Coming off a difficult 3-29 campaign, Cal entered this offseason in need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. After Mark Fox’s tenure had gone historically stale, new head coach Mark Madsen represented a breath of fresh air for Cal fans — he is an up-and-coming coach and East Bay local who recently led Utah Valley through the best seasons since the program’s inception.
The hire signaled Cal’s commitment to a new identity: Madsen’s career trajectory bears little resemblance to Fox’s, with Madsen having spent seven years as an assistant coach in the NBA, and he would immediately be entrusted to conduct a complete rebuild of the Cal team through the transfer portal following a mass exodus.
After Madsen’s first few months in charge, the Bears have still not touched the Pete Newell court, but he has already overseen massive squad turnover. With seven outgoing and five incoming transfers, Cal is set to look like a completely different team next season.
Last season’s veterans Joel Brown and Lars Thiemann entered the transfer portal soon after the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign. Brown departed for Iona after a season on the hardwood for 81% of available minutes, and Thiemann joined Loyola Marymount after having played in all but two games during his four years in the blue and gold. Forwards Kuany Kuany and Sam Alajiki, the Bears’ two most prolific three-point shooters last season, followed suit to join VCU and Rice, respectively, and three more players left through the transfer portal with them.
All told, Cal lost half of its roster, comprising 62.2% of the team’s total scoring last season, in the offseason after it finished last among all 352 NCAA Division I teams in points per game. Such was the monumental scale of the task assigned to Madsen immediately following his arrival at Cal, and he acted swiftly to make his own additions to address the Bears’ desperate need for a scoring spark.
Texas Tech center Fardaws Aimaq is poised to take over Thiemann’s role as the Bears’ starting center. From 2020-22, Aimaq played under Madsen at Utah Valley, where he was a critical cog in Madsen’s system. He won the 2021 WAC Player of the Year after recording 13.9 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, and he continued to be an imposing force down low for the Red Raiders, posting 11.1 points and 7.9 assists this past season at Texas Tech. Aimaq’s physicality down low paired with athleticism and eye for a three enable him to wreak havoc on all levels of the floor.
Madsen reeled in Northern Arizona’s Jalen Cone and Portland’s Mike Meadows, two guards who specialize in creating shots. Cone racked up 17.6 points per game, along with 2.5 assists, as he started at point guard in 32 of the Lumberjacks’ games this past season. Meadows had his 2022-23 campaign ended by a hamstring injury, before which he posted 11 points per game, including a dominant 39-point performance against Santa Clara.
The Bears will also benefit from improved three-point shooting talent on the wings in Memphis’ Keonte Kennedy and Texas Tech’s Jaylon Tyson. Kennedy, who stands at 6’5”, was the No. 25 shooting guard in the 2018 recruiting class per ESPN, and he posted a 38.1% split from three-point range last season. Tyson, Cal’s second incoming Red Raider, was Madsen’s final transfer addition — the 6’7” guard made 40.2% of his three pointers last season. Both Kennedy and Tyson’s three-point shooting rates would rank first in last year’s Cal team.
All of Cal’s incoming players look set to be thrust into critical roles in the team next season, considering the massive void left by its outgoings and the experience of the transfer class — four players will be entering their last season of eligibility, with Tyson entering his penultimate. Cal’s transfer class finished No. 11 in the nation according to On3.