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Fox Breaks Down Roster, New Additions Heading Into Season

July 30, 2022
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After a challenging 12-20/5-15 season in 2021-22, the Bears will have a much different look this season following the departures of Andre Kelly, Jordan Shepherd, Grant Anticevich, Makale Foreman, Demetrios Klonaras and DJ Thorpe.

The Bears added four new additions to the team in frosh big men ND Okafor‍ and Grant Newell‍ and transfer guards Devin Askew‍ and Dejuan Clayton‍.

“Grant’s (Newell) been there for about seven weeks,” said Fox. “ND (Okafor) has been there for three, I think. ND finished playing in Mexico (after Ireland) and had to get his visa appointments lined up. That took a little bit of time so he’s only been there for about 3 weeks and Grant has been there for twice that.

“I would say that they’re both different but strikingly long and athletic, powerful at the rim. Grant has a post grad additional year with his year at IMG and he is significantly ahead of where most freshman would be. Got a lot of great reps, good training and he’s really adjusted well. He can shoot 3s. He’s long and powerful, and he can block a lot of shots.”

Okafor’s a bit more on the raw side but with lots of upside with his athleticism and and strength.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Fox of Okafor. “ND is 6’9 with a 7 something wingspan, has an NBA body already. He just jumps right over you. Right-handed or left-handed he will just jump over you and put it in the basket.”

“He has great hands. But they both have legitimate Pac-10… Pac-12… whatever we call our league now, frontline size and athleticism. That is so necessary for basket protection and to finish plays. They’re both mobile laterally so they can switch defenders.

“Grant (Newell) is probably 6-8/225, ND is 6-9/235. I would say (ND) is a 5, maybe a little 4 and Grant maybe 4 and a little 5. I don’t think Grant will play much 3 at all. He’s big. I don’t think we’ll see him at the 3 at all.”

Another newcomer is senior grad transfer guard Dejuan Clayton‍. At Coppin State in 2020-21, Clayton  was named to the All-MEAC First Team, averaging 14.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. His 5.2 assists per game ranked second in the MEAC along with his 1.9 assists/turnover ratio, while his 1.6 steals were seventh. His grad transfer season last year at Hartford was cut short just two games into the season. He’s back healthy now and ready to go.

“DeJuan just knows how to score,” said Fox. “He had over 1,500 points at Coppin State. Hes a lot like (Jordan) Shepard, not as big as Shepard. But a better 3-point shooter and just knows how to play. He knows how to get baskets, get to the foul line, and make people better. He will play 1 and 2. We have a lot of interchangeable parts which is what I like. A lot of versatility, which is where the game of positionless basketball is going. You have to have the ability to guard multiple positions which we haven’t had and now were starting to look like we do.

“The summer is about skill development and physical development,” noted Fox. “We’ll start our practices in the morning, so we’ll get a gauge of what our true defense is but the ingredients seem to be there.”

Portal transfer combo guard Devin Askew is yet another of the new arrivals. The Bears got good news when Askew was cleared to play this season after his transfer, adding much-needed depth and scoring potential. The former Top 150 prep player from Mater Dei left school a year early and started his true frosh season at Kentucky in 2020-21. The 6-3/200 Askew averaged 6.5 points, 2.9 assists & 2.6 rebounds per game, starting in 20 games for the Wildcats. As a soph after transferring to Texas, Askew averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 assists in 14.9 minutes per game over 34 games played. At Cal, his minutes should increase significantly as should the green light to shoot and create scoring opportunities.

“You compare guys who left early like the best comparison would be (Johnny) Juzang,” said Fox. Skipped his senior year and went to Kentucky and Devin (Askew) started about 20 games at Kentucky during that pandemic year but being put in that league, it’s hard. You don’t just skip to that.

“He has size, he can score off the dribble, excellent passer, really good defender and he made a jump like you mentioned, it might have rattled his confidence. It might have gotten a little heavy and it woke him up a little too much but he’s been great since his arrival. He can play in both spots with the ball in his hands.”

