From the day he arrived at Cal two years ago, Mike Montgomery knew that by this spring the lopsided class of 2010 he inherited would be out the door, leaving a big hole in the Bears' basketball program.
But he had no way of knowing the hole would be as gaping as it is.
After the recent exit of five seniors — four of them starters on the Bears' first Pac-10 championship team in 50 years — plus two more unplanned departures, the Bears embarked on this offseason with just five eligible scholarship players.
"When we took this two years ago, there were (seven) juniors," Montgomery said, referring also to Ryan Anderson, who left immediately for the NBA, and Jordan Wilkes, who graduated in 2009 and moved on. "This issue was going to be here one way or the other. It was overloaded in that one class."
Complicating the landscape was the situation involving would-be junior forward Omondi Amoke, suspended three days before the NCAA tournament and ultimately dismissed for a still-undisclosed violation of team rules. Then reserve guard D.J. Seeley decided to transfer after the season.
"You feel bad for Omondi. He's not a bad kid. It's just kids make mistakes, and sometimes they're a little more glaring than others," Montgomery said.
With a glut of new backcourt players, Seeley's absence is unlikely to be felt. "D.J. made the right decision for him," Montgomery said. "Now I think it's all positive."
Montgomery's new roster features just two players he didn't recruit — Harper Kamp and Max Zhang.
After winning 46 games the past two seasons, the Bears will be younger and different. "I don't think we'll give anybody the kind of freedom we gave Jerome," Montgomery said of departing senior point guard Jerome Randle, whose deep shooting ability earned him a green light.
Instead, expect the Bears to try to emulate the approach Montgomery used at Stanford, where defense, smarts and toughness were staples.
"Nothing wrong with those three things," he said. "Mainly it's up to the kids to show us what they can do successfully, and that's what we'll try to. Hopefully, we won't try to put square pegs in round holes."
In fact, because of the good chemistry he anticipates between the returning players and the newcomers, Montgomery is excited to see what he can construct.
"We might not win a game," he said unconvincingly, "but we're looking forward to this team."
Junior Jorge Gutierrez, currently visiting his family in Mexico, will get the first shot at point guard, mostly because he wants the chance and has earned it. Kamp, who sat out last season to let his twice-repaired knee strengthen, is ready to go, according to Montgomery.
"I'd venture to say probably everyone feels a healthy Harper Kamp has been our best post guy the past two years," Montgomery said.
Senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison is working to get his weight down and strengthen his core to guard against back problems and figures to start up front with Kamp, backed by Zhang. The Bears have no one to replace the sort of hybrid 3-4 forward Amoke played.
Forward Bak Bak, academically ineligible for the second semester, is expected to be cleared to play his sophomore season, and sophomore guard Brandon Smith has been sidelined much of the spring with an ankle injury.
That leaves the five freshmen, led by 6-foot-6 wing Allen Crabbe, the state high school player of the year. The Bears' incoming class was rated among the nation's top 25 and will get an opportunity to play early.
"Don't have any choice. There's going to be growing pains, and unfortunately we don't have a lot of veteran presence out there so we can protect them," Montgomery said. "We're going to try to put them in a position to succeed rather than put them in a position to fail."
A look at Cal's changing basketball roster:
GONE: F Omondi Amoke, F Jamal Boykin-x, G Patrick Christopher-x, G Nikola Knezevic, G Jerome Randle-x, F Theo Robertson-x, G D.J. Seeley.
RETURNING: F Bak Bak, G Jorge Gutierrez-x, F Harper Kamp, C Markhuri Sanders-Frison, G Brandon Smith, C Max Zhang.
INCOMING: G Justin Cobbs-y, G/F Allen Crabbe, G Gary Franklin Jr., G Emerson Murray, G/F Alex Rossi, F Richard Solomon.
x-2009-10 starter; y-must sit out as transfer in 2010-11