It's not about the hype.
That's what Cal freshman Shareef Abdur-Rahim's T-shirt says
these days, and it is a sentiment shared by all of the Golden
Bears. "That's going to be our slogan this year," says coach
Todd Bozeman. "No hype, no prisoners."
Last year Cal roared to a 7-0 start, but the Golden Bears
drowned in their own press clippings and went 6-14 the rest of
the way, including a 5-13 record in the Pac-10. "Once we had our
winning streak, guys started doing their own thing," says
sophomore point guard Jelani Gardner. "We stopped playing a team
Adds Bozeman, "We need to learn how to handle success."
The Bears need to learn that lesson quickly because they have as
much talent as any team in the country. Harnessing these horses
will be the key, and already Bozeman is reaching for the
leather. After asking his players to work out intensely in the
off-season, Bozeman has instituted daily 5:45 a.m. practices
for this season. "Not a single guy complained," says Alfred
Grigsby, Cal's lone senior. "That's how dedicated we are to
taking care of business."
Grigsby's return to form is pivotal. As a sophomore in 1992-93,
the 6'9", 235-pound Grigsby led the Pac-10 in field goal
percentage and was on the verge of becoming a dominant player in
college basketball. Knee and hamstring injuries, though, forced
him to redshirt the following year, and last season was washed
out by a back injury. It's no coincidence that Cal's downward
spiral began after Grigsby went down in the eighth game of the
season. He was Cal's anchor, not only on the boards and in the
post but also emotionally.
Now, after having had surgery to repair a bulging disk, Grigsby
is again ready to be the straw that stirs the drink. "The
coaches, my teammates, everybody's been telling me that this is
my team," Grigsby says. "I like that. I want to be there for the
guys to look to when things aren't going our way."
The mere presence of Grigsby--who his teammates know has sweated
through two difficult years of rehab--should inspire the Bears to
work harder. If more is needed, Grigsby has a bass-thumping
rumble of a voice, with a Texas drawl thick as crude oil, and
he's not shy about offering, uh, pep talks. "With Al you can't
always make out the words," says junior center Michael Stewart,
"but he has no trouble making his feelings clear."
Grigsby's inside presence should open things up for Abdur-Rahim,
a lithe, 6'10" forward from Marietta, Ga., who is already
penciled in on the starting lineup. Abdur-Rahim has marvelous
perimeter skills but is smart enough to know he belongs in the
paint, where he can use his quickness and crafty moves.
Abdur-Rahim's trail to Cal has drawn the attention of the NCAA's
bloodhounds. During his recruitment last September, Abdur-Rahim
wanted to see the Berkeley campus but was unable to make an
official visit on Cal's nickel because he had not satisfied his
SAT requirement (he later scored 930). Former LSU star and
current Denver Nugget Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf paid for the trip. The
NCAA is investigating whether Cal grad student Hashim Alauddeen,
an acquaintance of both players, acted as a representative of
the university when he helped set up the visit. If so, it would
be a violation of NCAA rules.
Cal needs Abdur-Rahim. "Shareef will be one of our go-to guys,"
Bozeman says. Rounding out a devastating front line is sophomore
Tremaine Fowlkes (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), last year's Pac-10
Freshman of the Year. Fowlkes is also the subject of an
investigation; the school is looking into whether or not he had
dealings with an agent. Indisputably, Fowlkes does have agents
drooling. He has muscles in places where most players don't even
have places, and his explosive inside game is complemented by
smooth play on the wings. Tre, as he's known to teammates, has
been working on his jumper, too, so expect him to knock down
more treys this season. "If Tre makes threes consistently, he
will be impossible to stop," says Gardner.
Critical to Cal's success is the development of the 6'6" Gardner
(10.7 ppg, 6.5 apg) at point guard. His on-the-job training last
year produced mixed results. But Gardner has matured, and since
last summer, when he was taken to school by Jason Kidd and Gary
Payton in pickup games, so has his game. "I feel so much older
and wiser now," Gardner says. "If only I could've known last
year what I know now. Like, don't just settle for the outside
shot, don't play soft and don't be afraid to be a leader--after
all, you are the point guard."
Starting alongside Gardner in the backcourt is junior Ed Gray,
Cal's secret weapon. As a freshman at Tennessee in 1993-94, Gray
averaged 15.0 points per game, and last year he was a juco
All-America at the College of Southern Idaho. The 6'3",
200-pound Gray is a heady player with a sweet outside shot and
is a rim-rattling finisher in transition.
The bench is deep and talented. After just two seasons, Stewart,
a lanky 6'10", is already the school's alltime leader in blocked
shots (108), and junior guard Randy Duck (9.6 ppg) is a scrappy
competitor who dropped in 38 treys last year. Point guard
Prentice McGruder, also a juco All-America last season, will
push Gardner and is a defensive stopper who can slow down the
water-bug point guards who rule the Pac-10. Another newcomer,
6'10", 255-pound freshman Kenyon Jones, will add more beef to
the front line, and Tony Gonzalez, a 6'6", 235-pound brute who
doubles as Cal's starting tight end, had a solid freshman season
(7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 64% shooting) and will be ready to rumble
after the football season.
As stacked as the Bears are, the biggest challenge they'll face
this season is settling into their respective roles and
following the dictum on Abdur-Rahim's shirt.
"We don't care about the personal stuff and all the hype, we
care about winning," Stewart says. "If that means some of us
have to sit on the bench, then that's what we'll do."
Grigsby agrees. "Believe me," he says, "nobody is going to have
any trouble putting the team first. I'll make sure of that."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH After summer school with Kidd and Payton, Gardner has some pro-style tricks. [Jelani Gardner]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Todd Bozeman
Career record: 46-24 (3 seasons)
Record at Cal: 46-24 (3 seasons)
1994-95 record: 13-14 (final ranking: none)
Pac-10 record: 5-13 (tied for eighth)
SF *Tremaine Fowlkes, 6'7", Soph.
Led team with 6.7 boards per game
PF Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 6'10", Fr.
Averaged 31.0 ppg at Wheeler (Ga.) High
C Alfred Grigsby, 6'9", Sr.
Played in just 15 of Bears' last 57 games
SG Ed Gray, 6'3", Jr.
Shot 52.6% from the field as juco in '94-95
PG *Jelani Gardner, 6'6", Soph.
Dished out 6.5 assists per game
Dec. 16 at Minnesota
Cal is 6-13 against Big Ten on the road
Dec. 20 vs. Cincinnati
Bears beat Bearcats 89-76 last season
Jan. 11 at USC
Cal leads 79-year series 107-106
Jan. 13 at UCLA
Bears one of two teams to beat Bruins in '94-95
March 2 vs. Stanford
Cardinal swept series last year, first time since '91-92
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
Flashy uniforms and Midnight Madness may dazzle some wide-eyed
recruits, but not Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He had more substantive
reasons for choosing Cal. Twice named Mr. Georgia Basketball at
Wheeler High in Marietta, Abdur-Rahim was enticed by Berkeley's
vibrant Muslim community. "My religion is very important to me,"
says Abdur-Rahim, whose father is an imam (prayer leader) at an
"He's very mature," says Cal coach Todd Bozeman of Abdur-Rahim.
"His religion has provided him a solid base and an inner peace."
But don't think this serene, cerebral young man will get pushed
around by the rude boys under the basket. "Oh, don't worry,"
says his teammate Alfred Grigsby. "Shareef's got some bulldog in