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October 27, 2009
In Mike Montgomery's second season, California will try to do something that hasn't been done since Pete Newell retired -- win a league title. Newell led the Bears to the 1959 national championship and the 1960 title game, but Cal's goals this season will be a bit more modest -- the school's first conference title since 1960. The Bears return four starters and their top five scorers. Guard Jerome Randle blossomed into the Pac-10's second-leading scorer, behind Arizona State's James Harden, last season. Cal sealed its place in last season's NCAA tournament with an 83-77 victory over Arizona on March 5. The Bears seemed a little too pleased with themselves from that point on and didn't win for the rest of the season. To win the league, the Bears need to avoid getting hung up on rankings and standings, as they did last season.
Patrick Christopher and Cal have their eyes on the Pac-10 championship this season.
Cal's biggest loss is starting center Jordan Wilkes. He added height but not necessarily muscle. Jamal Boykin, a 6-foot-8 forward, was the Bears' top rebounder at 6.4 per game. The biggest question is the status of two forwards returning from offseason surgery -- Harper Kamp and Theo Robertson. The Bears need Kamp, a 6-8, 255-pound junior recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, to give the team some balance. Richardson's recovery from hip surgery also is important; he was the third offensive option and averaged 13.1 points last season.
Without question, California is built around its perimeter players. Montgomery found out last season that he could rely on Randle to be the team leader for the Golden Bears. Randle became an efficient shooter last season, making more than half of his shots from the floor on the way to averaging 18.3 points per game. He also raised his assists to 5.0 per game while cutting his turnovers. Patrick Christopher is an effective sidekick in the backcourt who averaged 14.5 points per game last season. Like the rest of the team, he ended the season in a slump. Sophomore Jorge Gutierrez will be a spark off the bench; Montgomery says he is the team's toughest player.
Ben Braun helped lay the foundation in Berkeley, but Montgomery has raised the level of expectations. The Bears have their flaws, but they will be expected to make some noise in March.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.