Ben Braun, Randy Bennett, Cal Women
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 27, 2008

IF BEN BRAUN is finally shown the door at Cal, who would be his replacement. I’ve had three suggestions from readers:

--Mark Few, who has made Gonzaga a nationl power. Few would be a good choice, but he seems happy at Gonzaga. Certainly, he has had opportunities to move to more prominent programs. He’s been able to sustain his success at Gonzaga and will almost certainly be in the NCAA tournament again this year. I don’t pretend to know Few well – we’ve had only a handful of brief conversations – but my gut tells me he wouldn’t want to take on the Cal challenge.

--Mike Montgomery. Many Cal alums have suggested Montgomery since he was fired by the Warriors, but there is no chance that Montgomery would come to Berkeley because he’s a Stanford loyalist.

For a time earlier, there was some back-and-forth in football between the two schools. John Ralston went from playing for Pappy Waldorf at Cal to coaching a Stanford team that won back-to-back Rose Bowls. Mike White went from playing for Cal to being an assistant on Ralston’s great Stanford staff and back to head coach at his alma mater. Bill Walsh had his first college coaching experience at Cal before going to Stanford on that Ralston staff and later to two stints as head coach.

There hasn’t been that kind of switching for a long time, though, and never in basketball. It won’t start with Montgomery, who is now working as a fund raiser for the Stanford athletic department. He wouldn’t think of coming to Berkeley. Neither would current Stanford coach Trent Johnson, who was a player and an assistant coach at Stanford earlier. When I talked to Johnson a couple of weeks ago, he called Stanford his “dream job.” Johnson is doing a great job this year with a team that has the “Twin Towers”, the Lopez twins, but nowhere near the overall athletic ability of UCLA, which is barely ahead of the Cardinal in the Pac-10. I would imagine that Johnson will have a long career at Stanford.

--Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s. Bennett would be my choice. He’s done a remarkable job with the Gaels, who could win the WCC by beating Gonzaga on Saturday, not an easy task because Gonzaga has won 50 of its last 52 home games. Even if they lose, the Gaels should have an excellent shot at an at-large bid for the tournament.

Gary Radnich had told me I would love Bennett when I met him and, as always, Gary was right. When I met with Bennett for the first time last week, we had a lengthy, relaxed conversation. He’s refreshingly without pretension, unlike Braun, who has a carefully crafted persona when dealing with media

More to the point, Bennett has put together a winning combination at St. Mary’s of coaching and recruiting. St. Mary’s is not exactly a Mecca for basketball recruits, so he’s mined the “Australian connection,” including the team’s freshman point guard, Patty Mills. “The basketball community is not a big one there,” he said. “They all know each other because they play against each other all the way up. So, you can find out who the good players are pretty easily.”

In addition to winning, the Gaels are fun to watch because of their style of play. “We’ve got five guys who can score,” said Bennett, “so nobody can concentrate on shutting down just one or two players.” Indeed, in the Gaels’ last win, Mills put up only three shots.

Bennett’s predecessor, Ernie Kent, parlayed his success at St. Mary’s into the head job at Oregon. I didn’t ask Bennett if he would like to move on because that’s a question he can’t answer at this time. I believe he’d be interested in Cal, though, and I’d like to see him in Berkeley. I think he’d be a good fit.

Meanwhile, Braun is under increasing fire. The originators of the firebenbraun@yahoo.com website are organizing a rally at Sproul Plaza before Thursday night’s game against Washington State. I’d expect that to be well attended.

CAL WOMEN: In stark contrast to the men’s program, the Cal women are definitely on the rise, though they couldn’t quite get over the Stanford hump last Saturday. It was nonetheless a very exciting game and drew a crowd of more than 10,500, the largest ever to see a Pac-10 women’s game.

When the women’s pro basketball leagues began, many men, including me, who had played basketball in their youth, commented that the women’s game was much closer to the style we’d played than the game that is played in the NBA now. When I was playing high school basketball (poorly), there was no dunking or even jump shots.

The comparison between the women’s game and what I experienced much earlier is no longer valid. The women still don’t dunk, largely because of the size difference with the men; a 6-4 women will be a center, but a 6-4 man is a guard. But in other respects, there’s no difference. The Cal-Stanford game was a fast, physical one. The women shoot three-pointers and they handle the ball very well, executing fast breaks and slashing to the hoop.

My guess is that many fans who had not been watching the women’s game but came out Saturday will be back for more – and they’ll tell their friends.

That has an important economic impact for Cal. The women’s program has a chance to provide significant revenue to the athletic department, especially important now that attendance at men’s games is in a sharp decline .

BASEBALL INSIGHTS: No serious baseball fan should be without “Baseball Prospecturs 2008.” Following in the trail blazed by Bill James, analysts go beyond the basic batting average/pitcher ERA stats to predict what will happen with teams and individual players.

It’s not just a collection of statistics, either. Even if your eyes glaze over in examining the various statistics – a failing of mine, I must admit – there are extensive evaluations in pithy prose.

The analysts don’t pull any punches. Here are some samples from the analysis of the Giants: “”In terms of their overall organizational strength, from their 25-man roster on down to their rookie ball clubs, the Giants have quite possibly the weakest group of players in baseball.” (Speaking of Rich Aurilia), “The Giants are just lousy with veterans who would make fairly good reserves but whom they treat as regulars.”. . . “No franchise has wasted more money on marginal upgrades. This is a diseased organization that needs a complete and thorough cleansing, from the owner’s box on down.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Editor Christina Kahrl, one of only three who has been involved in all 13 editions of the book, will make an appearance at 7:30 p.m., March 10, at Books, Inc, 1344 Park Street, Alameda. Among other subjects, she will discuss the upcoming season, steroids and local teams. She has an interest in one of them. Though she now lives in Chicago, she still roots for the team of her childhood, the Oakland A’s.

CORRECTIONS: In last week’s note about the campaign to get John Brodie into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I mis-identified his daughter, Erin, as his sister. . . If you're trying to reach Oakland Tech baseball coach Eric Clayton regarding the school's "Field of Dreams", the best e-mail address is coachclayton33@yahoo.com.

BIG VINNY RANTS: Rich Lieberman is now discussing topics of the day in segments before newscasts, morning and evening, on KRTB, 860 AM. Is the world ready for this?


TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood have big shows at Madison Square Garden through Feb. 28, Bon Jovi is in Washington D.C. on Feb. 28 and Philadelphia on March 2. There are many more events available. Tickets are also available for important college basketball matchups, such as Kansas State-Kansas, March 1 and North Carolina-Duke, March 8. In the NBA, the Boston Celtics face Charlotte on Feb. 29, Atlanta on March 2 and the Detroit Pistons, March 5. Tickets are also available for Bay Area college teams, Cal, Stanford, USF, St. Mary’s and Santa Clara. For these events and others, just click on the local and national links below and they’ll all come up

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