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Pac-12 Basketball Team Preview: Year One Of The Wyking Jones Era Will Be An Uphill Fight For California

There will be some bright spots but overall, California has some huge voids to fill.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

California Golden Bears

  • Last Season: 21-13 (10-8)
  • Head Coach: Wyking Jones (1st Season)
  • Projected Media Poll Finish: 11th (46 Points)
  • Leading Returner In Scoring: Kingsley Okoroh (4.6 PPG)
  • Leading Returner In Rebounds: Kingsley Okoroh (5.5 RPG)
  • Leading Returner In Assists: Kingsley Okoroh (0.9 APG)

The Skinny

What an off-season it’s been for the Golden Bears.

After limping to the finish line last season, as California dropped seven of it’s last ten games, missed the NCAA Tournament and was bounced by Cal State-Bakersfield in the first round of the NIT, head coach Cuonzo Martin departed the program for Missouri, leaving behind a staff and roster loaded with question marks. And after a summer of reshuffling, the dust has all settled with a tough reality staring the Golden Bears in the face. This program simply doesn’t look ready for the magnitude of Pac-12 play just yet.

California lost their top five scorers from last year’s team, including Jabari Bird (Boston Celtics), Ivan Rabb (Memphis Grizzlies), Charlie Moore (Kansas), Grant Mullins (graduation) and Kameron Rooks (San Diego State) and now will need to move forward with a widespread mix of players (and coaches) thrust into new roles. It’ll be a matter of how well those new roles get filled on the fly for boys from Berkeley that could determine this team’s fate.

The strength for California on-the-court should be their front-court, where main statistical returner Kingsley Okoroh (4.6 PPG) will mix with Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, to create a formidable one-two punch. While Okoroh wasn’t a steady option for the Golden Bears too much on offense a season ago, his high-energy style of play and ingrained work ethic should translate well to him seeing more of the ball in the painted area. Already a force on the defensive side of things, where he averaged 2.2 blocks per game last season, Okoroh’s interior rim protecting should only be helped by the addition of Lee, a towering 6’ 11” presence.

NCAA Basketball: California at Arizona State
Kingsley Okoroh is the key returner for a depleted California squad.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Where things could get shaky for California is in the back-court, where positions, roles and minutes are still largely yet to be determined. Much of the off-season hype around a now Wyking Jones-led group is the addition of seven freshman to the roster, six of which primarily will be lined up at the guard spots. Overall, some of the most talk from California camp has been in regard to three-star prospect Darius McNeill, whose shown the most ability to be a plug-and-play talent from day one. Another name to remember would be Juhwan Harris-Dyson, a top recruit from the state of North Carolina.

While the roster may not be quite at the level that new head coach Wyking Jones will hope to someday soon be rolling out on the court, the fact of the matter for California is that the 2017-2018 campaign could be a huge year of growth for a young nucleus that looks to be committed to Jones and his staff. If California can manage some major growing pains as the season progresses and maybe steal some conference wins in the heart of Pac-12 play, the chances for this Golden Bears team to crawl their way up the conference standings next season, may gradually be a more realistic possibility.

Player To Know: Marcus Lee (SR)

A 6’ 11”, 225-pound transfer forward from Kentucky, big man Marcus Lee is one of those somewhat-forgotten talents after sitting out last season, who is poised to make a huge impact for the Golden Bears. During the 2015-2016 season with the Wildcats, Lee averaged 6.4 points, 6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in almost 22 minutes of action per night, playing alongside like Alex Poythress, Skal Labissiere and Derek Willis in the front-court. A fairly efficient player, Lee shot 68% overall from the field but it was the forward’s suspect effort at times and poor free-throw shooting that kept him in John Calipari’s dog-house at times. With California, Lee should be getting a fresh start. Under a new head coach with a full year of development under his belt, expect Lee to quickly become the focal point of a California squad in need of a legitimate post-presence.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Kentucky
After sitting out last season, Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee could be a serious stand-out for the Golden Bears.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Key Non-Conference Games

  • 11/20 v. Wichita State* (Maui Invitational)
  • 12/2 v. Saint Mary’s
  • 12/9 at San Diego State

15 Days ‘Till OSU Basketball Countdown

15. 2017-18 Men’s Roster Breakdown

14. 2017-18 Non-Conference Opponents Preview

13. Washington State Expected To Be Cellar Dwellers Once Again

12. Year One Of The Wyking Jones Era Will Be An Uphill Fight For California