It's never been about the numbers for Cal basketball coach Mike Montgomery. Not now, even as he stands on the doorstep of his 600th career victory going into tonight's game against third-ranked Kansas at Haas Pavilion.

And certainly not at the beginning.

"When I was an assistant at Montana and I was 29 or 30, really all I wanted was a chance to coach in Division I," he said. "And if I don't make it, so be it. At least you had a chance."

Just 31 years old when he was named head coach at Montana, Montgomery is now set to join the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the seventh active coach to win 600 Division I games.

He couldn't have picked a much tougher assignment for his first chance at No. 600 than beating the 10-0 Jayhawks in the inaugural Pete Newell Classic.

"It would be a nice Christmas present, wouldn't it? Well, we'll get there sooner or later," Montgomery said. "Hope it's sooner than later."

Kansas coach Bill Self said last week that he would have preferred that Montgomery and the Bears achieved the milestone victory before the Jayhawks came to town.

"He's one of the greats in our profession," Self said. "What he's done "... He is an amazing guy, an amazing coach."

What he's done, first in eight seasons at Montana, then 18 at Stanford and now in his third at Cal, is average more than 21 victories per year. He transformed Stanford from irrelevant to a national force, winning four Pac-10 titles and a trip to the Final Four in 1998. In his second season at Cal, he directed the Bears to their first conference championship in 50 years.

Montgomery also has influenced others, perhaps unknowingly.

"He's certainly someone I've looked up to in the profession, although I don't know if he's realized it," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's kind of taken me under his wing and helped me a lot various ways -- how he's handled himself, the type of person he is, the values he has, the class he and his program have."

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who won a national title at Michigan in 1989, said others in the profession are able to give context to Montgomery's achievements.

"Amongst his peers, he's held in the highest of regards and esteem," Fisher said. "Maybe perception from the public and national media (is different). Maybe. I think people appreciate the job he's done, and know that he's done it at Stanford, where it's not the easiest place to do it possibly. And he did it for a long time."

Fisher joked about where Montgomery would be on the victories list if he hadn't made a detour to the Golden State Warriors for four seasons.

"He might be approaching 700 (wins)," Fisher said, "but his bank account wouldn't be as good."

Montgomery credits his players, past and present, for the success he's had. But he's developed a reputation as a coach whose teams play a certain way.

"Everywhere he's been, he gets those kids to play the way he wants them to play -- inside out," Fisher said. "They don't beat themselves, they play very, very hard, and they play real tough, physically and mentally. That's his M.O."

At 63, the job is still satisfying for Montgomery. His son John is on his staff, and Cal has provided him a fresh canvas with unique challenges.

"This is harder," he said.

Harder even than when he started at Stanford? "Probably not," he said, "but I was (younger). There's no regrets. It's all good."