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October 31, 2011

Hoops season is just around the corner



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BERKELEY, Calif. -- California's No. 24-ranked men's basketball team held an open practice for their fans Sunday afternoon, and despite the team still shaking off rust from the offseason, the Bears put on a good show.

The day consisted of a throng of fans filling half of Haas Pavilion with their 'Go Bears' signs that they received when they entered the building, and ended with the entire team signing autographs on those same placards, as well as tee shirts and basketballs. In between, it was all basketball as the team split up into two rosters -- Blue and Gold.

After missing time to surgery for bladder cancer, head coach Mike Montgomery was a spectator from the scorer's table as assistant coaches Jay John and Travis DeCuire ran the Blue and Gold teams, respectively. Montgomery looked relaxed, and was all smiles as he enjoyed the show from the sidelines without any apparent signs of recently undergoing surgery.

Along with Montgomery at the scorer's table was last year's starting center -- Markhuri Sanders-Frison -- who has been working with the team and getting himself ready for an opportunity to play overseas. Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour showed up as well, but left with an ice pack wrapped around her right knee, joking with onlookers that watching practice was a contact sport.

On the court, the Blue squad consisted mostly of starters, but 'traded' players with the Gold squad after each eight-minute period had ended. The two teams battled with a four-man officiating crew present to keep them all honest, but honesty didn't keep the Blue team from winning every period.

In one of the earlier periods, the Blue team consisted of senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, senior power forward Harper Kamp, junior point guard Brandon Smith, sophomore wing Allen Crabbe and sophomore big man Richard Solomon -- Cal's projected starting lineup. Ironically, the two stars of that team were redshirt sophomore guard Justin Cobbs and junior forward Robert Thurman.

During the first period, the 6-foot-2 Cobbs -- who was proficient at both guard positions -- drove to the top of the key, began what looked like a jumper, and passed over defenders to Thurman under the basket. Without a hitch, Thurman caught the pass and went up for an easy layup.

On defense, Thurman wasn't flashy, but he continued to make shooters adjust to his height and routinely came down with missed buckets. Thurman's wide body gives him an advantage on offense, as he showed against Bak Bak by backing him under the post before spinning towards his left shoulder and laying in with a simple hook move.

Sophomore transfer Ricky Kreklow won't be playing this season, but he gave fans a glimpse of the bright Cal future ahead while coming up big for the Gold squad. At a listed 6-foot-6, Kreklow looked more like a young Kamp at the small forward position, even though he's listed as a guard. With defensive specialist Gutierrez covering him, the sophomore had no fear on a pull-up three-point jumper, and nearly won the period with a half-court heave at the buzzer that clanged off the side of the rim, as the Blue squad won that match 18-16.

Blue came up big in the next contest with Kamp, Crabbe, Gutierrez, Bak, Cobbs, Jeff Powers, and freshman forward David Kravish holding court against the Gold team consisting of Solomon, Smith, Thurman, Kreklow and Emerson Murray playing with freshmen Christian Behrens, Robert Filley and Raffi Chalian.

Powers and Crabbe had no trouble with their three-point shots as the pair helped get the Blue team a 28-15 victory over Gold. The entire Blue team played the inside-out game with Cobbs running the offense, Gutierrez and Kamp driving the lane, and others contributing on both sides of the court.

Kamp sat out the final period and was joined early by Gutierrez and Crabbe, giving viewers interesting match ups to watch. Kravish and Solomon manned the post for the Blue squad, while Cobbs, Smith, Murray and Powers filled out the team. The Gold squad consisted of Behrens, Chalian, Thurman, Kreklow, Filley and Bak.

Behrens -- the highly touted freshman forward -- showed his willingness to take one for the team as he dutifully stood unwavering in front of Solomon for the charge. Right after taking the charge, Solomon gave the official who called the charge a look of dissatisfaction before continuing down to the defensive end of the court. Fortunately for Solomon, Behrens got the ball underneath and went up for the score, but instead of finding net, Solomon swatted the ball out of bounds.

With the Blue team leading 13-12, Bak received a pass on the perimeter and sunk a three to put the Gold team in the lead 15-13, with less than two minutes remaining. Bak's three were the last points for Gold, as the Blue team scored the final seven points -- highlighted by a 180-degree dunk by Solomon to close out the scoring.

After the buzzer, two tables were set up on both sides of the scorer's table, the players took their seats, and fans came down from the rafters to get their coveted signatures and photo's with their favorite Bear.



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