Team preview: California

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

If Leon Powe were currently residing in Berkeley rather than preparing for his rookie NBA season with the Celtics, this preview would be about twice as long and be found among our Top 25 section. The Bears would have also been a real possibility as the preseason favorite in the Pac-10 and Powe would've been a lock as the league's preseason player of the year.

But Powe was selected in the second round of the draft, 49th overall, and most important for Cal coach Ben Braun, he signed a guaranteed two-year contract with a team option for a third year. If Powe, who had two years of college eligibility remaining, sticks on the Celtics all three years, the deal is worth around $2 million.

"As a college coach, that's part of my job, to help prepare players for the next step, whatever that may be and for Leon, that was the NBA," Braun said. "From a basketball standpoint, maybe he could've matured with another year here, but as a young man, that's not always the No. 1 issue. I'm just so happy that he signed that guaranteed contract and also, I think he has a real opportunity with the Celtics. Leon had and will always have my full support."

Many neutral observers thought Powe was the most productive player in the Pac-10 last season, and the numbers would support that assertion. Powe led the conference in scoring (20.5) and rebounding (10.1). He was also a machine in drawing fouls, attempting 270 free throws. After back-to-back 13-win seasons, Powe's efforts led Cal to 20 wins, a third-place finish in the Pac-10 and an NCAA Tournament invitation.

Does the loss of Powe and third-leading scorer Richard Midgley make this a transition year for Cal? Braun, who recently signed a two-year extension that runs through the 2010-2011 campaign, thinks his program has reached the level of competing with the conference's best each season, and his track record proves just that. But even Braun will admit this team is built for more of a run in 2007-08 and beyond than this season.

"At this point, every season our goals are challenging for the Pac-10 title and playing in the NCAA Tournament," Braun said. "In my 10 seasons here, we've finished in the upper division of the conference seven times. I believe only Arizona and Stanford have bettered that.

"Are we set up better for 2007-08 than this year? Sure, that's fair, but we expect to challenge the best teams in the Pac-10 this season."