The 2021 class saw the Bears bring in four new additions, with three remaining after senior guard Jordan Shepherd’s graduation: Wing Sam Alajiki, small forward Obinna Anyanwu and shooting guard Marsalis Roberson.

The frosh leader of the class was former Irish national player Alajiki, a 6-7/220 small forward Alajiki. He played in 30 games and made four starts, becoming the first Cal player to earn Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors (honorable mention) since Jaylen Brown & Ivan Rabb in 2015-16, averaging 3.1 points & 1.9 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game. He shot 50 percent from 3-point range, knocking down 20-of-40 attempts. He’s recently back after leading the Irish U20 national team in scoring in international pool play this summer.

“I think he (Sam Alajiki) lit up the scoring,” said Fox. “It’s great experience for him. Everyone hopes they’ll be better as a sophomore than a freshman. And I think playing helped him realize he can be more than a guy off the bench that can make a 3. He’s had a good offseason. The spring for Sam and the early summer were really good. We didn’t have him for a month, and he just got back but I think he’s worked hard trying to be comfortable and be more complete offensive player. It looks like hes done that.”

6-7/225 small forward Anyanwu dipped his toe in the water as a frosh, playing five minutes a game, with his top performance coming against Washington where he scored 10 points for the Bears.

“Beans (Obinna Anyanwu) has been great,” said Fox. “He’s really matured in so many ways. Eventually the game slows down for everybody. Last year when Andre got hurt, we put him in an impossible situation. Like, ‘Beans, go play in this spot you’ve never practiced in.’ So he’s a versatile guy. Great rebounder, good body, but he needs to get comfortable enough on the court for the game to slow down. He’s had a real good offseason.”

The third frosh member of last year’s class, former Bishop O’Dowd shooting guard Marsalis Roberson had his season derailed early last year. The 6-6/200 former 4 star prep saw action in 17 games, with his highlight being a six rebound performance vs. ASU.

“Marsalis (Roberson) had a very tough injury the start of last year as he missed all of October,” said Fox. “But he’s quick, slashes, gets a lot of rebounds, makes plays at the rim. But again, this is about experience. He’s going to make some mistakes and some wow plays, but he;s a smart, bright, athletic guy that can guard 3 positions. Offensively, we’ll keep it simple for him till he gains his confidence.”

The 2020 class featured 6-7/195 small forward Monty Bowser, 6-7/215 shooting guard Jalen Celestine and 6-3/195 portal transfer shooting guard Jarred Hyder.

The most productive member of the ‘20 class, Celestine played in the final 31 games of the season with 16 starts, averaging 7.5 points, 3.1 rebounds & .9 assists in 25 minutes per game. Offseason knee surgery put Celestine on the shelf coming into this season, though there’s hope that he might be back at some point, maybe during conference play.

“Jalen had surgery in the spring,” noted Fox. “He may make it back but it all depends on his body responds.”

Bowser played limited minutes in 17 games as a true frosh but missed the entire 2021-22 season last year to injury.

“Monty had probably the worst ankle sprain I have ever seen,” said Fox. “It didn’t require surgery, but he was out 8-9 weeks. He is so grateful that he has redshirted, and he has played very well in the workouts this summer.

“He’s (Bowser) always going to be skinny, but he is stronger. He’s shooting the ball really well. Has the game totally slowed down for him? I don’t know if it totally has but it has a lot. We have been excited about Monty.”

Hyder has struggled with injuries at Cal since transferring from Fresno State, where he averaged 9.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31.9 minutes per game as a frosh.

“Hyder has really shot the ball well this offseason,” said Fox. “He broke his ankle at Fresno and that hindered him. He did get the waiver, he was denied the waiver, then he had a stress reaction so then we shut him down. Then they gave us the blanket waiver during Covid so we brought him back. We haven’t seen him for a month then he started playing and in the Pac-12 tournament against Stanford, he broke it. Then he was casting and it didn’t work so he elected surgery. So now he’s finally had an offseason where he can practice and he’s shooting it well and he has better days in front of him.”

