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Young Bears need to step up and help Lampley

Friday November 17, 2000

Coming off of two successive NIT seasons, Cal head coach Ben Braun is looking to move his team onto the next level, an NCAA Tournament bid. With just one senior on the squad, the Bears need the younger players on the team to step up and play beyond their years.  

The lone senior, power forward Sean Lampley, is one of the best players in the Pac-10 conference. If sophomores Shantay Legans, Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers can continue the maturation they showed last year, and junior center Solomon Hughes can come to play every night, the Bears could surprise some people. 


Backcourt: Shantay Legans is definitely the starting point guard. That’s about all we know about the Cal backcourt. Legans had an impressive freshman year, leading the team in assists and steals as well as being the threat behind the three-point line. The 5-10, 165-pounder should be even better as a sophomore, as the Bears look to a more up-tempo team this year. With Legans running the floor, Braun knows his offense is in good hands. 

Who will play beside Legans is a mystery. Dennis Gates and Donte Smith the main candidates, but swingman Brian Wethers looks to have improved his game since last year. All three candidates are scorers more than shooters, so Legans figures to be the main outside threat. Gates and Smith both shot less than 35 percent from the field last year, and Wethers is a better rebounder than either player. Gates is a junior, while Smith and Wethers are sophomores, so look for him to get the starting nod. 

Smith will also be the main backup at point guard, as the loss of recruit Michael Lawson will hurt the backcourt depth. Lawson left school for "personal reasons," leaving the Bears with only three true guards on scholarship. Walk-on A.J.Diggs will be on hand for emergency duty. 


Frontcourt: The small forward position looks to be a battle between Wethers and fellow sophomore Joe Shipp. If the Bears need scoring, they can go with Shipp, who averaged almost 10 points per game last season. If they want defense and rebounding, Braun can turn to Wethers, who is a rugged slasher. If Gates and Smith can’t provide an outside threat, Shipp could be the complement to Legans they aren’t. Former walk-on Ryan Forehan-Kelly will pick up any spare minutes Shipp and Wethers leave behind. 

Power forward Sean Lampley is the leader of this team, the only senior on the squad and an All-Pac-10 performer last year. The question is, are the youngsters ready to follow? Braun knows just what he’s going to get from 6-7 Lampley: a solid all-around game, good defense and the threat of scoring 25 points every night. Lampley is too quick for bigger defenders and too strong for smaller ones. He’s even improved his touch from outside, making him a threat from three-point land. 

Battling for time at center will be junior Solomon Hughes and sophomore Nick Vander Laan. Vander Laan had a strong first season last year as he learned how to use his 6-10, 250-pound body in the paint. He will be a solid, if immobile, inside presence and should improve on his 6.7 rebounds per game last year. Hughes has a bigger upside than Vander Laan, but will he ever reach his potential? He has skills uncommon in a 6-11 player, but seems to lose focus easily and drift away from the action. If he can earn Braun’s confidence, the team could use a big lineup with him at power forward and Lampley as small forward. This would allow them to match up better against the powerful frontcourts of Arizona, Stanford and USC. At worst, Hughes can provide some quality minutes at both spots. 


Newcomers: The loss of Lawson really hurts this team, which doesn’t have a lot of firepower. A superior athlete, he figured to at least be a scoring threat off the bench. The only other freshmen, Hughes’ brother Gabriel and Lithuanian import Salius Kuzminskas, are newcomers expected to make their impacts down the road. Gabriel Hughes is much like his brother: tall, thin, athletic but not dependable. Kuzminskas is more of a skilled player, and is more likely to see significant playing time this year. He does tend to get a little reckless with his passes, however, and Braun may wish to keep him on the bench. Neither player figures to redshirt, as there will be more fouls called this year, which the NCAA mandated. Kuzminskas and Gabriel Hughes will at least provide big bodies and ten more fouls if the Bears need them. 


Outlook: Well, it looks like the Bears picked a bad time to be mediocre; the Pac-10 is in a golden age of talent. Arizona, Stanford and the L.A. schools look too powerful for the Bears to pass, far too experienced and athletic for Braun’s squad to match up. Fifth place looks like a good target for Cal in its return from NCAA sanctions for the previous administration’s mistakes. It figures to be an up-and-down season, as the youngsters get comfortable and Lampley drives toward an NBA career. Unfortunately for him, he will just miss Cal best recruiting class in years next season, as the Bears have verbal commitments from three top players.