BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
BERKELEY -- They seemed like two nondescript plays in the second half of a one-sided basketball game.
Cal-Berkeley freshman guard Tyrone Wallace drove the lane, twisted his body as he leaped and sent the ball softly into the net for two points during Cal's 78-65 win over Cal State Bakersfield.
On another possession, Wallace drove inside, stopped, pivoted and fired a pass to a teammate on the perimeter.
Those are the types of plays the Golden Bears' coaching staff have emphasized to Wallace since the 2012 Bakersfield High graduate arrived on campus.
It's part of what Wallace and the Cal coaches call his "mid-range" game that is essential for Wallace to succeed at the highest level of college basketball.
"Offensively, it's being able to stop and pop," said Wallace, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who was The Californian's All-Area Player of the Year as a junior and ended his Drillers' career as the school's all-time career scoring leader.
"I can get to the rim and shoot the 3. But coach has been hammering the mid-range game. I've been working on it."
It has been an adjustment. But that's expected when a player transitions from high school to the major college level, particularly the Pac-12 Conference and competition against other teams that rank among the best in the country.
"It's been tough," Wallace said. "I feel like I have the lane. When I get there, somebody slides over and takes a charge. That's what he mainly gets on me about."
"He" is Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who is starting his 31st year of Division I coaching and his fifth with the Golden Bears.
Montgomery is a proven commodity. He's directed 13 of his last 14 college teams into the NCAA Tournament with an NIT appearance the only other year in that stretch. He also coached in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors for two season.
"The one thing about Ty, he's a smart player," Montgomery said. "He listens and he figures out what we're trying to get him to do.
"Most players when they're in high school are the best players on their teams and they do what they want to do, and they do things a certain way. And that doesn't work at this level."
Wallace played 23 minutes Sunday against CSUB, scoring six points while adding five rebounds and three assists. He hit 2-of-5 shots with one 3-pointer.
Wallace is in a situation where he won't be counted on as a go-to player right away. Junior guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs have that distinction in Cal's back court. Crabbe had 27 points and Cobbs scored 22 vs. CSUB Sunday night.
"They've helped me out a lot with my plays, and a lot with my nerves," Wallace said of his veteran guard teammates. "They just tell me to calm down and just play. They're on my side and I appreciate it."
Crabbe, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, said Wallace "is in a good situation because he gets to play right away."
"You can tell sometimes he is still a little nervous when he gets out there, but obviously you can expect that from a freshman," Crabbe said. "He is progressing very well."
Cobbs, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick last season, said he likes the fact that Wallace doesn't try to force things on the court.
"Usually they are the opposite," Cobbs said of freshmen. "They rush things and panic pass and panic shoot, but that's not Tyrone. He is under control. He's playing well as a freshman. We need him out there and he did very well (against CSUB)."
Wallace said he wanted to play in the Pac-12 and chose Cal over his other finalists, Oregon and Colorado.
"I picked here because Coach Montgomery is a great coach," Wallace said. "I had an opportunity to come in and make a difference, I hope, and it was close to home. And, academics are good here, too."
Montgomery said Wallace was a major target for Cal throughout the recruiting process.
"We knew we needed a guard; we knew absolutely we had to have a guard," Montgomery said. "We felt he was the best guard in California. Obviously, it's easier to recruit a California kid vs. going to New York or something. So we focused on him and he had reciprocal interest.
"We liked what we saw: a long, athletic good kid with a good attitude who's smart. He's got a chance to be a really good player."
Montgomery said he's looking for Wallace to show improvement in all facets of his game as Wallace gains experience.
"We want him to get stronger in his mid-range game, get better defensively and be tougher," Montgomery said. "He'll figure out how to win games. But he's got good length and he can defend a little bit. We're excited about him."
Wallace was highly rated on various recruiting sites before he committed to Cal. But he acknowledges that he's still faced major adjustments in moving from high school to major college.
"The game is faster and the guys are stronger and bigger," Wallace said. "You've got to know what you can and cannot do. I've been coming along well with that. Coach gets on me still for making high school mistakes. But I've been doing a pretty good job as far as adjusting to the height and speed difference."
CSUB coach Rod Barnes got to know Wallace last season.
"He's a good player," Barnes said outside the visitor's locker room Sunday night at Cal's Haas Pavilion. "I have nothing but respect for him. He's a kid you hope to have on your team rather than play against. He'll be a good player here and Coach Montgomery likes him.
"He's a kid from Bakersfield and if he succeeds, it helps our name and our community. We wish him the best. And he says he'll follow us and wishes us luck. So there's a mutual respect."