Bears were on a 10-game skid, and all signs were pointing toward a 12-game losing streak by the time the clocks hit zero on the 12th. However, head coach Mark Fox’s squad said otherwise as Cal squeaked by Oregon State with a 2-point win and thrashed the Ducks by 14 a few days later. 

Fittingly, the final win of the season came against the Bears’ arch nemesis: Stanford. This win was especially sweet as it was senior night: the most packed Haas Pavilion had been all year for basketball. The home team came out firing and defending, scoring 35 first-half points while allowing just 12 from Stanford. Cal held the Cardinal to fewer than 40 points in the game, putting on a defensive clinic.

Although these wins gave Cal fans a much-needed serotonin boost, they came during the season’s lowest point. 

Unfortunately, the Bears peaked a little too early: Jan. 2, to be exact. Cal was 9-5 at this point following a 24-point beat down on the Arizona State Sun Devils; moreover, this squad had won seven of its past eight games. While nobody expected a tournament bid, there was hope that the squad could eclipse 14 wins, which would have been the highest in the Fox era and the most since the 2016-17 campaign. 

You know the story here is no Bear territory. Unless there is significant — or even a willingness for — change, Cal men’s basketball should not be looked at as a disappointment. The athletic department has shown little to no willingness to revamp or retool the program in the near future; thus, it would be insane to expect different results.

After all, expectations breed disappointment.

Justin Kim covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].