The Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media day was this past Wednesday, at the SOMA-based HQ of the PAC-12. This is the time of year for optimism, where everyone is still tied for first and everyone believing that they will exceed expectations. This sense of optimism was also reflected in the statements of the PAC-12 leadership, as they navigate through conference membership changes, the next media rights deals, and other pressing issues. There were no large announcements or surprises. Rather, conference leadership leaned into the conference’s strong basketball history and did their best to tie that into future success for the conference.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner George Kliavkoff remarked the conference goals are to “…optimize for National Championships and for NCAA tournament bids.” Deputy Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich added that the conference is implementing new standard for strength of schedules to avoid games that do not “….afford us as much benefit for NCAA selection and seeding, which is our goal.”
Commissioner Kliavkoff reiterated the conference’s stance that UCLA moving to the Big Ten will result in a net financial loss for UCLA. In reference to the letter sent to the UC Regents, Kliavkoff believes that any gain will be more than offset by travel costs, increased salaries for coaches and support staff, and other factors.
Throughout the day, conference representatives highlighted this season’s upcoming PAC-12/SWAC Legacy Series. Both conferences will host games against teams from the other league. In addition to the games, other activities such as historic site visits, alumni speakers and presentations, and community engagement, will also be offered. Cal is represented by the Women’s team hosting Florida A&M on Sunday, December 18th (Cal’s Men’s game vs. Southern on November 18th is not affiliated with the Legacy Series).
The Golden Bears - Large Roster Changes, Tempo, and an Unsettled Lineup
Coach Mark Fox was joined by Joel Brown and Lars Thiemann. Each team led off with an opening statement by the coach, followed by 20 minutes of Q&A from the media. Coach Fox stated that he has challenged his team to grow and mature, and that he has enjoyed working with the new additions to the program.
When asked where the scoring is coming from this year, Coach Fox responded, “Our scoring is going to have to be as a group. It's going to have to be by committee. I think that in a rebuild sometimes you can appear a little one-dimensional because you don't have enough guys who can score.” The followup question inquired about team depth and if having a deeper team allows for a faster tempo. His response; ”We have a lot more guys, so the competition in practice has been tremendous. I'm not going to say that we're going to play 10 or 11 guys, but in practice we have 10 or 11 guys that are getting after it, and we've had to play obviously a little slower since we came because we didn't have the depth. The guys who we did have were undersized, and now we have, I think, legitimate size at every position. We have depth at every position. So we would like to play a little faster, but as all the ex-coaches know, you can only play as fast as you can play well. There's days that we play a little faster than we can play well in practice. But I think it's a group that can pick up the tempo a little bit, and we're excited to have more guys.”
For Lars Thiemann, he is excited for the upcoming year. When asked about being a 4th year player, Lars responded; ”We've been working hard, and this is our senior year, me and Joel, Kuany as well who's been here for four years, and now it's our time.”
Joel Brown indicated he is stepping into the leadership role; “In regards to leadership, definitely taking that new step, especially in my fourth year helping out the younger guys understand the offense, just kind of understand just the little things and the importance of how to get onto the floor and win games.”
Coach Fox was evasive when he was asked about the starting lineup, but he did indicate he would favor his veterans. “So I think we would lean towards the guys who have experience, but I'll tell you, it's been a lot of fun to have the balance in lineups where every guy has to show up and fight every day otherwise he's getting beat out.”
A few other Cal highlights;
Coach Fox, on Devin Askew;”…he probably added too much muscle and was playing a little too big. So we've slimmed him down a little bit.”
Coach Fox, on Grant Newell; ”Grant Newell had the best summer of anyone on our team. He was outstanding. He has a real poise and maturity about him.”
Coach Fox, on ND and Grant Newell; “ND Okafor is a guy who has a lot of athletic ability and talent, and we're trying to challenge that. Lars has been a great example for those two young guys to learn from, and I think they both will impact our team and be in the rotation.”
Joel Brown, on working on his degree; ”For me with the business, I've always kind of been a math guy. So I've always wanted to stick around numbers. I understood that being a part of Haas is very special and kind of hard to get into. So that was a barrier as a student-athlete I wanted to break, especially on the men's basketball team.”
Lars Theimann, on his Nutritional Sciences degree; “I always loved science classes. I always loved cooking. I think it's very important, especially as an athlete, that you know how to fuel your body. To get that U.C. Berkeley education, which is not easy --I've had a lot of rough classes, a lot of days when I was studying from the morning to the evening. But I'm very happy, I still enjoy it, and I think that's some knowledge I'll be able to transfer to my personal life to me being an athlete and obviously when I finish college here.
On Coaching and Recruiting in the Era of the Transfer Portal
Most of the coaches were asked about the challenges they face in roster construction, recruiting, and in-season decisions you need to make in the era of the transfer portal. Utah Head Coach Craig Smith had a strong summary. “It used to be you would build a program. Nowadays, you build a team.” Several coaches had anecdotes about no longer developing players over four years.
Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley indicated that you need to build stronger relationships with the individual players; “You hope that they have a great experience. You hope that you coach them well. And you hope they want to come back. And the more you could retain and bring back, the better chance you're going to have for success.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle prefers graduate transfers to four-year transfers; “…they usually come in with an attitude of I've got one year, let's make the most of it…We really shy away from a lot of four-year transfers because you don't know what you're going to get.”
USC Coach Andy Enfield offered a different perspective. He was proud of his program taking no transfers this year. He still is a believer in the four-year progression of your recruiting class. “At USC, we're probably one of the anomalies. We didn't take a single transfer this year, and we don't plan on doing it again next year.
Other Quick Hitters
Stanford’s Spencer Jones, on his classwork; “Currently I'm in a class called Leadership in Action, it's kind of just how to be a better corporate leader. All those tendencies, all those attributes really help me to be a better leader on this court.”
Colorado Coach Tad Boyle, on UCLA’s Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez; “I can’t believe they haven’t graduated yet.”
With Noah Williams transferring to from WSU to UW, their two annual games will be very interesting to watch. Williams is a noted trash-talker, and his departure from WSU was under less-than-ideal conditions. WSU’s T.J. Bamba was involved in a social media mixup, and was asked about playing against his former teammate; “I mean, I know Noah; Noah know me. He knows what's going to happen when we play them. Practiced against him for three years. He know my tendencies. I know his. Every time he call me, I feel like he's trying to soften me up. Every call I tell him, you know you're a fool, right? Just to remind him he's on the other end.”
Talk of basketball makes me even more pessimistic about athletics than 5 minutes ago before this crossed my mind.
Fox is still dropping that we're in a "rebuild". This is year 4.