Center Markhuri Sanders-Frison got smaller, just in time for the Cal basketball team to get bigger.

Saddled by three bulging disks in his back and a generous waist line last season, Sanders-Frison tuned his body during the offseason and enters this season at a svelte 264 pounds.

"I had a great summer, best summer of my life," said the 6-foot-7 senior, who weighed 293 when he arrived at Cal in August 2009. "I feel like a whole new man on the floor."

The Golden Bears have a lot of new faces -- including five incoming freshmen -- a season after riding four seniors and an undersized lineup to their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years.

None of the newcomers will have more impact than veterans Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp, expected to form a 1-2 inside punch and provide the tone for a team going in a new direction.

Kamp, a 6-8, 250-pound junior forward, said he is pain free after missing all of last season after surgery on his right knee for the second year in a row.

"This is the best I've felt since I've been here," he said.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery is counting on it.

"It's going to be critical they stay healthy," he said.

That's because the Bears have no other experienced big men.


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Beyond that, Cal is changing its disposition this season, moving away from the freewheeling, open-floor game that matched the talents of departed senior guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher and a lineup with only one starter taller than 6-6. Instead, the Bears will play a more physical, inside-out style.

"Me and Harper are real excited about that," Sanders-Frison said. "We have to be a presence down there for us to be successful. We're not going to be as flashy, but we're going to be a tough team. We're going to come to play defense.

"(People) think just because we lost all the offense we're going to come in last (place) or something like that. We're not thinking that way at all. We're going to surprise a lot of people."

Kamp said he and Sanders-Frison will play off each other well. Both are good passers, and because both have worked on their midrange shot, they are interchangeable at the high and low post.

Kamp is impressed by how much Sanders-Frison has changed his body and his game.

"I'm able to move some guys "... I have some strength. But he's not easy to move down there," Kamp said. "He's in much better shape, just looking great. It's pretty exciting to be able to play with a guy like that."

Sanders-Frison spent several weeks at home in Texas over the summer working out with pros including Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire and Fred Jones, all Pac-10 alums. Then he returned to Berkeley and mixed it up a few times a week with ex-Cal star Leon Powe.

In the meantime, he did cardio work to drop weight and core exercises to strengthen his back.

"I have a new set of wheels," Sanders-Frison said of his improved mobility.

Kamp has been hindered by a chronic knee problem since arriving at Cal in the fall of 2007. But he's had 18 months to get stronger since his most recent surgery and believes he's over the hump.

"I've got to work smart, make sure I get recovery. But it's manageable," said Kamp, who doesn't anticipate needing to take regular days off from practice. "Right now I'm playing pain free. It's lot of fun.

"We have a lot of preparing to do, but I wish there was a game tomorrow."

It's coming soon enough. The Bears face Sonoma State in an exhibition Nov. 10, then open the regular season Nov. 16 against Cal State Northridge.

Note: Montgomery confirmed that the basketball office learned on Wednesday that Max Zhang, a 7-foot-2 junior from China, signed with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. "He signed, he's done," Montgomery said. "We were getting unclear messages. It's really unfortunate, but that's water under the bridge. This is our team." Zhang, who was expected to miss the early season anyway because he's training with the Chinese national team, averaged 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game a year ago.