Inexperienced Bears need 2 big men to stand tall
Marcus Lee and Ivan Rabb talked every single day last season, and inevitably, each conversation started with Lee begging Rabb to stay for one more year at Cal.
The long-term persuasion tactic didn’t work, and Rabb declared for the NBA draft, was selected in the second round and left Lee behind in Berkeley to carry much of the load Rabb had shouldered the past two seasons.
“My role doesn’t change, at all,” said Lee, a 6-foot-11 forward who will be eligible to play after averaging 3.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocked shots in 13.7 minutes per game in three seasons at Kentucky. “The goal of any athlete is to do whatever it takes to help your team win. So, that’s still my role.”
The production is going to have to come from someone. Cal lost its top five scorers to the draft, graduation and transfer and returns only five players who logged statistics last season.
The five combined for 13.9 percent of the Bears’ points, 19.9 percent of their rebounds, 11.7 percent of their assists and 10.2 percent of their steals. Behind 7-1 Kingsley Okoroh’s 76 blocked shots, the five returners accounted for 49 percent of the team’s total.
“I have to become more of a leader now,” said Okoroh, who returned this week from a twoweek hiatus with an ankle injury. “On the court, I’m going to have to be more of a scorer down low.”
It’s unclear who will score the rest of Cal’s points, but Okoroh said point guard Don Coleman has taken a leap for the better during the offseason, and the big man compared freshman Darius McNeill to No. 5 overall pick De’Aaron Fox.
Of the team’s seven freshmen, Juhwan HarrisDyson and Justice Sueing have also made good, but brief, impressions. Harris-Dyson is expected to return in a couple of days from a sprained ankle, and Sueing is still a couple of weeks away from returning to full speed after recovering from a leg stress fracture.
The rest of the offense is going to have to be ignited by the defense. New head coach Wyking Jones wants to force turnovers with a trapping fullcourt press, and he believes his team can convert those turnovers into baskets.
Especially, when his big men play at the same time.
“You have two different type of defenders,” Jones said. “We have Kingsley, who is great at protecting the rim. His goal is to lead the country in blocks, and I think that he was a single-season leader in blocks last year in 21 minutes of play. … So he's obviously going to get a lot more minutes this year. But I think that's an achievable goal for him.
“Marcus is different in the sense that Marcus can go out and guard one through five. If the team needs the basket, Marcus can switch off on the point guard, be able to sit down, slide his feet, use his length, contest a shot. They're different, but they're both present on the defensive end. So having those guys both out there at the same time helps me sleep at night.”
Rusty Simmons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rsimmons@ sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron
New Cal head coach Wyking Jones looks forward to having 7-foot-1 Kingsley Okoroh (left) and 6-11 Marcus Lee (center) on the court at the same time.