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Cal hoops doomed to irrelevancy again with Cuonzo Martin’s departure

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Cal men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin on Wednesday announced his resignation and will reportedly sign a $21 million deal with University of Missouri. (Courtesy Cal Athletics)
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Hard to believe that is was less two years ago when we had reason to get excited about Cal basketball. Make that really, really excited. 

Coach Cuonzo Martin scored no minor coup with the successful recruitment of not one but two five-star players. Jaylen Brown ranked fourth in the nation. Oakland’s own Ivan Rabb was fifth. The Class of ’15 ranked third in the country overall.

This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Berkeley, if you haven’t noticed.

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Harder yet to believe that so much promise evaporated on Tuesday night, vanished in the Haas Pavilion air just like that. 

In front of thousands of empty seats, the Bears looked like a team that wanted no part of the NIT flunkies tournament. No. 8 seed Cal State Bakersfield outshot, outrebounded, outhustled, outsmarted, pretty much out-everythinged Cal in a 73-66 smackdown that wasn’t nearly that close.

Sure, the Bears, were without Rabb and Jabari Bird, their best two players, but that was no excuse to cough up the first eight points and never lead in the game.

Now, we find out that coach Cuonzo Martin had already checked out. On Wednesday, only hours later, he announced his resignation to sign a reported seven-year, $21 million deal to lead a lousy Missouri program.

How could something so good turn out so bad so suddenly?

Blame the NCAA and the NBA. In the one-and-done era, it’s difficult to mold a bunch of kids into a cohesive unit in a matter of months, especially when the younger ones also are the most talented. If it were that simple, Duke or Kentucky would cut down the nets every year.

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Blame Brown. The freshman could have been a difference-maker, no doubt. Problem was, like a lot of future lottery picks, he treated his only college season as if it were an NBA tryout camp.

By all means, pin the tail on Martin, too.

At the time, most knew that Martin would be the X factor. He was highly regarded as a recruiter, but as a head coach, not so much. To his credit, many players bought into his defense-first mindset. Still, his teams lacked poise and discipline, failed to execute late in close games and consistently played to the level of the competition. That’s mostly on him.

Rabb may be the biggest loser here, and that’s too bad. Despite a premature exit in the NCAA tournament, he turned down the NBA a year ago. Now, he’ll almost certainly turn pro one year too late. Most mock drafts have him off the board in the mid-to-late first round, several spots lower than the projections of a year ago.

For Cal basketball, it’s back to irrelevancy.

AND ANOTHER THING: If the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners play the South Dakota Coyotes in the NIT championship game, Acme Corporation should sponsor the event.

AND ANOTHER: If Cal State Bakersfield somehow wins it all, the Sacramento Kings fall to No. 6 in the state.

STEPH INFECTION: What’s missing for the Warriors this season? More than anything, Stephen Curry’s long-range jump shot.

Curry shot 4 of 17 in the first three quarters on Tuesday, when the Warriors struggled to beat the NBA team formerly known as the Philadelphia 76ers at home. This despite an unwritten rule that says a Most Valuable Player can’t stink it up on his 29th birthday.

In the last eight games, Curry sank 23 of 89 3-pointers, a feeble 26 percent. That included an 0-of-11 performance against the 76ers on the road, the worst oh-fer of its kind in league history.

True, the absence of Kevin Durant likely has something to do with the slump. Fact is, Curry wasn’t his old self even when KD was around. Overall, his .394 3-point percentage ranks as the worst of his career.

So, what gives here? Have defenses crowded Curry at the perimeter more? (He has shot slightly better in the 10- to 23-foot range than a year ago.) Does he have an injury that we don’t know about? (“Everything feels good,” he insisted afterward.) Is he simply bored? Or is just bad luck?

Whatever the reason, Curry has five weeks to find his groove again. Because the Warriors have to pack their 3-ball for the playoffs, and that starts with Curry and ends with him.

FAKE NEWS OF THE WEEK: Contrary to published reports, Balls is not in the market for a $1 billion shoe deal. More like $100 million. 

But if UCLA stud Lonzo Ball and his two brothers want a billion bucks, well, that’s their prerogative.

JUST SAYIN’: If free agency has told us anything about rookie Santa Clara general manager John Lynch, it’s that he can outbid John Lynch for just about anyone.

Kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in, cornerback D.J. Hayden out and feature back Latavius (Twinkle Toes) Murray on his way out, too. Yep, the Raiders are better than last season already.

Seattle Seahawks gamble Eddie Lacy reportedly has a $385,000 bonus tied to his weight. As if the guy didn’t already carry too much baggage.

In NFL crime news, star back Ezekiel Elliott pulled down a women’s top at a St. Patrick’s Day bash. Because Elliott plays for the Dallas Cowboys, the women was charged with indecent exposure and sentenced to a weekend with owner Jerry Jones’ ego.

New closer Mark Melancon hasn’t allowed a run in six appearances this spring, and there has to be a way the Giants can play last September and October over again. 

Can’t wait for the World Baseball Classic to start …

YOUR TURN: “The Giants have too many old players in camp. Need to consistently display more power and let some of the younger ones such as Christian Arroyo, Steve Okert, Chris Shaw, Miguel Gomez, Jordan Johnson and Austin Slater play more. If Hunter Pence stays healthy all year long, though, they’ll be West Champs.” — Lou Tulipano, Santa Rosa

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