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November 11, 2011

Talkin' Signing Day, Penn State, Hoops and Football

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In this edition of The Bear Republic Podcast, we discuss not only Cal's upcoming football game against Oregon State and last week's win over Washington State, but also the disturbing and reprehensible happenings surrounding Penn State. We lead off with talk about this week's early signing period and the beginning of the Cal men's basketball season, detailed in the second part of Countdown to Tipoff, below.

BERKELEY -- He has yellow hair and he has more tattoos than he did last year, but, then again, he certainly has more room for them. Now a sophomore, 6-foot-10 California big man Richard Solomon has gained 10 pounds of muscle, and even more confidence.

"I think it's allowed him to be a lot more patient," says senior Harper Kamp. "I think he's a lot more patient when he gets the ball and he's a bit more smart with what he's doing. He's taking his time in recognizing how easy he can get his shot off and stuff on the inside, if he just is patient and takes the easy jump hook, not having to cock it back and dunk it, but just going up and knowing that he's going to get some contact. I think he's more confident in being able to just take that hit and still be able to score the ball. He's getting better at that and I think he'll continue to get better."

Last season, Solomon started two games and played in 33, averaging 15.7 minutes per contest, shooting 55.8 percent from the field and averaging 4.4 rebounds per game and 5.6 points, while recording 20 steals, 27 blocks and 20 assists. Now, though, the once-timid, lanky fresh-faced kid is no more. He stands taller, goes harder to the hole, and even has a little strut about him.

"You have to. You come back, you know what to expect the second time around," Solomon says. "You kind of ease up a little bit -- well, not ease up, but you're more calm about it. You know what to expect. You know what's going to happen. You know what to expect, because you've been in that situation before. It's just a matter of just staying calm and staying poised and doing what you're capable of doing and just trying to get the win."

Solomon put in a productive summer of work, joining teammate Allen Crabbe in trying out for the U19 USA National Team while getting bigger, stronger and blonder.

"Last year, during the season, I was probably about 216-217, and now I'm about 227-230. I was here all summer, working out, lifting, just trying to get better," Solomon says. "It helps my confidence, first and foremost. I'm stronger, so I know what I'm capable of doing. I know what I can do. I know where I stand. It just helps my confidence. It helps me be more at ease with myself, and it helps me to do more things on the court. My teammates have more trust in me, too. It's just a good thing."

Solomon's further emergence may be more than just a good thing. It may be necessary.

"Consistency at the low post positions, trying to figure out what we're going to get on a consistent basis from Richard, Bak [Bak], Robert [Thurman], say Kravish -- we're not sure what that is right now," said head coach Mike Montgomery. "It changes. We've got to have a little bit better understanding of what it is they're going to do and what it is they're going to give us, so we can kind of count on that, and I'm not sure if we have that yet."

With Kamp's twice-operated-on knee a bit of a concern, Solomon will have to step up, especially considering that Markhuri Sanders-Frison is no longer on the active roster after exhausting his eligibility last season. As he remains with the team in an unofficial capacity, Solomon has taken the time to learn a lot from the big fella.

"Markhuri brings that energy," Solomon says. "He's at our practices, he's always talking to me: 'C'mon man, you've got to be vocal, you've got to be vocal.' He's pushing me to be a leader even though there are seniors on the team, he's pushing me to be a leader, pushing me to be better than what I am, so it's good, having that energy around, having somebody there that's constantly on you, trying to make you better. It's almost like another coach."

Another big help for Solomon is the fact that he has an old friend in the mix to run the point and get him the ball right where he likes it in sophomore Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs.

"Well, I played with Justin in high school. We went to the same high school for three years, so I already knew what Justin was capable of; it was just a matter of time before he showed everybody else in his play on the court," says Solomon, who, along with the rest of the Cal fan base, saw Cobbs score a game-high 17 points in the team's home scrimmage against UC San Diego last week. "Justin, he's a real good 6-2 point guard. He's real athletic, can jump high and has a good handle, a good shot, can create for himself and others. He's just a real good point guard in my eyes. In my eyes, he's one of the best point guards I've ever played with. We already have chemistry. We know how each other plays. Last year, in practice, we were on the gold squad together, so we were always doing little plays here and there, little flashy plays here and there. He brings a lot to the table. He's going to be the X-factor this year in my opinion. He's going to have to bring it every night, consistently."

