In­ex­pe­ri­enced Bears need 2 big men to stand tall

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Rusty Sim­mons

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@ sfchron­i­ Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

Eric Risberg / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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