BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Each member of the California basketball team has his own definition of what it is to be a man, a recent topic of conversation for the Golden Bears during one of their weekly chat sessions focused more on life than athletics.
This is just one focal point for second-year Cal coach Cuonzo Martin as he tries to best prepare his players for anything that might come up during college or later on – from a difficult family or personal matter to an unforeseen crisis or world event.
“It’s good to hear each other’s opinions on certain issues,” guard Sam Singer said Wednesday. “There are going to be arguments on certain things, we’re not going to see eye to eye but for us to be able to communicate through those disagreements and come to a solid conclusion is something that will help on the court as well. They’ve been very productive.”
Martin started this at his first coaching stop, Missouri State.
“It’s just really about life, not necessarily about basketball,” he said.
The meetings they call “Real Talk” happen on a weekend day in the locker room after breakfast, led by director of basketball operations Marco Harris. Martin turns up from time to time if he happens to be around, but if he joins in it is clear he is a peer and not an authority figure so that everyone feels comfortable speaking his mind openly and honestly.
“We just talk about different subjects of life, different things going on around the world,” said guard Tyrone Wallace, who returned for his senior season rather than entering the NBA draft. “It is a team-builder. We get to learn from each other as well as the coaches and the staff who attend. It’s just a chance for us to be together and bond.”
That process began during the team’s August tour of Australia.
Martin is all about providing examples from his own path. Perspective is one of those teaching points. He used to be so devastated by a loss it would ruin his entire day.
“It took me years to learn it’s just a ballgame,” he said. “When I was able to embrace it I was probably 23 years old.”
One thing Cal doesn’t need to discuss is the high expectations for this team, with the national spotlight already on the Bears and their star-studded freshmen. The group features what’s considered a top-five recruiting class in the nation led by local forward Ivan Rabb out of Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High and Jaylen Brown from Marietta, Georgia. Both will make an immediate impact for the Bears, who finished 18-15 and eighth in the Pac-12 at 7-11.
Now, the belief around Berkeley is that the Bears can contend for a conference title again not to mention an overdue NCAA Tournament run. The Bears last made the tournament in 2013 and took a six-point loss to eventual Final Four participant Syracuse. In 2009-10, Cal captured its first conference regular-season crown in 50 years.
“I don’t think we read too much into stuff on the outside,” Singer said. “We’re all very motivated, so we set high expectations for ourselves. We know what we want to accomplish and know how good we can be, so it’s up to us to determine how we do it with all the potential we have.”
Junior Stephen Domingo, a transfer from Georgetown who gets his first chance for the Bears after coming back home to the Bay Area, has been impressed with how the young players have participated in the chat sessions. Their on-court play is generating serious interest, too, considering the gathering of NBA scouts in the stands at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday as Cal went to work.
“These are some of the most mature freshmen I’ve ever met,” Domingo said. “They know how to carry conversations past basketball. It’s a great group of guys Coach Martin brought in. Jaylen, Ivan, Roman (Davis), they’re wise beyond their years, so they can talk about any controversial issue. It’s nice to know they’re well-rounded young men.”