After an eventful offseason, Cal men’s basketball is just days away from tipping off their 2023-24 season.
The Bears will begin their season at Haas Pavilion against the St. Thomas Tommies in what will be the first meeting between both programs.
St. Thomas, coming off of a respectable 19-14 overall record, should not be taken lightly by Cal, and Cal head coach Mark Madsen knows that.
“St. Thomas is a great team, and they’ve had a lot of good wins in the history of their basketball program,” Madsen said. “We intentionally scheduled a difficult opponent, knowing that we want to push ourselves. I expect to see us go out there and to compete, to execute, to play hard. When mistakes happen, continue to play through them.”
The Bears, who had their worst season in history with a 3-29 record last season, began rebuilding by hiring Madsen. His impact started with the talent he brought in through the transfer portal with players such as Fardaws Aimaq, Jalen Cone, Jaylon Tyson and Keonte Kennedy.
However, Cal will be without its highest-rated transfer, Tyson, as the NCAA denied the second-time transfer’s waiver for immediate eligibility.
Tyson, who averaged 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds last season at Texas Tech, will remain sidelined as Cal’s appeal remains in the balance. The loss of Tyson undoubtedly creates an immediate area of concern.
“Jaylon Tyson, since he got here to camp, has been a fantastic basketball player,” Madsen said. “As a program, as a team, we are going to do everything possible to support Jaylon Tyson to help him as he goes through his appeal process.”
As the Bears await Tyson’s appeal decision, returning star Devin Askew will be on the court for the Bears after missing the latter half of his junior season.
Askew was one of Cal’s few bright spots last year, leading the team with his 15.5-point average. However, with a stronger supporting cast this season, Askew’s impact will go beyond just scoring.
“(I’m) still working on shooting and just picking my spots better. With a lot of the talent that came in, just focusing on my role and just what I need to do for this team to be good,” Askew said. “I think this year I get to focus on (facilitating and passing) and just make plays.”
With Askew looking to be more of a playmaker, blue and gold fans should look for three-point specialist Cone to take on the scoring responsibility. Cone averaged 17.6 points on a 40% clip from distance for Northern Arizona last season.
However, Cone will not be the only transfer to make an impact — Aimaq has been one of Cal’s biggest transfers this season and has the potential to be the team’s best player.
“I’m super excited (about the home opener). I’ve been counting this down since I left Texas Tech. I think at the end of the day, knowing this is my last year, this is my last first game. I tell myself every single day that the biggest thing is to just have fun with it and not put too much pressure,” Aimaq said.
The emotions and energy for the Bears will be running high for game one, and seizing the opportunity to kick off this season with a win against St. Thomas.