A year ago next week, things were starting to unravel for the Cal basketball team and its head coach, Lou Campanelli. Back-to-back losses at a tournament in the Meadowlands and Campanelli's abusive post-game tirade after a loss to James Madison ultimately led to an open rebellion by the players, the coach's controversial dismissal last February and a national debate on the issue.
It also resulted in one of college basketball's Cinderella stories, when a 29-year-old assistant named Todd Bozeman was named the team's interim coach. The Bears wound up going on a late-season run, made the NCAA tournament and beat defending national champion Duke in the second round before losing to Kansas in the Sweet 16s. Bozeman was rewarded with a three-year contract.
It all seems so long ago.
Reality has hit hard in Berkeley this season, where the Bears started out in the Top 10 and now find themselves out of the Top 25. Bozeman, who prides himself on his close relationship with the players, has had to suspend his two stars, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, for a game for academic reasons and later kicked reserve center Steve Johnson, a junior from Baltimore, off the team after a series of confrontations.
"The only difference this year is that people are making a bigger deal out of things than they did last year," Bozeman said this week. "When I suspended a player [Johnson] for a game last year, nobody said anything. They [the players] understand that I'm going to be a disciplinarian when it's needed and I'm going to be their friend and I'm going to be their coach. To me, it's no difference."
Injuries have contributed to Cal's sluggish 4-2 start, which includes losses to Kansas in the second round of the Preseason NIT and to local rival Santa Clara. Kidd and Murray have picked up where they left off last season, when they established themselves as two of the best players in the country, but the Bears have played most of the early season without starters K. J. Roberts, Alfred Grigsby and Monty Buckley.
Cal also was hurt by the departure of long-range shooter Jerod Haase, who transferred to Kansas after last season. But Bozeman was encouraged by his team's most recent performance, an 83-70 victory over Tulane. With Arizona and UCLA improved, it could be a longer winter than initially anticipated for the Bears and their young coach.
"Nobody has ever won a national championship in December," Bozeman said. "A lot of teams have lost. North Carolina lost [to Massachusetts], Kansas lost [to Temple]. It's not a big deal."
But it's a situation worth watching.
Westhead is still on run
When he was hired at George Mason last spring, Paul Westhead promised that the Patriots would play the same kind of style that he used with great success at Loyola Marymount and then with colossal failure in two seasons with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
After breaking several school records in a season-opening, 129-119 victory over Troy State (which had been the Loyola Marymount of Division II until moving up this season), Westhead's team is struggling to keep up the helter-skelter pace.
Evidence of that came Saturday night at the Patriot Center, when George Mason blew a 14-point second-half lead and lost to St. Peter's, 82-81. It was the second time in seven games that the Patriots barely broke 80 points, a far cry from the 100-point goal Westhead said his team would shoot for every night.
As for "The System," a combination of fast-break offense and full-court defense, Westhead knows that things might get worse before they get better.
"The ultimate challenge is, 'Are my players able to sustain the pace?' " said Westhead, who recently won his 250th game as a Division I coach. "We could slow it down, lose by six and have people walk away saying that it looked pretty good. But that six-point loss for a team that plays more conventionally might be a 36-point loss for us. The one thing is that, one day, my players are going to be talented enough and experienced enough to make this work."
Said junior guard Donald Ross: "When we practice it, it always seems to work. But we have a hard time adjusting in a game."
Westhead had his players run with parachutes on their backs while doing preseason conditioning sprints. The way things might turn out this winter, life jackets might have been more appropriate.
Cold from the outside
There's been a great deal of talk in recent years about why players no longer can shoot outside. But what happened in the past week to Clemson and George Washington, teams with good three-point shooters, is beyond explanation.
The Tigers went 1-for-23 in Wednesday night's 73-54 loss at Minnesota, with the only successful three-pointer coming from Andre Bovain in the final minute. The Colonials went 1-for-24, including 0-for-11 for sophomore guard Kwame Evans (Southern) during a 76-60 win last week over Long Island.
"I just fired our shooting coach," said GW coach Mike Jarvis. "I guess you can call it rust, with us not having played in a week and getting ready for finals."
Stat of the week
Clifford Rozier's 15-for-15 shooting performance in Louisville's 90-66 victory over Eastern Kentucky broke an NCAA mark for perfection, eclipsing the mark set by former Cardinals player Cornelius Holden against Southern Mississippi in 1990 and later equaled by Pepperdine's Dana Jones against Boise State in 1991.
Suggestion of the week
The NCAA rules committee should consider going back to the old five-second rule, which prevented players from dribbling for more than the prescribed amount of time while being closely guarded. I agree with Kansas coach Roy Williams, who said recently: "I despise the rule that lets a guy just dribble, dribble, dribble. I don't think that's what James Naismith meant for the game to be."
Quote of the week
"I don't dunk over her, and she doesn't dunk over me." USC men's player Lorenzo Orr on the agreement he has with his girlfriend, Trojans women's star Lisa Leslie.