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Montgomery eager to rebuild Cal

October 12, 2008|Janie McCauley | AP Sports Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. -- With the first official practice quickly approaching, the round table in Mike Montgomery's office is covered in paperwork. He's busy at it, scribbling away.

Montgomery recently got rid of the row of red binders filled with basketball plays and practice routines and replaced them with blue folders, clearly more fitting for his new gig as coach at California.

And a far cry from the Cardinal red that was an integral part of him for more than two decades in charge of the Stanford program.

Back in the college game where he seems to best belong, Montgomery certainly has made the rounds when it comes to Bay Area basketball. He also coached the Golden State Warriors through two losing years in his last coaching job. Now, he looks right at home and comfortable in Berkeley, with his athletes popping by to visit or another coach coming in for a quick word.

"Sure, why not?" Montgomery said with a smile, dressed recently in navy blue slacks and a white polo shirt with blue stripes. "It's what I've done all my life."

That is, aside from the television work and the behind-the-scenes help he gave Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby between his stint with the Warriors and the new job at Cal.

"So far in practice he's only had one real slip-up. We were doing a drill and he said, 'Red team, over here,'" Cal forward Theo Robertson recalled. "It's only happened once. We all had a little laugh about it. It's just being there so long. He's definitely a Golden Bear now.

"The funniest thing is, when we're doing drills and he sees something we're doing wrong, he doesn't just blow the whistle. He jogs over and shows us how things are supposed to be done. You can see it's good for him to be back."

The team takes the floor as a full unit for its first practice Oct. 17.

Montgomery accepted the Cal job only a few days before Stanford lost coach Trent Johnson to LSU. Montgomery had been working for Bowlsby and Johnson had coached under Montgomery.

Montgomery is quick to point out that all of that is moot now. He's at Cal and he's not looking back to what might have been had the timing been different and allowed him to stay at Stanford.

"The problem is people say that in a way that says, 'Well, this isn't as good. You could have done that,'" Montgomery said. "That's them talking, there (at Stanford). That's not people here talking. That's what-ifs. Frankly, I did that for 18 years. This is different, this is good, this is new. It's a challenge. Any time you say this is good here, somebody then takes that to mean it was bad there. Clearly you don't mean that at all. I don't think anybody would not understand that I had a great career at Stanford and I retired from Stanford. This is now what I'm going to try to do. It's as simple as that."

He inherits a team that finished ninth in the Pac-10 last season and lost the conference's scoring leader, Ryan Anderson, to the NBA after his sophomore year.

Montgomery replaced the fired Ben Braun, who spent 12 years at Cal and made the NCAA tournament five times but only once in the past five seasons. The Bears went 17-16 overall and just 6-12 in the conference. They could score with the top teams, but didn't defend well and consequently lost close games.

Montgomery is emphasizing the fundamentals.

"Everyone's really embraced him and his style and his experience," said Robertson, who missed last season following hip surgery. "He knows the game and he's really a technician. He's really hands on and likes to show us how it's supposed to be done."

Losing has never sat well with Montgomery, who took Stanford to the second round of the NCAA tournament for 10 straight seasons before bolting for the rigors of the NBA.

He quickly found that working with grown men instead of college kids meant altering his approach. The pros responded differently to criticism and instruction and Montgomery had to rid himself of some old habits. That proved to be his biggest challenge during his short NBA tenure.

"There's a lot of positives in the NBA. There's a lot of good people. The basketball is excellent by and large," he said. "The guys are really talented, they're phenomenal athletes. There's definitely some difference in terms of the personal dynamics of who you deal with on a day-to-day basis and how that works itself out.

"Probably for my personality and just the way I deal with things, college is a better environment for me. There's no looking back. I don't regret that. I wish I'd done a better job. I wish I'd won more games. In the NBA, it is strictly about the number of games you win. There are no graduation numbers or relationships with people."

Montgomery has noticed there are big differences in recruiting now, specifically the layers of people a coach must go through to land an athlete: from parents, to personal trainers, coaches and even friends or others who try to get involved in the process. Like Stanford, Cal is a top academic university, but it attracts a slightly different student-athlete.

One of Montgomery's greatest relationships on campus so far is a family one.

His new corner office has an impressive view over the Cal pool and is about 10 feet from his son, John, the Bears' first-year director of basketball operations under his father.

They've always wanted to work together and finally are getting that chance.

"That was part of the motivation to get back here," Montgomery said. "He got good experience and I was able to hire him back. We could have been somewhere else. It just so happened this job came available. And I like the Pac-10. I'm more comfortable in the Pac-10."

After his playing career at Loyola Marymount, John Montgomery spent last year as an assistant at Furman, which was a positive experience and a chance to see another part of the country.

Montgomery bought a house in the upscale East Bay suburb of Orinda, having sold his home near Stanford.

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