Spander: Monty has helped make Cal relevant again

The Warriors years have been erased. Imagine they never happened. Think of Mike Montgomery going from a successful career at Stanford to a successful career at Cal. That’s what has happened in the Golden Bears’ media guide.

Revisionist history of a sort. Three pages taking us from Palo Alto to Berkeley, three pages dealing with Final Fours and John Wooden Legends of Coaching awards. But in the biography, nary a word of trying to deal with Baron Davis.

The shame is Montgomery should have a stage larger than college basketball in the Bay Area affords. This isn’t Durham, N.C., or Lawrence, Kan. Bobby Knight would have been a minor figure here.

Sure Cal is a champion again, a fact attributable to Montgomery. And over the Oakland hills, Randy Bennett has turned St. Mary’s into a tournament team.

But it’s all small potatoes in a place where there’s more interest in the 49ers’ long snapper than there is in Cal’s Jerome Randle being named Pac-10 Player of the Year.

Montgomery deals with the reality in his normal way, meaning when he isn’t being sarcastic, he’s being skeptical.

“Forty-Niner season over?” he used to ask writers who finally would make their first appearance at a Stanford game in late February. And Tuesday, upon seeing a journalist, he wondered, “No British Open this week?”

No. A Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles this week. A tournament which Cal, having won the conference for the first time in 50 years, is called the favorite.

“Favorite?” gasped Montgomery. “For what? Everybody felt we were supposed to win the league. We did. Nobody got real excited, because I guess they picked us to win.”

At Cal, or Berserkely as the great Herb Caen labeled it, they’re finally getting excited about basketball, maybe for the first time since the days of Pete Newell, Darrall Imhoff, Stan Morrison, Tandy Gillis, Bill McClintock and Al Buch, the coach and players of that 1960 team.

“I was a little upset early on,” Randle said about the lack of attendance at Cal home games, “but now it’s changed. The students are congratulating us. Every restaurant I go in, people are telling me good luck. It feels like home.”

Cal needed this. Hey, the Bears once lost 56 straight games to UCLA. Montgomery needed this. His two years out of the game after being dispatched by the Warriors in 2006 were unfulfilling. Now there’s something tangible at the end of the day.

“Any time you put as much time and energy as do coaches,” Montgomery said, “and you are directing a group of young people that need direction, want direction and want to be helped to a common goal, if you can reach that goal, it’s satisfying.”

This is a team of seniors, albeit a team the 63-year-old Montgomery has had only two seasons.

“I like this group whether they be sophomores, juniors or seniors,” said the coach, sounding quite unexpected. “They’ve figured out how to win some games, at least the two years I’ve had them. We’re pretty tough to beat.

“They have a clear understanding of what it takes.”

So does Mike Montgomery, as verified by his record everywhere except those virtually nonexistent years with the Warriors.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

 

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