Eight months after history was made on the Bay Area college basketball scene, practice begins today.
Cal's men, coming off their first conference title in 50 years, must replace four senior starters, including Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle. Stanford returns without graduated senior Landry Fields, who led the Pac-10 in scoring and now plays for the New York Knicks.
Saint Mary's became America's postseason darling with an unlikely dash into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. But this year the Gaels will be without departed center Omar Samhan, who led the West Coast Conference in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Santa Clara welcomes back dynamic scorer Kevin Foster, who broke his foot six games into his sophomore season last fall, the year after breaking Steve Nash's freshman record for 3-point baskets.
San Jose State, still seeking its first winning season since 1993-94, features senior guard Adrian Oliver, whose 22.5 scoring average is second-highest nationwide among returning players.
Some of the women's teams took advantage of NCAA rules changes to get under way more than a week ago. What hasn't changed is the consistent excellence of the Stanford women, who begin coach Tara VanDerveer's 25th season on The Farm seeking a 10th consecutive Pac-10 title and fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
The Cal women, young but talented, hope to continue their ascent. Saint Mary's, which features record-breaking shot blocker Louella Tomlinson, should contend in the WCC.
Cal Last season: 24-11, 13-5/first in the Pac-10 Catching up: The Bears will play differently in coach Mike Montgomery's third season at Berkeley. They will transition from a guard-oriented attack to an inside-out approach. Junior forward Harper Kamp is back after missing last season with a knee injury, and senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison has lost 20 pounds and his temperamental back is the better for it. "It's going to be critical that they stay healthy," Montgomery said.
Junior Jorge Gutierrez will get the first shot at the point guard job, and as many as two starters could come from a five-man freshman class that includes state high school player of the year Allen Crabbe.
Stanford Last season: 14-18, 7-11/tied eighth in the Pac-10 Catching up: The Cardinal, despite the return of junior guard Jeremy Green, may have trouble avoiding a third straight lower-division finish. But with a superb six-man freshman class, coach Johnny Dawkins should be able to begin building a future. Dawkins said 6-10 Dwight Powell has shown consistency in early workouts.
Green averaged 16.6 points a year ago and will draw more defensive attention. "He needs to understand, like Landry, the importance of utilizing your teammates," Dawkins said. Junior forward Josh Owens, who missed last season because of an undisclosed medical condition, figures to be a starter.
Saint Mary's Last season: 28-6, 11-3/second in the WCC Catching up: The Gaels, who have won 81 games the past three seasons, move forward without Samhan and forward Ben Allen, but they welcome back guards Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, who combined to produce 25.9 points and 9.6 assists per game a year ago. "We only lost two players, but we're totally different," coach Randy Bennett said. "We're not big, but we're quicker. I think we'll be better defensively. We'll be able to press you more."
The Gaels' deep perimeter will get a boost from freshman guard Stephen Holt. Another key newcomer is Rob Jones, a 6-6, 235-pound forward who averaged 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds two seasons ago at San Diego.
Santa Clara Last season: 11-21, 3-11/tied for sixth in the WCC Catching up: Foster, who was averaging 19.8 points when he broke his foot last season, must continue to manage his weight, according to coach Kerry Keating. "He was overweight coming in last year and that led to his injury," said Keating, noting that Foster still is not at optimal playing weight. "There's no denying his talent."
Freshman power forward John McArthur, from De La Salle High, has made a strong early impression. "John, more than any freshman we've had, is more prepared to play because he understands what it takes to win," Keating said.
San Jose State Last season: 14-17, 6-10/tied for sixth in the WAC Catching up: The Spartans, who lost nine of their final 11 games a year ago, will be smaller but deeper, more athletic and more versatile, according to coach George Nessman. "We definitely feel it's the best team we've had," he said.
It starts with Oliver, who has scored at least 30 points in 10 of his 49 games with the Spartans. "He received an inordinate amount of defensive attention, so we have to make it a little simpler for him to score," Nessman said. "The biggest piece for him is really feeling comfortable as a leader of a team."
USF Last season: 12-18, 7-7/tied for fourth in the WCC Catching up: Top scorer Dior Lowhorn graduated and No. 2 man Kwame Vaughn transferred to UC Santa Barbara. Coach Rex Walters' roster includes eight scholarship freshmen and two of them -- Dominique O'Connor and Cody Doolin -- are competing for the point guard job. "I'm cautiously optimistic," Walters said. "The big question is what's going to happen when the lights go on?"
Cal Last season: 24-13, 11-7/fourth in the Pac-10 Catching up: The Bears gave career scoring leader Alexis Gray-Lawson a nice going away present -- a WNIT title. Five returning freshmen should benefit from the deep postseason run, led by DeNesha Stallworth of Pinole, who had three 20-point games in the WNIT. Forward Gennifer Brandon is currently sidelined with a stress reaction in her shin.
"They were deer in the headlights," coach Joanne Boyle said of last year's rookie class. "As sophomores, they are in a much better place now, and even helping out with the freshmen." The newcomers include McDonald's All-Americans Afure Jemerigbe and Lindsay Sherbert, both 6-foot shooting guards.
Stanford Last season: 36-2, 18-0/first in the Pac-10 Catching up: Stanford's only two defeats a year ago were to national champion Connecticut, and there is plenty of talent back. "I hope we're better (than last year)," VanDerveer said. Junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike (18.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and senior Kayla Pedersen (15.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) are Wooden Award top-30 preseason candidates.
A huge addition to the mix is 6-3 freshman Chiney Ogwumike -- Nnemkadi's younger sister and the consensus 2010 high school national player of the year. "So far my experience with Chiney has been all positive," VanDerveer said. "This is a big adjustment for her and she's been doing great."
Saint Mary's Last season: 21-10, 12-2/second in the WCC Catching up: The Gaels should contend again, led by Tomlinson, a 6-4 senior from Australia who owns the NCAA Division I career record for blocked shots. Center Courtney Dunn, who started 28 games last season at Colorado, is immediately eligible to play as a graduate student. She is an alum of St. Mary's High in Berkeley, which also produced freshman forward Danielle Mauldin.