The senior class features three holdovers in point guard Joel Brown and senior center/power forwards Kuany Kuany and Lars Thiemann.

“Joel had knee surgery,” said Fox. “Last year we didn’t want to announce it to let the opponents to know. He had knee surgery maybe a week after the season ended. So, this entire spring, all he could do is work on the technique of how to shoot the ball. I think the other day he made 48/50 free throws, so he’s made progress with his shooting. So now he knows, ‘I know I can do this better, now let’s get into a game and have some success to develop that confidence.’ But he’s finally healthy and he’s had a really mature approach this offseason. He is cleared now for this season.”

Two of Fox’s high priorities involve defensive ability and effort along with position flexibility. The fourth year Cal coach hopes this year’s roster will be strong in both elements.

“The key is not what you play on offense but what position you can guard,” said Fox. “The great thing about Devin and Joel for instance, they can guard both 1s and 2s so you can play them together. DeJuan is strong and most nights he can guard both spots. So it gives us lots of versatility there. Then you give us Monty and Marsallis - they can guard 2s (and 3s). Then we have Kuany as well. So, we just finally have some depth. We’ve always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that.”

The 6-9/200 Kuany made 16 starts in 30 games, averaging 4.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 17 minutes per game. He shot 41.3 percent (45-for-109) from the field & 31.9 percent from behind the arc (15-for-47)

“His maturity and a couple of tweaks to his stroke and his shot this spring were areas of growth for Kuany this offseason,” said Fox. “He’s had a very stable approach. Him and Lars (Thiemann) are so stable and disciplined about making incremental improvements. So, you can also see Kuany at the 3 or 4. He’s 6’9 and mobile so he gives us that versatility.”

7-1/260 center Thiemann averaged 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14 minutes played per game last season, starting the final 11 games of the season at center after Andre Kelly went down with a season-ending injury. He averaged 7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds & shot 51.9 percent (28-for-54) from the floor in 24.4 minutes played during span of 11 games started in Kelly’s absence.

“Lars’ big thing was just getting confident enough,” noted Fox. “When Andre got hurt, I showed him the stat sheet and he had 50 more baskets than anybody and he was the leading rebounder. You just have to transfer the dominance you have during practice to the games. He’s played great. Look at the game against Stanford last year and he played great. I think he’s crossed that bridge to be consistent every night.”

Last season, the Bears lacked the inside presence necessary to effectively compete against bigger opponents often last season. The hope is that some of the new arrivals will help remedy that deficit.

“That’s where ND and Grant will help us,” said Fox. “We have so many more options.”

The Bears will have the benefit of being able to compete in international play in Germany this August, allowing an earlier start to practice. They’ll need all the head start they can get with a fairly challenging early season schedule, including KSU, Butler, TCU and the winner or loser (depending on their opening game result) of the Emerald Coast Classic at Raider Arena on the campus of Northwest Florida State College.

“We have Kansas St and Butler at home,” said Fox. “Butler has loaded up on transfers and Kansas State is still adding some transfers but they a Big 12 and then there’s TCU, who is terrific. Those are big games for us. These teams will give us opportunities. With the metrics now, you have to play tougher teams to give yourself a chance. No longer can we play cupcakes. You metrics will never measure up.”

The Bears announced their non-conference schedule recently, which include seven home games in their 11-game non-con schedule which opens with UC Davis at Haas Pavilion November 7. The schedule will also feature a pair of early conference games before shifting to strictly league play in January.

Related:

Jalen Celestine To Miss Start Of 2022-23 Season

Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight Talks About Cal's Two Recent Additions

Discussion from...

