On the Quiet Rise of the California Golden Bears

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 6th, 2016

About three weeks ago, after California struggled to put much of any space between itself and Incarnate Word, we here at the Pac-12 microsite staged an intervention. Without actually intervening, of course. But we did call out the Golden Bears’ loaded roster for poor defensive effort, a general lack of energy, non-existent half-court offense and questionable chemistry. Given that it only a month into the season, we still gave Cuonzo Martin‘s team a pass with upcoming dates against St. Mary’s, Virginia, Davidson and the entirety of the Pac-12 on the horizon. Since that December 9 game, the Golden Bears have gone 5-1, with the sole loss coming in an overtime affair at Virginia, KenPom‘s fourth-best team in America. That loss, if anything, gave Cal its first taste of credibility. So are the the boys from Berkeley now out of the woods and headed to the Final Four? Hmmmmm.

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can't Seem To Miss (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can’t Seem To Miss. (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

There is a lot to be excited about in the East Bay right now. Jordan Mathews can’t miss (52.3 percent from three-point range). Jabari Bird is finally showing the two-way consistency that was missing in his first two campaigns. Kameron Rooks and Kinglsey Okoroh are making wholly unanticipated leaps into relevance as capable big men on both ends. Ivan Rabb  is impressing with his ability to both pull bigs away from the hoop but also bang with them down low. Sam Singer has been a legitimately good reserve off the pine. Jaylen Brown, while still struggling to put it all together, has started hitting more jumpers while improving his defensive effort and terrorizing opponents in transition. All of this is happening while senior point guard Tyrone Wallace is in the midst of a serious drought (13.3 percent from three-point range; three turnovers per game). In past years, such a malaise from Wallace would have surely coincided with a significant losing streak (see: last year’s devastating 1-8 stretch in late December and January).

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Vol. III

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts

Colorado's George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice

Colorado’s George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice.

Last week we highlighted the NBA potential of a stretch seven-footer like UCLA’s Thomas Welsh and this week it is Colorado forward George King’s moment in the spotlight. The 6’6″, 220-pounder is shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point arc after making four of his six attempts in the Buffs’ win over BYU and has an NBA body so we have to imagine he is getting looked at a little. The redshirt sophomore has zero track record or pedigree, which makes his efficiency all the more surprising. With all the talk in the NBA of the importance of threes and free throws, what is better than a player who is doing exactly that and little else? And therein lies the rub. King has three-and-defense potential but he currently doesn’t play very much defense and he doesn’t pass much either. He is primarily an offensive player at this point and although he is a gifted shooter, he won’t shoot 50 percent from downtown this season. If he can stay efficient and work hard on becoming a better rebounder and defender, there is no doubt he has NBA ability.

Best Non-Conference Scheduling

UCLA is obligated to play a star-studded non-conference schedule because of who they are but it sure seems like the Bruins are cutting their teeth against a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. Oh wait… they ARE playing a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. After an impressive win over Gonzaga in Spokane over the weekend, UCLA now owns two (the other is Kentucky) of the most impressive non-conference wins of any team in the country. Considering two of the team’s three losses were in a preseason tournament halfway across an ocean, we are inclined to believe those wins will vastly outweigh the losses in the eyes of any committee that may or may not evaluate the Bruins for postseason play. The Bruins will likely end up in a lot of bubble discussions in February and there is no doubt these games help teams prepare for the pressure of similar games in the postseason. They aren’t done either. UCLA plays North Carolina in Brooklyn on Saturday.

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Cal Handles Its Business, An Uneventful But Good Thing

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2015

There was absolutely nothing noteworthy about Cal’s 85-67 thrashing of UC Santa Barbara last night in Berkeley, but if the Golden Bears are going to be the contender that they have been advertised as this preseason, that is without question a very good thing.

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Last Night Versus UCSB

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Versus UCSB Last Night

Cal didn’t play all that well against the Gauchos. Freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb battled foul trouble all night long, and head coach Cuonzo Martin mentioned afterward that his offense looked stagnant in settling for too many three-pointers (the Bears finished just 6-of-22 from downtown). But UC Santa Barbara is not your typical cupcake either, as the Gauchos were picked by some pundits to win the Big West this season — the type of opponent where a loss would hurt far more than a win helps. But instead of letting UCSB keep the score close and build confidence as the game wore on, Cal instead trampled them from the start with its vastly superior size and athleticism. This fact is easily illustrated in that the Bears’ margin of victory (18) was nearly identical to the difference in made free throws between the the two teams (17). The game was clearly over by midway through the second half, but the final score appeared closer than it actually was after Martin emptied his bench in the final minutes.

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Cal Preview: All Hail The Newcomers

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 4th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Berkeley.

