Ben Braun Extension: Oh, No!
by Glenn Dickey
Jun 28, 2006

SANDY BARBOUR has been very sure-footed since she took over as Cal athletic director in the fall of 2004, but she misfired last week when she extended the contract of basketball coach Ben Braun.

Braun, who got married in a small, private ceremony about a month ago, had been pressing for the extension, claiming it would hurt his recruiting if it seemed he would be gone after his current contract expired in a couple of years.

Itís not likely that was the reason he got his wish, though. More likely: Barbour wanted to placate some big donors among the alumni, most notably the family whose name is on the basketball arena, so theyíd contribute to the stadium project. Football always trumps basketball.

But even Bob Haas was heard to grumble last season over what had to be considered a disappointing season as the talented Bears slipped into the NCAA tournament but then made an ignominious first round exit.

There will be more grumbling, not only from those who are disappointed with the results on the court but from those who are concerned about the bottom line. Attendance was down last season, and it will decline further this season because, with Leon Powe gone, the Bears wonít be as strong.

By now, we know what to expect from Braun and, frankly, itís not enough. For years, we heard that Cal couldnít compete at the top level in football, but Jeff Tedford has shown that all that was required was a good coach. The same is true of basketball, but donít expect Braun to come close to Tedfordís results. Last year is probably as good as it will get under Braun.

The primary problem is that Braun wonít admit his own shortcomings. He is a defensive-oriented coach, which is fine, but he badly needs an assistant who knows offense. He should follow the example of Lou Campanelli, who had a similar approach but did better when he hired Gary Colson to run the offense.

But Braun wants to control everything, so he doesnít want a strong-minded assistant. His staff was stronger when he had Jon Wheeler, who had some good ideas for the offense, but he forced Wheeler out.

The other disturbing aspect of Braunís tenure is the number of players who have left the program, usually because they couldnít get along with Braun. Thatís a black eye for the program and, if Braun is worried about recruiting, that is a more important factor than the length of his contract.

So, mediocrity will continue to reign in the basketball program. The stadium project had better succeed.

POWEíS DEPARTURE: With the doubts that heíll be drafted in the first round, there will be those who question Leon Poweís decision to go to the NBA. Iím not one of them.

Given Poweís difficult financial situation, he needed to start earning money as soon as he could. Because he missed a year of school early, having to stay home to take care of his siblings after his mother died and then missing a season at Cal because of his knee surgery, heís already 22, though he was just a sophomore in eligibility.

Itís questionable how much more he could have shown the pros with another year in the Braun system, anyway. He needs to work on his outside shot, but heís probably better off doing that with a pro team. I hope he makes it into the first round today, but even if he doesnít, with his determination and work ethic, I think heíll make it in the NBA.

BONDS APPRECIATION: That was a nice gesture Aís manager Ken Macha made last weekend, seeking out Barry Bonds to congratulate him on his accomplishments and later speaking about it to the media.

More and more, baseball people are speaking out on this Ė Albert Pujols and Jim Leyland did it earlier Ė because they appreciate what Bonds has done, and they have a much more balanced view of the steroids controversy. They know what should be obvious: that if it were just a matter of taking steroids or human growth hormones, many other players would be posting the same numbers Bonds has. Obviously, they havenít.

Meanwhile, other teams are still pitching around Bonds, though he is nowhere near the hitter he was in 2004. The Giants better hope that continues, because it helps their offensive production.

FLAME OUT? The antics of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen are reminiscent of Billy Martin when he was managing the Aís. Martinís problems were alcohol-related, of course, and thereís o indication that Guillen has that problem. He also has a grace period because his team won the last World Series. But if he doesnít get his temper under control, that grace period will be very short.

AGASSIíS EXIT: Everybody in the tennis world will miss Andre Agassi, who has said this will be his last season on tour, because heís been a great ambassador for the sport. When he played in Barry MacKayís local tournament (now the SAP Open), for instance, he would do interviews with anybody who asked. That was in marked contrast with Pete Sampras, who made it obvious that he regarded media types as unnecessary evils. Perhaps match spectators sensed that self-absorbed attitude because they didnít respond much to Sampras, though he was a great player. But everybody has loved Agassi.


CRUISE WITH ME: I am organizing a sports-oriented cruise of the Panama Canal, Feb. 16 to March 3, starting in San Diego and ending in Fort Lauderdale, aboard Holland Americaís Volendam. While weíre at sea, we will have sports seminars and discussions about your favorite teams. For further information and prices, please contact my travel agent, Janice Hough, at janicehough@yahoo.com.

TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS!: I thank those who have used this link and hope you will continue to use it to buy or sell tickets to sports and cultural events, locally and nationally.

BONUS COLUMN: I usually steer clear of nostalgia but Iíve had a lot of requests lately to write about my career experiences, so Iíve decided Iíll write a Saturday column this week on what the sports world was like when I started covering the Raiders in 1967.

LETTERS: I've updated this section

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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