Ben Braun, Chris Webber, Stanford Band
--Recruiting. I am indebted to a reader, Phi Litchenstein, who combed through the Pac-10 recruiting classes, 2002-2008, to compile this data.
Five star recruits: Arizona 8, UCLA 5, Washington 4, USC 3, Stanford 2, Oregon 2, Cal 1.
Four star recruits: UCLA 13, Washington 12, Arizona 11, USC 10, Cal 9, Oregon 6, Stanford 5, Arizona State 3.
Three-star recruits: Arizona State 19, USC 18, Oregon 13, Oregon State 12, Stanford 10, Washington State 9, Cal 9.
Cal ranks in the bottom half of the conference when the three categories are combined, and it’s even worse than it seems because several highly recruited players have transferred or not played, notably Marquis Kately, Dominic McGuire, Kevin Langford and Sam Rayburn.
Significantly, Washing State and Arizona State are doing better with recruiting classes inferior to Cal’s, which is a clear indictment of Braun’s coaching.
Because of Braun’s poor recruiting, he has only six players who are good players by Pac-10 standards: Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Ryan Anderson, DeVon Hardin, Harper Kamp (freshman) and Jamal Boykin, a transfer.
And, Braun doesn’t even play his best players. You’ll note that Eric Vierneisel is not included in the list above and yet, he’s starting, which mystifies everybody I’ve talked to, as it does me. Perhaps Braun likes Vierneisel’s consistency: He is a below average shooter, a below average rebounder and a below average defensive player.
Meanwhile, Boykin, who looks very good when he’s in there, plays much less. Go figure.
In the Stanford game, Cardinal coach Trent Johnson started Robin Lopez so the seven-footer could guard Anderson, the Bears’ best player. The strategy worked: Anderson didn’t get into double figures in the scoring column until the final minute of play. Braun could have countered that move by moving Anderson to the wing, shooting three-pointers, which he does well. That would have forced Lopez to come outside to guard him, where his size wouldn’t be a big factor – and which would also have taken Lopez away from the defensive boards. My guess is that Johnson would have changed strategy, but Braun didn’t make the move.
Brook Lopez scored 23 points in the second half, and the Stanford offense was simple: Pass the ball inside and let Lopez shoot. Braun should have had Hardin front him, at least part of the time, because it was clear Hardin couldn’t stop him otherwise without fouling. But Braun never made that switch, and Hardin fouled out when the game was still on the line.
These were especially obvious coaching mistakes, but fans and writers can easily pick apart Braun’s strategy in every game.
--Conference record. Braun is at .500 with his conference records – five winning seasons, five losing season, one 9-9 – but his record is going downhill, with only one winning season in the last four and headed for another mark well below .500. The Bears early schedule was a favorable one, with five of their first seven games at Haas Pavilion, but they’re 2-5 in those seven games and headed for a two-game set in Washington which they’ll probably lose. They’re ninth in the conference and likely to stay there.
Braun usually schedules easy teams for pre-conference games, to artificially inflate his overall record, but that probably hurts the Bears. Pete Newell always wanted to schedule tough pre-conference games so his team would know the level at which they had to play in January. Braun’s teams never develop that toughness, playing against non-conference cream puffs.
Braun was a better coach early in his Cal career because he listened to his assistants. He stopped doing that fairly early, though, and his assistants know better than to approach him with any ideas contrary to his own.
So do the players. A source close to the players said that one player complained in a huddle during an early game this season that he didn't understand what Braun was saying. Braun screamed at him to shut up, so players no longer speak back to him. As I’ve noted before, they’re obviously confused coming out of those huddles. Anderson said after one loss that the players had no idea what they were supposed to be doing in the final minute of the game.
On the way to the game last Saturday, a fan asked me, “If you’re on another job for 12 years and your job performance steadily declines, what happens?”
His question was rhetorical, because the hypothetical worker would get fired. Braun should meet a similar fate after this season. Take note, Sandy Barbour.
BACK TO THE FUTURE?
Few things surprise me in sports any more, but I have to confess that I was blindsided by the Warriors’ signing of Chris Webber. Apparently, he and Warriors coach Don Nelson have resolved their personality differences from the past and had been talking about this for months.With that personality conflict resolved, there is no danger that Webber will upset team chemistry because the players have all publicly welcomed him aboard.
At this stage, Webber’s pluses and minuses are obvious. He’s a good shooter, good rebounder and good passer, so the Warriors will have another tool for their half-court offense. He is no more than average as a defender and can’t be expected to keep up with the fast break offense.
It underscores the bigger problem, though, that I noted in last week’s column: Nelson has no patience with young, big players. That was the problem the first time around with Webber, who was definitely NBA-ready when he arrived but couldn’t meet Nelson’s tough standards. The players the Warriors have drafted recently – Patrick O’Bryant, Kosta Perovic – are projects, and Nelson isn’t prepared to be a kindergarten teacher. Brandan Wright is further along, but Nelson’s not ready to give him significant playing time, either.
Webber will help, but he’s not the answer for the Warriors’ size problem. He might give them enough to help them get into the playoffs in the tough Western conference, but the Warriors remain the most exciting but most flawed team in the NBA. So, enjoy the regular season excitement because there won’t be much in the playoffs – if the Warriors even get there.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS: Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated picked the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl because of his personal history. In January, 1969, when he was covering the New York Jets, he had a hunch that the Jets would win the Super Bowl but backed off. This time, he also had a hunch, so he was riding it..
I’ve known Zimmerman for 40 years because I was covering the Raiders at the time he was covering the Jets, and nobody knows football better than he does. But, aside from his hunches, there is no similarity between that Super Bowl and this one.
In 1968, the AFL and NFL did not have interlocking schedules, so there was no accurate way to measure the relative strength of the Super Bowl teams. The assumption of both media and fans was that the NFL was a much stronger league. In retrospect, it was the Green Bay Packers, one of the great dynasty teams in NFL history, which made the league look stronger. The Packers were in decline by the 1968 season and the AFL was much stronger than anybody realized.
The Jets victory in the third Super Bowl was regarded as a big upset, but the Jets were probably stronger than the Baltimore team they beat – and so were the Raiders, who had lost to the Jets in the AFC championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs, an AFL team, won the next year. When the leagues were restructured into two conferences, the AFC won nine of the next 11 Super Bowls, with Dallas having the only two NFC wins in that time.
Now, with the interlocking schedule, it’s much easier to compare teams. The Patriots haven’t lost all season, and they will complete their undefeated season with a win in the Super Bowl.
Zimmerman should have followed his hunch 39 years ago, but he should have ignored this one.
NO CLASS: While the Cal band was playing the school’s alma mater song before Saturday’s game, the Stanford band shouted, “We’ve got the Axe! We’ve got the Axe!”
That was in shockingly bad taste, but hardly a surprise. In the much more traditional ‘60s, the Stanford band was entertaining, but those days are long behind us. In recent years, they’ve become infamous for halftime stunts in bad taste and bad behavior in general. The university should deep-six them and get a real band.
RADIO: I'll be on KNBR at 5:35 p.m. Thursday.
SUPER BOWL tickets are available through the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page.There are several big college basketball matchups available, including UCLA-USC on Feb. 17, Duke-North Carolina, Feb. 6 and March 8, and Michigan State at Indiana, Feb. 16. In the NBA, the Boston Celtics have big matchups with the Dallas Mavericks, Jan. 31, and the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Feb. 10. In the entertainment field, Hannah Montana is still the hottest attraction, and shows with Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovie and Eric Clapton are also big. Just click on either the Bay Area or national link for these and other shows or sports events in which you’re interested. 115
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