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October 12, 2009

Amoke ready after productive off-season

If you had the chance to run into Omondi Amoke anytime this summer, it was very likely that you would see a basketball in his hands. From working on his ball handling to shooting jumper after jumper, the athletic forward used the summer to improve every aspect of his skill-set. In what could be a banner year for the Cal men's basketball team, the reserve combo forward will be a key player in the team's bench production this year. With a productive off-season now in the books, Amoke is looking to take that next step.

"It's been my most productive summer, by far," Amoke said. "I got a lot of shots up. I lifted, worked out and ran. I've improved myself in all aspects. Not just basketball wise, but become mentally tougher to do everything I can to do what I can to help this team."

After sitting out his freshman season due to the lingering issues surrounding his calf surgery, Amoke returned to the court last year and became a decent contributor off the bench for head coach Mike Montgomery and his crew.

Amoke averaged 2.6 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game in roughly 8 minutes on the floor. While the numbers don't jump off the screen, Amoke definitely showed some solid potential in his spot duty. The 6-foot-7, 215 pound forward notched a career-high 10 rebounds against Dartmouth as well as 11 points against North Carolina A&T.

Amoke's most impressive single play however might've come against UCLA at Haas Pavilion in one of the more highly touted games of the season last year. Late in the first half against the stingy Bruins' defense, Amoke dribbled from the top of the key and drove hard straight down the lane and slammed the ball down.

That play showed exactly why Amoke can be a great option off the bench this season. Amoke is a versatile athlete, who can play the 3 or 4 position given the situation. Amoke also possesses a tremendous wingspan, which allows him to defend players of various height and strength as well.

"The coaches just wanted me to keep working on my ball handling, my shooting, my 3-point range and continue to work on lateral quickness," Amoke said. "I expect to bounce around, outside and inside. Whatever the matchups look like, that's where I'm going to be."

Like many players, the game is far some just a physical challenge. Amoke said that although he spent countless hours in the gym working on his physical game, he spent a lot of time getting better mentally as well.

"The biggest thing is learning to not getting down on myself," he explained. "If I miss a shot for example, I just need to forget it and come down the next time and if I have it, take the same shot with confidence. I don't want anything to rattle me. If a coach has some constructive criticism, don't take it to heart, just understand where it's coming from and improve."

The Bears, who are ranked in the top-20 in virtually every pre-season poll so far this season, hit the court with a great shot (at least on paper) to ending their half-a-century Pac-10 title drought.

Teams around the country know exactly what the Cal starting-5 is all about, so the key to the season will undoubtedly lie with how productive players like Amoke will be in relief of the starting unit.

"We have to support the starters the same way they support us," Amoke said. "Whey they come out of the game, we can't let down. We take pride in that. I feel like we are good players in our own right. We take pride in getting out there and playing with intensity and not letting the starters down."

Cal ended its brief NCAA tourney drought last year, when Montgomery led the Bears into the Big Dance for the first time since the 2005 season. Cal was subsequently shellacked by Maryland in the first round, but the events right after the loss held an important rollover effect to this year's squad.

"After the game, we were all frustrated but Coach Montgomery came in and said, 'you know what? We are returning everybody, so let's get back to work and back to the drawing board and we are going to be back here next year,'" Amoke explained. "Everybody took that to heart and I remember the next day every single player was back in the gym getting shots up."

"We didn't have to be there either," he continued. "Everybody was just ready to prepare for the upcoming season. It was a great sight to see."

Chris Nguon is the lead football writer for BearTerritory. He's well known for his recruiting and game coverage in the star-studded Oakland Athletic League, plus his numerous contributions with The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley's only independent, student-run newspaper. Nguon is also a correspondent with the Oakland Tribune, and will cover Cal football and men's and women's basketball in 2009.

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