Cal basketball fans will say goodbye to two of their favorites Saturday night. But seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp are more concerned with their ongoing march toward a possible Pac-12 Conference title than fuzzy farewells.
"I'm mostly excited that we're in first place and we have a chance to stay there," Kamp said.
The Golden Bears (21-6, 11-3) share first place with Washington heading into Saturday night's Haas Pavilion season finale vs. Oregon State (15-11, 5-9).
With four games left on the regular-season schedule, five teams remain within two games at the top of the standings. So the Bears need to be all business Saturday night, even as fans and family salute Kamp and Gutierrez in their final scheduled home appearance.
There are sure to be vigorous cheers for Kamp, who has overcome two knee surgeries to become the brains and brawn of the Bears' frontcourt. And there will be one last chant of "Hip, hip, Jorge!" from the student section, appreciative of the fearless style Gutierrez brought to Berkeley from his native Mexico.
"I never thought it was going to come to this point," Gutierrez said of his relationship with Cal fans. "They are great, not just to me but to everybody. I really don't have the words to explain how I feel about that."
Mike Montgomery made Gutierrez his first recruit when he became coach at Cal in the spring of 2008. Kamp had just finished his freshman season under Ben Braun and needed only a little convincing to stick around.
When the Bears won their first conference title in 50 years in 2009-10, Gutierrez was a valued sixth man and Kamp was on the shelf while recovering from surgery on his right knee.
Now they are cornerstones of the team, the physical and emotional leaders.
"They're worth their weight in gold. They're the difference for us because they set the tone for everybody else," Montgomery said. "They're tough kids and take the pressure off the other guys who aren't quite there yet, either maturitywise or just by nature. They're both smart players. And they're winners."
Gutierrez, still learning to speak English fluently when he came to Cal, has evolved from a defensive pesk into an all-around force who is the emerging favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
Kamp, who averaged just 8.8 points through the team's first 17 games, has hit his stride and is scoring at a 13.9 clip over the past 10. He had 20 points in the 86-83 win over Oregon on Thursday.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle said both players are indispensable to the Bears.
"Harper Kamp is sort of the unsung hero of that team. He does a lot of little things," Boyle said. "I think Jorge is the key. It starts with him, but it doesn't end with him."
The two have become teammates with more similarities than differences.
"I stayed to play with coach Montgomery, and he brought in Jorge, and it's just been the best four years of my life," Kamp said. "He's a guy who pushes me to play, pushes everyone else hard to get better. His English has gotten a lot better. He's gotten a lot less shy, become more of a vocal leader. It's been an honor."
Gutierrez, who said he considers Kamp "a friend before a teammate," is inspired by the work Kamp puts in keep his body functioning.
"It hasn't been the greatest four years of his life. I know he says that, but he struggled," said Gutierrez, referring to knee and back issues Kamp has battled. "I know if he pushes himself, I can push myself, too. I don't think I would like to play with anybody else but with him."
They get at least one more opportunity together on their home floor, with a lot at stake.