California Golden Bears

Cuonzo Martin’s first season as the head coach at Cal was a rebuilding year for a team that had lost senior leaders Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, and also dealt with injuries to star sophomore Jabari Bird on its way to an 18-15 season (7-11 Pac-12). Things are looking way up for the Golden Bears this season, however, primarily because Martin managed to convince two of the very best high school players in the country to matriculate at Berkeley this season. These newcomers may not be around for more than a season, but for at least this season, Cal will be loaded with elite athletes and are a trendy sleeper pick to win a conference with no clear favorite. With an influx of talent the likes of which Cal basketball hasn’t seen in over two decades, anything less than an NCAA Tournament appearance this season will be considered a severe disappointment.

Cuonzo Martin Begins Year 2 at Cal With a Loaded Roster

Cuonzo Martin Begins Year 2 at Cal With a Loaded Roster

Strengths: Only Arizona and UCLA in this conference can compete with the athleticism that Cal will be able to put on the floor. Returning wings Jabari Bird and Tyrone Wallace are legitimate two-way players who can fill a box score in a variety of ways, and their attacks on the rim should open things up for sharpshooter Jordan Mathews (44.3 percent from three last season). Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo is a rangy forward who can shoot and defend multiple positions as well. But the real reason why the Bears will be a superior athletic team against nearly every team they play is because true freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb are one-of-a-kind type talents who have certain NBA futures. At 6’11” and 220 pounds, Rabb has plenty of shooting range, a variety of moves in the post and he runs the floor extremely well for a player his size. At 6’7″ and 225 pounds, Brown is the quintessential bull in a china shop and might very well be the Pac-12 Player of the Year before the season is over. His brute size and strength make him nearly impossible to keep away from the rim and he will be a human wrecking ball in transition. Finding the right combination of playing time for all of these talented athletes will be an interesting juggling act for Martin, but it is hard to view that as a problem. If all goes according to plan, the Bears’ offense will improve and the team become downright frightening defensively; but at the very least, the additions of Brown and Rabb will improve the team’s offensive rebounding and ability to get to the free throw line, two of the squad’s most glaring weaknesses last season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Things That Scare Us About the Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2015

Nothing says Halloween like a hastily constructed list replete with a truly cringe-worthy title…or something. The kickoff to the college basketball season is rapidly approaching and one can never have enough preseason analysis. So without further ado and in honor of everyone’s favorite pseudo-holiday, here are the five scariest things happening in the PAC 12 as we head into the season.

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lorenzo Romar’s Job Security

The head coach of the Huskies since 2002, Romar is far and away the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and with pretty good reason. The Huskies won 20 games just once under predecessor Bob Bender. Since Romar took over, the Huskies have won 20 games six times and Romar has been the conference Coach of the Year three times. Unfortunately for Romar, the good times have mostly rolled to a halt in Seattle. The Huskies have barely broken .500 in each of the last three seasons and the team’s best player, Nigel Williams-Goss, transferred in the off-season due to concerns about the direction of the program. To his credit, Romar continues to be an excellent recruiter and has brought in another new crop of talent ready to contribute immediately. Still, even with help from the newcomers, the Huskies figure to finish in the bottom third of the conference standings. If (when?) that happens, Romar’s goodwill may have finally run out.

Watching USC Try To Score

In fairness to the Trojans, almost everyone expects the team’s offense to make a major jump this season. But the flip side of that coin is that making the jump offensively shouldn’t be difficult because of how staggeringly bad the team was on that end last season. In the Pac 12, only Oregon State was less efficient offensively than the Trojans last season. USC also managed to rank near the bottom of the country in every meaningful shooting category (63.4 percent from the free-throw line!). The futility was understandable considering the team was almost exclusively underclassmen, but with a mostly unchanged roster returning, points are likely to still be at a premium. If Jordan McLaughlin is healthy, his shooting should improve, but his shot selection needs a lot of work too. The same can be said for Katin Reinhardt, the team’s most gifted offensive player but also its most trigger-happy. Coach Andy Enfield likes his teams to play with tempo. Last season that led to a lot of running and bricking. Everyone who plans to watch the Trojans this season has their fingers crossed that things will be different this time around.

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Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Win For Cal, But More Significant Test Pending

Posted by AMurawa on November 21st, 2014

Midway through the second half of California’s 14–point win over Syracuse (#25 in the RTC preseason poll) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, both Dick Vitale and John Saunders expressed surprise that the Golden Bears were picked seventh in the Pac-12 — astonished that there could be six teams in the conference better than them. And if you watched the game, you probably understood that surprise, because Cal looked great. They shot a 54.5 percent eFG against the vaunted Syracuse zone, kept the Orange’s athletes out of transition (for the most part), and really had a handle on the game from the closing moments of the first half (a late 12-0 run in that half featured four Cal threes in five possessions). Sophomore Jabari Bird had his national coming-out party with 16 points on four threes, and his more under-the-radar classmate Jordan Mathews wound up with 22 relatively quiet points. Up and down the rest of the roster, Cuonzo Martin’s players made the type of plays that they’ll be expected to make all season long. So, all that optimism that Golden Bears fans had to be feeling throughout that not-all-that-stressful second half is completely warranted and Cal should start looking into a nice brand of scissors for all that net-cutting they’re going to be doing at the end of the year, right? Well, slow your roll for just one minute.

