The Cal basketball team heads into the off season searching for a head coach and stability, following the abrupt resignation of Cuonzo
In the fall of 2015 everything was rosy with two blue-chip recruits to go with an experienced supporting cast and a head coach on the rise. Guard Tyrone Wallace was so intrigued by the Bears' prospects he opted out of the NBA draft and decided to stick around for his senior year.
But two seasons later all the Bears have to show for that all that promise is one NCAA Tournament appearance and an upset loss as a fourth seed and a totally dispiriting loss to Cal State Bakersfield in the NIT opener (and closer) Tuesday night.
One of those top-flight recruits, forward Jaylen Brown, left after his freshman year. The other, All-Pac 12 forward Ivan Rabb, who was suddenly unavailable to play Tuesday night, is sure to follow shortly.
Martin is already out the door, having accepted a seven year deal at Missouri. He was 62-39 in three years at Cal.
Director of Athletics Mike Williams said, "Cuonzo Martin informed me this morning that he is resigning to accept a position at another school. We put forth our best effort to retain him, but he told me it wasn't about Cal, rather a strong desire to move closer to home. We appreciate all that Cuonzo has done with our men's basketball program over the past three seasons, creating excitement inside Haas Pavilion, guiding our team to a pair of postseason appearances and improving the academic performance of our student-athletes."
Martin's first head coaching job was at Missouri State, so Mizzou would represent a return to familiar territory.
Martin's contract contains buyout clauses. With this departure, he will have to pay Cal $1.1 million. His new employer will probably help him with that, if not pick up the whole tab.
Williams, who just three months ago fired head football coach Sonny Dykes in part because of his pursuit of other jobs, did not respond to a Bear Insider request for comment.
Rabb, who is projected to be chosen near the middle of the first round of the NBA draft, is expected to declare for the draft any day now. He did not play Tuesday night and his unavailability was announced just hours before tipoff.
The press release said simply Rabb was out with "a foot injury." The reaction from the press corps and what few fans were in attendance was skepticism. Rabb's not playing in a definite second tier postseason game drew comparisons to Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey's decision to forego the Bluebonnet Bowl to concentrate on his NFL draft status. In other words he didn't want to risk injury in a game he felt meant little. Rabb's motives might have been similar.
In his postgame press conference Martin said Rabb "has had an issue with his foot," and that the ailment was plantar fasciitis. Rabb missed time earlier in the season with the foot problem; some of my family members have dealt with plantar fasciitis so I know (second hand but up close) how painful it can be. Merely walking can be excruciating, let alone playing basketball. Still, the timing is curious.
Cal was also without leading scorer Jabari Bird, who was still under concussion protocol following his frightening fall in last Friday night's game. Bird, who also missed last postseason and six games this year with back spasms, averaged 14.3 points per game.
As Martin pointed out the Bears did not have enough depth to compensate for the loss of their two top scorers (Rabb averaged 14.0). They were basically out of Tuesday night's game after ten minutes, although they did excite the nearly-empty gym (crowd count 1,778) with a bit of late run, inspired by an unusual cast.
The Bears cut a 25-point lead down to eight with two minutes left and during the bulk of that spurt big men Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks were on the bench, as was starting point guard Charlie Moore.
The lineup at various stages during the run included Don Coleman, who made his first start of the year, Cole Welle, Roman Davis, Stephen Domingo, Nick Hamilton along with senior guards Sam Singer and Grant Mullins.
Coleman, who finished with 26 points, Welle, Davis and Hamilton will all return next season and earned valuable experience. Coleman, who provides energy if not always wisdom, can become a productive player if he learns some discipline. He has considerable athletic ability, although some of his wild shots are nothing short of turnovers as they have no chance of getting to the rim, much less through it.
Welle, a 6-7 junior who played just 38 minutes all season coming in, contributed six points and seven rebounds in his 12 minutes Tuesday. He is worth a long look next season.
Although the Bears lose major contributors Rabb, Bird, Singer, Mullins, Domingo and Roger Moute a Bidias, the new coach may well have a decent recruiting class and a major transfer coming in.
Marcus Lee, 6-10, who spent three years at Kentucky, has been with the team all year, ineligible to play because of NCAA transfer rules. A five-star recruit out of Deer Valley High in Antioch, he will bring a formidable inside presence and help make up for the loss of Rabb.
The cupboard is not entirely bare for Cal's next head coach - but uncertainties will bear close watching in coming weeks & months.