By Aran Smith
You just got out of practice, describe a normal day of practice, what kind of stuff do you work on?
Well we get in there at 1 every day, and normally we have to get taped and stuff and ready to play. We do palates every Wednesday and then we lift weights for about an hour after that. But our normal practice schedule, we have two days a week that we can practice with the coaches for an hour. So, we do that and then we play in the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
How’s the team looking right now?
Good. Devon’s (Hardin) healthy and back and as big as ever so he’s going to help us a ton. Jerome (Randle) at the point guard, he’s really stepping up and playing really well right now. Theo (Robertson) we just gotta hope he recovers from his injury. But we got other guys that can fill in for him. Theo had hip surgery so he’s kind of just trying to recover from that. But Patrick Christopher is playing real well.
If you were to choose one guy to have a break out season for Cal who would it be?
One break out guy? It would probably have to be Patrick Christopher.
You were Pac-Ten freshman of the year and 5th in scoring at 16.4 ppg and 6th in rebounding at 8.1 rpg, how were you able to make such an easy adjustment to college basketball?
It was really just my teammates put a lot of confidence in me, and I just really love playing basketball. It’s so much fun to me, and it just comes natural to me. This is really my style of play and the team really looked to me a lot because Devon was out, so playing center against bigger guys that I may not be as strong was tough, but I made the adjustment.
You made the adjustment from playing more at center in high school, to losing some weight and playing a little more as a wing player, what gave you the incentive to do that?
Well yeah, I did come out at around 250 pounds so I was a big guy, and so I slimmed down a lot. I knew I wouldn’t be playing center in the college game. So I knew I wanted to slim down and get in really good shape. Now my game’s kind of transformed, and because of that I’m much quicker on my feet. Lately I’ve been improving at going to the basket. So I’m excited to see how next season is going to go.
Would you say that’s been your biggest focus in the off-season?
Yeah. Because people already know I can shoot it. And they try to stop me there. So I’ve just been learning how to go around guys. And I’ve been working on that in the open gym.
How much do you feel you can improve upon the numbers you put up last year?
You know it’s not really a lot about the numbers for me. As much as I want to score 20 a game. And I know I probably could, getting everyone else involved is more important. We have so much talent, so many guys that can score, so it would be tough for me to go out and focus on that.
Is winning the Pac-ten this year a realistic goal for Cal?
Yeah it really is. I mean we just need to pull everything together. It’s a lot, Jerome knows it, but it’s a lot on him to step up and fill in for Ayinde (Ubaka) who’s our leader. We really need him to step up, but once he does, I mean he’s so good, and he’s capable of doing it. I don’t know very many teams that could stop our line up.
Has Devon Hardin fully recovered from the foot injury?
He really has looked good. As much of a defensive player as he is, he has really looked great on the offensive end. He’s so strong, so we should really compliment each other.
I remember seeing him play in the San Francisco Pro Am two years ago and being amazed at how good his form looked and wondering why he didn’t score more, of course they had Leon Powe then.
He’s way better than he was last year.
Devon Hardin came close to leaving for the draft last year, what does it mean having him on the team this year?
It means that I don’t have to play center! (laughing) No but it’s huge for us. I know that rebounding wasn’t our strongest… I mean we rebounded the ball pretty well, but with Devon back, nobody should get an offensive rebound on us. He’s so strong and he can guard guys, he’s going to help us a ton.
How about his returning affecting your game?
It was so much easier scoring with him down on the blocks. They double him and I get a wide open shot.
Now what’s it like going up against him in practice?
You know, We kinda learn each others moves, we kinda know what each other are going to do next. He’s hard to stop when he’s coming right at you and just bodying you, and it’s just kind of a helpless feeling, I mean he’s just so strong. He just needs to get close to the basket, and it’s over.
I actually was thinking Darryl Dawkins as a good comparison for him, who in the NBA past or present does he remind you of?
Wow, he could be like a Ben Wallace. You know, maybe even a Dwight Howard if he polished up his offensive moves. You know, he’s got a lot of time to improve. Once he gets all those things tightened up, he’s going to be pretty good.
You came into Cal as the 98th rated recruit according to rivals.com, did you feel that you weren’t given the respect you deserved or did you feel that it had more to do with your own improvement from high school to college?
I feel a little bit like I didn’t get the recognition I should have. But that’s the way it goes you know, it’s politics. It’s people want to see who they want to see. If somebody is a big name they’re going to go look at them. So being from Sacramento, it’s not exactly a basketball powerhouse type of place. So in a way it was a good thing because if I did get that recognition, I would never want it to get to my head and affect the way I play.
Does the Pac-Ten get the respect it deserves nationally?
It’s getting it now. Last year we had the best conference in the country. And this year it should be even better. We had a lot of teams in the top 25 through most of the year so, I think we’re gaining more and more respect. But the schools on the East coast are always going to be the powerhouse kind of schools. We are overlooked, but we have a lot of talent.
Cal’s football team is currently ranked 6th in the country with a big game on Saturday against Oregon, talk a little bit about the excitement on campus for the team. And how good are they?
They’re so good. Actually a bunch of my teammates were planning on making the trip up there cause Sam, a guy who’s injured lives up there. So he was going to take us all up there for the game. But the coaches said it wasn’t too good an idea.
They said no?
Yeah. But for Saturday it’s going to be a huge match up. I talked to some of the players and they’re really excited. It’s a hard place to play, that’s what they say. And it is for basketball too.
Supposedly Cal’s football team hasn’t won there in 20 years or something?
Yeah it’s crazy but yeah, they’re playing really well. They just gotta keep up the way they’ve been playing.
Now is winning a national championship realistic for the football team?
Wow, SC is tough this year. I think it is, it is. You know it’s all kind of about luck and who plays who. You know the weather even comes into play sometimes. So but yeah they got a chance.
Can having a strong football team actually help the basketball team in recruiting, or is it more of a competitive dynamic?
When you think of Cal, you think more of a football school, but we’re hoping to change that or equalize it some. But it does, it gets people more excited about Cal.
Is there one game above the rest that you have marked on your calendar?
Maybe not one specific game but I’m looking forward to going to Nevada and getting them because they got us last year when they came down. And we’re full throttle this year so it’ll be a good game against them.
What part of your game do you currently feel you need to work most on?
Probably my ball handling. Like I said I mean it’s gotten a lot better but if I’m going to want to play on the next level and play some on the perimeter, that’s the first thing I need to improve on.
How do you feel your skills fit into the next level, and is there a team or type of team that your skills fit best with?
I have a lot of skills to develop, but you know that’s what the NBA’s for. I feel like I could have that type of an NBA game like a pick and pop. Learning more about driving to the hoop, I think I could maybe be a perimeter type of 3/4, getting quicker and stuff. But as far as what type of team I would want to play, I mean Dallas, the Mavericks, I’ve always loved the way they play. You know I like to shoot it. I like to do a lot of things, but shooting is one of my favorites.
If you have another big season this year, would you consider entering the NBA draft?
If god blesses me to have a great season as I did last year, or even better and I’m able to show people how much I’ve improved, there’s a possibility. It’s been my dream you know. I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA. And if it’s the best opportunity for me than I’m going to go after that opportunity. But it’s really a focus on the team because we’re bringing guys in, and we got a chance to be real good.