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October 28, 2008Rivals.com has selected the top 25 story lines for the 2008-09 season and will be revealing each one daily. At No. 14, we take a look at new Cal coach Mike Montgomery.
Mike Montgomery's return to college coaching in April would have been a big story regardless of where he took a job. He was one of the most successful and most high-profile coaches in the college ranks when he left for the NBA in 2004 to coach the Golden State Warriors.
However, it's where Montgomery chose to make his return that adds an interesting twist. Montgomery replaced a fired Ben Braun at the University of California, the archrival of Stanford - the Pac-10 school where Montgomery coached from 1986-2004. Montgomery led the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament in each of his last 10 seasons, including the school's first Final Four appearance in 56 years in 1998. He was the face of the program when he left.
"I would not have left Stanford to come to Cal, more than I would expect anyone to leave Cal to come to Stanford when you're coaching," Montgomery said. "I talked to a number of people, including some of my players at Stanford, some of the kids I could get a hold of, people who I had respect for. To me, it was more about trying to do at Cal maybe what I have done in the past. I want to try to build a quality basketball program that will build on the foundation that they have and to try to win basketball games. It's no more complex than that."
Montgomery was fired by the Warriors after back-to-back 34-48 seasons. Montgomery spent the past two seasons doing color commentary on television broadcasts of Pac-10 games, an experience that fueled his desire not only to coach again but also to coach college players.
"The professional thing was explainable to some, not to all," Montgomery said. "It was something I had to try. When do you ever get a chance to do something like that? It didn't work for me. I'm not saying it couldn't work, but it didn't in the period of time that I had. My personality and what I believe in and the things I think need to be done works a lot better in college. I think I belong in college basketball. ? There are a lot of good things about the NBA, but for me, this is better. This is where I belong. The more I did the TV stuff the more I realized I missed the day-to-day interaction with the kids. I missed the teaching. To have the opportunity to work at arguably the best private institution in the world, and now to have the opportunity to work at the best public institution is pretty good stuff."
Montgomery may not sound so upbeat in a couple of months. The Bears finished next-to-last in the Pac-10 with a 6-12 record last season. To make matters worse, All-Pac-10 first-team forward Ryan Anderson chose to stay in the NBA draft despite the best efforts of Montgomery to convince him otherwise. The 6-foot-10 Anderson, who was taken with the 21st pick, led the Pac-10 in scoring (21.1 ppg) and was third in rebounding (9.9 rpg). The Bears also lost 6-11 center DeVon Hardin, who averaged 9.3 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. Hardin was taken with the 50th overall pick in the NBA draft.
A bit of good news is that Montgomery will have one of the Pac-10's top backcourts. Junior wing Patrick Christopher tied for 10th in the league in scoring at 15.2 points per game. Junior point guard Jerome Randle averaged 11.8 points and ranked ninth in assists (3.7 apg).
The return of junior wing Theo Robertson, a two-year starter, will also provide a lift. A versatile player who can play multiple positions, Robertson took a medical redshirt last season after undergoing hip surgery.
Fixing Cal's defense will be Montgomery's main priority. The Bears were last in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (75.1 ppg) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (44.9 percent) last season.
"These guys are hungry, they want to win," Montgomery said. "We're going to have to play as one. That's no revelation. Everybody would say that. But it is going to be particularly important for us to all buy into what we need to do to win. Players will sometimes have to make individual sacrifices for the good of the group."
Montgomery sure sounds like a college coach again. Now it's time to see if he can be as successful as he was in the past.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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