Cal has all the pieces to be special

ByDick Vitale ESPN logo
Monday, November 2, 2015

In the world of college basketball coaching, leaders often benefit from a change of scenery.

That has certainly been the case for Cuonzo Martin out at California. I felt he got a raw deal at Tennessee, and he left for greener pastures out west.

His Vols made an NCAA tournament run, but it seemed like he couldn't please the fans down in Knoxville. They wanted Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines at Rocky Top, and their feelings of displeasure with Martin were one reason he went to Cal.

Martin is a battler, a survivor in the game of life. He has beaten cancer.

In the Pac-12, Arizona and UCLA are usually the favorites for the title. This season, expect to hear a lot from the Golden Bears. I believe California has the talent to be in the top 20, with the potential to make a serious run come tournament time.

It starts with veteran leadership. Martin has 6-foot-5 senior guard Tyrone Wallace returning; I was really impressed when I saw him play in New York during a tournament last season. He should show up on preseason All-America lists.

Wallace is joined by veteran running mates Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird. If you want to hear somebody rave about Matthews, call Washington's Lorenzo Romar; the guard lit up the Huskies for 31 points last season.

California's veterans have something to prove. The Golden Bears opened 10-1 last season but ended up finishing 18-15, including a blowout loss to Arizona to end the year. They were 7-11 in the Pac-12.

Another reason for optimism is a pair of All-Rolls Royce Diaper Dandies in Jaylen Brown and big man Ivan Rabb. These are two very talented impact players who make a difference right from the start.

This team established some chemistry already, competing in an exhibition tour in Australia. California went 3-1, with the lone loss coming in overtime.

My friends, Martin and the Golden Bears will make a lot of noise in the upcoming season.