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

First, note that we’re not about to discount what the Golden Bears did last night at all. They beat Syracuse on a floor that was anything but neutral, and they did it in convincing fashion. They’ve got a star or two on the wing in Bird and Mathews. Tyrone Wallace is settling in at the point and has looked good enough there. And if he needs a hand, Martin’s best bench player at this junction is sophomore point Sam Singer who, by the way, handed out eight assists in a solid night of action. There’s senior center David Kravish, who contributed 12 points, 10 boards, three blocks, five assists and even a three against that Syracuse front line which, even if you don’t recognize any of the names off the top of your head, is an intimidating opponent. They looked really good, validating the initial opinion that most people who watched any of the Golden Bears’ first couple games of the season came away with.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 All-Defense & Specialty Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2014

Yesterday we unveiled our RTC Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams. Tomorrow, we’ll release our All-Conference teams. And on Friday, just before the first games tip off, we’ll have the results of our preseason conference poll. Today, we will have a little fun though and unveil our specialty teams, ranging from our Gary Payton All-Defensive team, to our Jorge Gutierrez All-Glue team to our Russell Westbrook All-Dunktastic Team. Enjoy. And feel free to let us know where we screwed up.

The Gary Payton Pac-12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona

He won’t wow you with his athleticism or make opponents look silly with soul-crushing blocks or quick-handed steals, but McConnell is the consummate veteran who is always in the right place at the right time, funneling opponents toward long-armed and intimidating opponents. Sure, McConnell probably gets this award because he plays on a team with so many other terrific defenders (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can destroy opponents with their athleticism, while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are capable rim-protectors), but he’s a fundamentally-minded defender who always makes things difficult on opponents.

T.J. McConnell's Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell’s Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player. (Arizona Athletics)

Joining McConnell on the All-Defensive Team are:

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona
  • Shaquielle McKissic, Sr, Arizona State
  • Norman Powell, Sr, UCLA

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 4th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with California.

California Golden Bears

Strengths: Year 1 of the Cuonzo Martin era will feature some quality leftovers from Mike Montgomery’s tenure. Senior forward David Kravish is coming off his best season, while sophomore guard Jordan Mathews headlines a mostly young backcourt. In all, four of the team’s top six scorers from last season are back. Cal, picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 media poll, has the look of a team that could get stronger going into the new year.

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

Weaknesses: The direction of the offense, however, will be worth keeping an eye on. Cal no longer has first-team all-Pac-12 point guard Justin Cobbs to lean on. Looking to fill that void will be junior Tyrone Wallace, who matched Mathews with a game-high 21 points in a 94-50 exhibition win over Cal State East Bay on Halloween. Three different players, including Wallace, had three assists. Martin will also have to find some depth as he figures out his rotation, particularly in the paint where the Bears have questions on the glass seeking to replace Richard Solomon’s 10.2 rebounds per game.

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Cal’s Most Important Player: Sam Singer

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 3rd, 2014

If I was going to be writing about Cal’s best player – or most improved player; or most exciting player; or breakout player – I would in all likelihood be writing about Jabari Bird. But most important is a matter of perspective and timing. And for a program presently in transition – from head coach Mike Montgomery to Cuonzo Martin, certainly, but also away from rock-solid veteran point guard Justin Cobbs to the next guy in line. And that brings us sophomore point guard Sam Singer. It is one thing to replace a senior leader like Cobbs — a guy who played better than 80 percent of Cal’s available minutes in a highly efficient manner each of the last three seasons. It is quite another thing to do so as a guy who saw only spot-duty minutes as a freshman. It is another thing entirely to take those reins for a first-year head coach on a team with extremely limited depth. But that’s the position Singer is expected to find himself in this season. Sure, he’ll man a lineup with a guy like Tyrone Wallace – who is also a strong ball-handler and effective playmaker — but it is Singer who, in all likelihood, will be tasked with the role of Martin’s coach on the floor. If that happens, he’ll be the guy who will need to bring Martin’s style and philosophy to bear (ahem) on the basketball court.

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team's Point Guard Spot

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team’s Point Guard Spot

Singer’s numbers from last year weren’t all that impressive, but why would they be with the frosh taking a clear back seat behind Cobbs? Still, if you dig in a little closer, there is a lot to like here. Begin with the fact that over the course of the team’s four postseason games (one in the Pac-12 Tournament followed by three in the NIT), Singer totaled 10 assists against just one turnover in 43 total minutes of action. He only shot the ball six times – making two buckets – but he showed a great comfort level in leading the offense. This year he’s going to need to show a better capacity for scoring the ball when his team needs him to do so, but he’s got a reputation as a good shooter and he was a very effective scorer in his high school days. So if he can take and make some big shots when defenses overcommit on to guys like Bird and Wallace, he’s got a chance to make a big jump in importance for the Golden Bears.

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