Fox Breaks Down Roster, New Additions Heading Into Season

3,422 Views | 14 Replies | Last: 2 days ago by HearstMining
MoragaBear
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Lot's to chew on with this season preview, with lots of insights from Fox what to expect with the new additions. I'm sure most will be glad to see the comments on Brown's offseason shooting development, too. Now let's see if he can do it while fatigued in game situations.
stu
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Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.
upsetof86
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As much as we miss some of the departures, this looks like a better team in terms of talent and depth. Fox is a thick skinned scrappy sob I am rooting for him. I am frankly now so sick of the money grab win at all costs bs that defines college sports that guys like Fox get me fires up. I love the "I could give a shi*" comment he made re P12 or P10 or whatever we are called lol. Maybe if I heard him say it the context would be different. But I found myself muttering fuc* yes to that.
eastcoastcal
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Great insight. Awesome article!
KoreAmBear
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Yes very thorough article and finally some content for hoops. Didn't know they were going to Germany. That should be really helpful and maybe some home cooking from Lars' family.
oskidunker
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KoreAmBear said:

Yes very thorough article and finally some content for hoops. Didn't know they were going to Germany. That should be really helpful and maybe some home cooking from Lars' family.
Dates and tv for Germany?
Go Bears!
MoragaBear
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oskidunker said:

KoreAmBear said:

Yes very thorough article and finally some content for hoops. Didn't know they were going to Germany. That should be really helpful and maybe some home cooking from Lars' family.
Dates and tv for Germany?
News on that is coming out later this week
HearstMining
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stu said:

Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.

I can only assume that "play faster" in the context of defense means trapping and going for steals. Is that what others think? Joel Brown should be particularly adept at this but if they're going to do it, they'll need a rim protector for when it doesn't work.
calumnus
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HearstMining said:

stu said:

Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.

I can only assume that "play faster" in the context of defense means trapping and going for steals. Is that what others think? Joel Brown should be particularly adept at this but if they're going to do it, they'll need a rim protector for when it doesn't work.


Fox generally plays pretty deep, the rotation last year was 10 players. So by "deep" this year, it is more that we don't have clear starters like Bradley, Grant and Kelly who you want to play 35 minutes, but closer to 10 relatively equal guys playing 20 minutes each. Each will be expected to play hard on defense or sit. Maybe some pressing and trapping, as points off of steals and fast breaks would be very welcome, but as you point out we have Lars and Okafor as "bigs" and that is pretty much it, so I expect that "faster" will mostly be in the context of half court man defense. Other than hoped for fast breaks off turnovers, there is no way Fox plays faster on offense,
RedlessWardrobe
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I am really impressed from the clips I see from Okafor. It's been a long time since we've had a true PF like this recruit. Okafor appears to play big, and more importantly IS big. Hope he develops quickly.
MoragaBear
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RedlessWardrobe said:

I am really impressed from the clips I see from Okafor. It's been a long time since we've had a true PF like this recruit. Okafor appears to play big, and more importantly IS big. Hope he develops quickly.

Kind of reminiscent of Hardin
Big C
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HearstMining said:

stu said:

Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.

I can only assume that "play faster" in the context of defense means trapping and going for steals. Is that what others think? Joel Brown should be particularly adept at this but if they're going to do it, they'll need a rim protector for when it doesn't work.

Not in the context of defense, but one easy way they could play faster would be not to purposely use up clock on most every possession. Admittedly, on some of our recent rosters, that delay could have helped curtail losses. But it also produces what many consider to be boring basketball and certainly cannot help recruiting.


PS: Great report! I wish Coach Fox would "court the media" like this more often!
SFCityBear
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calumnus said:

HearstMining said:

stu said:

Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.

I can only assume that "play faster" in the context of defense means trapping and going for steals. Is that what others think? Joel Brown should be particularly adept at this but if they're going to do it, they'll need a rim protector for when it doesn't work.


