California looks forward to introducing two impressive transfers and two talented freshmen when it opens its season Monday night against Northern California rival UC Davis in a nonconference affair in Berkeley, Calif.
Coming off five consecutive losing seasons and six straight campaigns without an NCAA Tournament bid, the Golden Bears felt disrespected when the Pacific-12 Conference media voted them 11th out of 12 in their annual preseason poll.
The ranking would appear to be justified by 3-17 and 5-15 marks in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, but the Bears insist this year’s edition is new and vastly improved.
Much of the optimism revolves around transfers DeJuan Clayton from Coppin State via Hartford and Devin Askew from Kentucky via Texas.
Clayton, a 6-foot-2 guard, had a 1,518-point, five-year career at Coppin State before playing just two games for Hartford last season.
Askew, a 6-3 guard who is a Sacramento native, started 20 games for Kentucky as a freshman in 2020-21, averaging 6.5 points. He made three starts for Texas last season, averaging 2.1 points per game.
The Bears’ regular rotation is also expected to feature freshman big men ND Okafor and Grant Newell.
“No disrespect to the media, but not any of you have seen our team, not one practice,” Cal coach Mark Fox said at Pac-12 media day. “This is the first group since I came to Cal that has the length and athleticism across the lineup to give us favorable matchups.”
Cal has faced UC Davis, which is located about 65 miles up the road near Sacramento, 33 times and won each meeting. The most recent was a 72-66 triumph in November of 2019.
Davis’ Elijah Pepper contributed seven points to the losing cause in his fourth college game in that 2019 meeting, but has since blossomed into the Aggies’ leading scorer at 15.1 points per game last season. He has been named to the All-Big West Conference preseason first team.
The senior hopes to use his final college season as a springboard to the NBA. The 6-foot-4 swingman doesn’t know at what position.
“I’m working on my playmaking a lot more,” he said of a career that’s seen him average 1.6 assists per game. “Just being able to make the right decision (is a focus).”
The Aggies finished 13-11 overall last season. Their last trip to the NCAA Tournament came in 2017.
–Field Level Media