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Cal Basketball

Bear Insider Video: Madsen Fired Up About Team Heading Into Season

October 11, 2023

Following formal televised interviews, Bear Insider caught up with Cal head coach Mark Madsen to talk about the progress of the team and about some of the individuals strengths of players on the roster.

"Things are going great," Madsen said. "Having a great time here. We've got Keonte Kennedy and Grant Newell here with me. Everyone's doing well. And media day is going great.

"Practices have been phenomenal. And we're about a month away from our first home game. We started official practices about about three or four weeks ago on that date the NCAA gives us and it's been phenomenal. Up-tempo, great ball movement, the guys have bought in. And you know, the guys have really gotten themselves in great physical shape conditioning-wise so that's always gratifying to see as a coach."

Those who have had a chance to see practices so far have noted that the tempo and spacing have particularly stood out in comparison to the product on the court in recent seasons.

"Part of having great spacing is having a bunch of guys who can shoot," Madsen noted. "So we've been able to put shooters on the floor. And just by virtue of the fact of someone being able to shoot 40% from 3, that in and of itself creates so much additional space. Now, if you unclog the paint, well, now you have opportunities to drive to the basket, you have opportunities for high-lows, as guys duck into the paint, you have a lot of ways that you can attack defenses so I really like our personnel for the season.

"I really like the different combinations we can have. Sometimes we'll need to play big. Oregon and Arizona, Oregon in particular, can play two seven footers at the same time. Arizona can play two traditional bigs at times. So we have to be ready for all those different things. 

"I talk to the players about this all the time. We've absolutely zeroed in on a rotation and a starting five. There's still a little room in that 7 to 9 of where I need some players to differentiate themselves. I need some players to step up where there's more clarity. Right now, we have some clear rotational pieces. I won't go into the starting lineup for competitive reasons. But some guys have already stepped up and are carving out roles. That being said, I don't think I've ever had a team that ends the season with the same starting lineup, or the same rotation as we started with."

Next, Madsen delved into the strengths of what he’s seen from his players so far in practice, starting with the bigs. 

"Let's start with start with Fardaws Aimaq, Madsen said. "Fardaws is a guy who had some tough injuries last year, but he's rebounding at an elite level. He is phenomenal getting to the free throw line. He's got great footwork in the post and he can stretch the floor and make the three. And we've seen all those things in the multiple scrimmages that we've done where we brought in refs to officiate our guys. 

"Grant Newell, here's the guy who the word that comes to mind is versatility and toughness. Grant can handle the ball, he can initiate the offense, he can defend. He can rebound. He can make three threes in a game or more. 

"ND Okafor. You can switch ND Okafor onto a point guard, to a quick point guard and ND's going to be fine. And he's pretty dang good shot blocker. He's elite in that way he can slide his feet. He's one of our best rim rollers, catching lobs at the rim, getting and-ones at the rim. He has a good voice on defense. 

"Devin Curtis is a young player has the ability to stretch the floor can make a 3, getting better every day rolling to the basket. He can do both. Great energy as a person in terms of Devin Curtis and what he brings every single day to practice is extremely, extremely valuable and important.

“Big Gus (C/F Penn transfer Gus Larson) who came to us, obviously from the transfer portal. Gus has just been a guy that we've talked about as a team. He just makes plays. He makes plays in big situations. He's been he's been on the second team a lot in practice and he's made some big plays against the first team guys but you would expect that with the experience that that obviously Gus has had in his playing career so far. 

"And then you move over, you look at the guards and the wings. Jalen Cone is a point guard. He's also a flame thrower. Jalen has had practices where he does not miss from three. We're talking about contested threes that he does not miss. Guys are going to be hanging all over him. He's going to knock threes. Nobody gets elevation. Like nobody gets elevation on a shot like Jalen. And Jalen is in the gym anywhere between 430 in the morning and 6 am himself personally with the team manager is working on his game, 

"Devin Askew, unbelievable basketball, IQ, unreal. His knowledge of X's and O's, his knowledge of the game, his knowledge of spacing. He can score, knocks down the three and shoots the mid-range, gets into the paint, posts up. A guard draws fouls. Devin's been great and has been has been a really, really nice piece. 

"Keonte Kennedy, our best defender. The guy who shot close to 43%, in conference play in the AAC, for Memphis. Keonte's a guy who'll drive down the lane and dunk. He'll drive down the lane and flip a lob up there. He's a guy who can finish with both hands. He's in elite shape, elite. And he has never tired. He's never tired. That's a testimony and a testament of how well he takes care of his body and how well he just takes care of his personal conditioning on his own."

Time didn’t permit going into the rest of the players on the roster but Cal’s new head man wrapped up with a gracious dose of compliments for Bear Insider and the passionate fans who subscribe and post there and hopefully will help fill up Haas Pavilion this fall.

"Jim, I can't thank you enough for being out here, man," Madsen added. "Great to see you at media day. And I want to tell Bear Insider, we're excited to see you guys at games. I love the passion. I'm not a subscriber because you guys need that personal air to be able to rip on things, whatever. But what I love is the passion and definitely to the entire Bear Insider community, thank you. Thanks for your passion. Keep the passion going either way, keep it going because ultimately, it fuels us. It propels us and we'll see you in Haas Pavilion in the Haas of Pain."


Pac-12 Men's Hoops Media Day: Madsen, Kennedy and Newell

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