Cobbs -- who originally wanted to come to Berkeley before choosing Minnesota due to the Golden Gophers having an available scholarship -- now feels at home in the Bay Area, especially with Solomon to pass the ball to down low.

"I've known Richard since ninth grade, and knowing Allen just through LA," Cobbs said. "LA's so small, but it's so big at the same time, but just knowing Allen, it was just a no-brainer. Coach Montgomery's success and what he's done in the past 10 years is amazing. It was really a no-brainer. I can still come home, and have my family see me every game, it was an easy decision. They'll be there for the 11th, the 13th, every game."

Before that soft open against the Tritons, both Solomon and Cobbs decided to go day-glo, bleaching their hair beforehand.

"The hair was his idea, but he brought it up. It was his idea," Solomon smiles sheepishly. "I'll give it to him. It was his idea. I just beat him to it."

Solomon will also be donning new protective goggles when the Bears officially kick off the season Friday night at 7:30 PM against UC Irvine, after using a temporary pair last week.

"The ones I wear now don't [have a strap], but I'm getting some more. I'll probably have them before the first game, and they'll probably have a strap in the back," Solomon says. "In Europe, when I got scratched in my eye, I was out for two weeks. Every day, constantly, it felt like something was in my eyes. That was like the worst pain I've ever been through, so I never want to go through that again. From there on, I was telling myself that I'm just going to wear goggles from now on, just so I can't be distracted."

With a bigger, stronger Solomon, a scoring point guard in Cobbs and returning vets like Crabbe, Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez, this team's ceiling is unquestionably high, as the Bears were picked narrowly to finish second behind UCLA by the Pac-12 media in their annual preseason poll.

"I try not to pay attention to that, but as long as we play, I think the sky's the limit. That's the best we can do as a team: the sky's the limit," Solomon says. "I think the sky's the limit, as long as we stay focused and stay unselfish. As long as we stay trying to help each other get better, and we stay on the same page, not caring about who gets what or who does what, then I think the sky's the limit. I can see us taking this team really far."

Season Opener Notes
The San Francisco Soup Company will be on hand to give away free food to the first 1,000 students to walk in the door for Friday's (Nov. 11) season opener presented by AT&T against UC Irvine. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. game. A couple of lucky students will also be entered into a contest to win tickets and pre-game field passes for the Cal-Oregon State football game on Saturday (Nov. 12).

In addition to UC Irvine, the free admission offer is good for the Bears' contests against George Washington on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m., and against Austin Peay on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.

Cal is ranked No. 24 in both the preseason AP and USA Today Coaches polls. The Bears were picked to finish second in the conference by the Pac-12 media and are coming off an 18-15 season in 2010-11 that saw them advance to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Cal returns four starters, led by first-team All-Pac-10 selection and team MVP senior guard Gutierrez, who paced the squad in scoring with 14.6 ppg in 2010-11.

Crabbe, the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, also set the school's freshman record for three-pointers made (62). Both Gutierrez and Crabbe are on the Preseason John Wooden Award Top 50 Watch List.

Kamp and junior guard Brandon Smith are also back from last year's starting lineup. The Bears welcome returning reserves Bak Bak, Emerson Murray, Jeff Powers, Solomon, and Robert Thurman, as well as 2010-11 redshirts Cobbs and Alex Rossi, who is still recovering from surgery on a lower abdominal hernia from last season. The team hopes that he will be back in time for Pac-12 play.

New additions to the squad include freshmen forwards David Kravish (6-foot-9, 210 pounds) and Christian Behrens (6-foot-8, 190 pounds), as well as two freshman walk-on guards in Rob Filley (6-4, 195) and Raffi Chalian (5-11, 165).


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