Ben Braun Under Fire
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 02, 2005

EVEN AS Ben Braun enjoyed moderate success as Calís basketball coach, there were two questions about him:
1) Would he be able to recruit big-time athletes?
2) If he recruited them, would he be able to coach them?

The first question has been answered with an emphatic yes. In the last two years, Braun has brought in several top preps: Leon Powe, Ayinde Ubaka, Dominic McGuire and Marquise Kately for the 2003-2004 season and Eric Vierneisel, Kevin Langford and DeVon Hardin for this season. Next season, Jordan Wilkes, a center who has reportedly grown to 7 feet in his senior year, and brother Omar Wilkes, a transfer from Kansas who has been sitting out a transfer year, will join the Bears. Both are sons of former Warriors star Jamaal Wilkes.

But so far, only Powe has blossomed under Braunís coaching, as Pacific-10 Freshman of the Year for the 2003-2004 season, and Powe has missed all of this season following knee surgery

With all that star power, the Bears finished a disappointing 13-15 last season, tied for fourth in the conference at 9-9, and missed the NCAA tournament, in which they had appeared the previous three years.

This year is much worse. Unless the Bears win one of their two home games this week against Washington and Washington State, they wonít even make the Pac-10 tournament.

ITíS CLEAR that Braun has lost control of his team. You can see it in the way players snipe at each other and at Braun during timeouts. You can see it in their body language. Most of all, you can see it in their play. The list of players who are giving 100 per cent effort basically starts and ends with Richard Midgley, Rod Benson and Martin Smith.

Braun himself has pointed out that defense is what shows how much effort the players are putting into the game, and the Bears are playing poorly on defense, usually a strength of Braunís teams; in back-to-back games at Haas Pavilion, UCLA and USC both shot more than 50 per cent from the field.

In the past, Braun has done well with players who were not highly recruited, because theyíve listened to him and improved. Heís had a much harder time getting players who were high school stars to listen and realize they canít just overpower collegiate players as they were able to do as preps.

But Braun hasnít been able to adjust, either. He hasnít really committed to an open court game which would best utilize the abilities of Ubaka and Kately, for instance.

Kately is probably the poster boy for whatís wrong with this team. Heís wonderfully talented Ė and featured on the cover of the media guide - but heís no longer starting and he seems lost when he does play. Braun had other players set screens for Joe Shipp and Brian Wethers, stars on the 20022-2003 team which went 22-9 and 13-5 in conference play, but nobody does that for Kately, though he could be deadly if he got that open 10-footer.

THERE IS much to like about Braun. He took over a scandal-ridden program when Todd Bozeman was fired and thereís never been a whisper of trouble with his recruiting. A former teacher, he works to make certain his players keep up with their academic schedules, which is important at Cal.

But, he is a basketball coach, and at Division 1A schools, no matter how highly-rated they are as educational institutions, a coach has to be successful to keep his job. In his first seven seasons at Cal, Braun was successful, with six winning seasons, four seasons with at least 20 wins, four NCAA tournament teams, two NIT teams, one the champion.

The last two seasons, though, have brought serious doubts about his future at Cal. There will be even more doubts if the constant rumors about star players transferring out turn out to be factual.

To be successful with the stars he is recruiting, Braun must adjust his coaching style, and Iím not sure he can. He is terribly thin-skinned. Though almost everything Iíve written about him has been positive, when Iíve criticized his offense, heís let me know immediately that heís read that by dropping a remark into what heís saying to other writers. And, heís never changed anything about that offense.

Even more telling, he killed a postgame show with Marty Lurie and Jon Wheeler, a former Cal player and one-time assistant on Braunís staff, because they were sometimes critical of his strategy.

A man that sensitive is not likely to listen to suggestions that he change anything about his style.

BRAUN CERTAINLY isnít in immediate danger of losing his job. He has support among influential alumni, including Robert and Wally Haas, whose late fatherís name is on the arena in which the Bears play. Most people close to the program think he has a couple of seasons to get the program back on track. But he canít do that until he proves he can coach star players as well as recruit them.

E-mail Glenn Dickey at glenndickey@hotmail.com

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