Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Two freshmen will lead Cal's charge
By Diamond Leung
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Gary Franklin is the daring one, the lights-out shooter that Cal coach Mike Montgomery muses has never met a shot he doesn't like, but is being encouraged to keep on firing.
Allen Crabbe is the conservative one, and while Montgomery appreciates his commitment to limiting mistakes, is also being asked to be more of an aggressive playmaker given his talent and potential.
They are Cal's freshmen wings and the two players that will need to grow up quickly if the rebuilding Bears hope to defend the Pac-10 title.
Cal returns only one major contributor from the past season's championship team. Luckily for the Bears, the gems of Montgomery's recruiting class are accustomed to winning during their prep careers in southern California.
Franklin and Crabbe, who are set to make their college debuts in an exhibition game Wednesday, impressed the coaching staff when they checked their high school titles and egos at the door.
"They've been as committed as anyone could possibly be in our program," assistant coach Travis DeCuire said. "They've never second-guessed anything they've been told, and they're willing to learn. A lot of 'yes coach, no coach, thank you coach,' and a lot of questions being asked. They've been a blessing to have."
Montgomery is so high on Franklin's ability to score that he's leaving the point guard position in the hands of veterans Jorge Gutierrez and Brandon Smith so the 6-foot-2 star at powerhouse Mater Dei High won't have too much on his plate and can focus on shooting.
"He can shoot it from deep," Montgomery said.
Well, put it this way. Franklin is invoking the name Jerome Randle, the departed senior who won Pac-10 player of the year honors and is known for the 3-pointers launched from the Haas Pavilion parking lot.
"Seeing Jerome Randle play and seeing the shots he took, it made me more confident to where I couldn't take any worse shots than he did," Franklin said, smiling. "To his credit, he made those crazy shots that he would take sometimes. I've worked a lot on my jump shot, and I've become a pure shooter. I think Coach Montgomery is confident as well in me as taking those shots that I won't really turn down."
Crabbe, the reigning Mr. Basketball in California, will get his share of looks as well. The 6-foot-6 guard won a state title for tiny Price High in Los Angeles with fellow freshman Richard Solomon, a 6-foot-10 forward.
And on a team with Gutierrez as the leading returning scorer averaging 5.5 points per game, less-heralded freshman guards Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi are expected to get opportunities to play as well.
"As a group, I'm just surprised how humble they are and how willing to work they are," said junior forward Harper Kamp, who was medically redshirted last season and will form a frontcourt with injury-plagued center Markhuri Sanders-Frison.
"You see freshmen come in a lot, and they have the accolades like these guys have, and they think a little more of themselves than they should, and they don't work as hard. But this group has done a lot of work, and they know they have a lot of work left to do."
Montgomery, of course, expects plenty of growing pains early while teaching his young team the fundamentals, noting, "They don't know what they don't know yet."
But for a Bears team picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 coming off its first regular-season title in 50 years, maybe things won't be so bad after all if the newcomers are as good as advertised.
"I think we're going to be a problem (for opponents)," Solomon said. "We're used to winning. We're going in with the mindset that we're going to win. We're pretty confident."