Fox generally plays pretty deep, the rotation last year was 10 players. So by "deep" this year, it is more that we don't have clear starters like Bradley, Grant and Kelly who you want to play 35 minutes, but closer to 10 relatively equal guys playing 20 minutes each. Each will be expected to play hard on defense or sit. Maybe some pressing and trapping, as points off of steals and fast breaks would be very welcome, but as you point out we have Lars and Okafor as "bigs" and that is pretty much it, so I expect that "faster" will mostly be in the context of half court man defense. Other than hoped for fast breaks off turnovers, there is no way Fox plays faster on offense,
You play the players you trust. Most coaches do that. When and if Fox gets more talented players, and can trust them to play more minutes, you may see a more standard rotation of 7-8 players.

As to bigs, Anyanwu plays bigger than his size, and he will be in that mix. Kuany has the height, but maybe not the build to be a real big. He is more effective on the perimeter. But Fox may be trying to have him bulk up over the off season. It will be interesting to see where he will fit in on this team, maybe playing inside and outside. It may depend on how ready Okafor is, because we need all the rim protection defense we can get.

As to playing faster on offense, it is not smart to play faster just to be playing faster. You have to have the horses (racehorses) to play fast and be effective. Fox has never had many fast players at Cal. If you play fast and make a lot more turnovers, and don't compensate for that with greatly increased point protection, then it is not the best strategy. Even great players, if they play faster than capable, and start getting stripped of the ball in the backcourt, that hurts the team. You could see some of that in Cuonzo's teams here. It is all about matchups. You can play fast against weaker defensive teams, but against the better defensive teams, especially ones who press in the backcourt, you don't want to play so fast, you make mistakes. It plays right into their hands.
SFCityBear
HearstMining
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SFCityBear said:

calumnus said:

HearstMining said:

stu said:

Thanks for posting that!

One comment from Fox surprised me:
" ... So, we just finally have some depth. We've always wanted to play faster but never had the depth. So hopefully well be able to do that."

It was in the context of defense but either way I'm probably not the only fan who would like to see that.

I can only assume that "play faster" in the context of defense means trapping and going for steals. Is that what others think? Joel Brown should be particularly adept at this but if they're going to do it, they'll need a rim protector for when it doesn't work.


Fox generally plays pretty deep, the rotation last year was 10 players. So by "deep" this year, it is more that we don't have clear starters like Bradley, Grant and Kelly who you want to play 35 minutes, but closer to 10 relatively equal guys playing 20 minutes each. Each will be expected to play hard on defense or sit. Maybe some pressing and trapping, as points off of steals and fast breaks would be very welcome, but as you point out we have Lars and Okafor as "bigs" and that is pretty much it, so I expect that "faster" will mostly be in the context of half court man defense. Other than hoped for fast breaks off turnovers, there is no way Fox plays faster on offense,
You play the players you trust. Most coaches do that. When and if Fox gets more talented players, and can trust them to play more minutes, you may see a more standard rotation of 7-8 players.

As to bigs, Anyanwu plays bigger than his size, and he will be in that mix. Kuany has the height, but maybe not the build to be a real big. He is more effective on the perimeter. But Fox may be trying to have him bulk up over the off season. It will be interesting to see where he will fit in on this team, maybe playing inside and outside. It may depend on how ready Okafor is, because we need all the rim protection defense we can get.

Fox can run the same offense, just quit burning the 20-25 seconds of each half-court possession. Big C states it well in his comment earlier in the thread:
"Not in the context of defense, but one easy way they could play faster would be not to purposely use up clock on most every possession. Admittedly, on some of our recent rosters, that delay could have helped curtail losses. But it also produces what many consider to be boring basketball and certainly cannot help recruiting."

I'm all for this. I don't think you can tell players to not be aggressive for 20 seconds and then suddenly flip the switch. I swear there were many times when Cal passed up a decent shot opportunity only to settle for a worse one that was later in 30 sec shot clock (it's still 30 sec, right?). Anyway, looking for a shot earlier in the possession shouldn't necessarily result in more turnovers, and it would put more pressure on the opposing defense. Of course there's a judgment component as you don't want guys going crazy, but you address that in practice.
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