Led by Shipp, Tamir, Cal is looking golden

Out West, off radar screen, Bears chase Pac-10 crown

National notebook

January 31, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Their names are not recognizable to most college basketball fans, especially those on the East Coast, and for good reason. Has anyone in this part of the country ever watched Cal's Joe Shipp and Emit Tamir play?

Shipp, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior, leads the Pac-10 in scoring, and Tamir, a 6-11, 260-pound sophomore, is one of the league's top big men. Not that either has received the kind of attention of, say, Arizona's entire starting lineup.

Because of time zones and television contracts, surprise teams in the Pac-10 usually don't get the recognition they deserve before the NCAA tournament begins. Last year, it was Oregon. This season, it's Cal.

Off to their best start since 1959-60 - when the legendary Pete Newell was their coach-the 20th-ranked Golden Bears (14-2) have their toughest road trip of the season this week.

Regardless of how they fared against much-improved Arizona State in Tempe last night, it's tomorrow's game at top-ranked Arizona that will help define Cal's season. The Bears went to the desert unbeaten (7-0) in league play.

"This year we're going out saying we're supposed to win," Shipp said. "We're not worried about anything else. Last year we might have been doubting [ourselves] a little bit. This year we're pretty focused. We're just going out to win games and win the Pac-10 title."

That seemed like a long shot last spring, when promising freshman center Jamal Sampson left for the NBA, point guard Shantay Legans transferred to Fresno State and prized recruit Kennedy Winston reneged on his letter of intent and signed with Alabama.

But just as Oregon's Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson seemingly came out of nowhere last season, so have Shipp and Tamir.

After averaging a respectable 14.8 points as a junior, Shipp worked out with former Cal star Lamond Murray over the summer. Shipp left school as a jump shooter who had broken Jason Kidd's record for three-point field goals in a game - Shipp had nine - and came back a more well-rounded player.

Using his muscular 220-pound body to bull his way inside, Shipp has raised his scoring to nearly 21 points a game (23.3 in the Pac-10 while hitting 61.9 percent of his shots) and has scored 30 or more four times. According to Cal coach Ben Braun, his defense, rebounding and passing also have improved.

"Joe's really stepped up this year," said Braun, in his seventh year at Cal. "He's had a solid three years at Cal and every year Joe's been here he's gotten better. That's a credit to him."

Tamir, a 23-year-old who grew up in Jerusalem and spent three years in the Israeli Army before coming to Cal before last season, has brought his scoring up from 9.9 points to 17 a game and his rebounding from 3.5 a game to a shade under seven.

Along with senior swingman Brian Wethers and freshman point guard Richard Midgley, who averaged 17.5 points in last week's wins at UCLA and USC, the Bears could be the only team capable of upsetting the Wildcats.

Cut down the nails?

We've heard of teams cutting down nets when they win championships in college basketball. Brooks Hall and his Dayton teammates hope to do that in the Atlantic 10 this season, but Hall has turned what was once the routine of infamous safecracker Willie Sutton into his own trick.

After scoring five points in the first half against Old Dominion last month, Hall trimmed his nails at halftime and finished the game with 20. After missing all five shots he tried against Temple in the first half last week, Hall took out his trusty clipper again.

The result? Hall hit four of five shots in the second half - all threes - and the Flyers beat the Owls in Philadelphia. Hall's new habit prompted Dayton coach Oliver Purnell to think about incorporating it into practice. "We'll just sit around and have our nails manicured," Purnell joked.

Troubled times at UTEP

Former UTEP coach Don Haskins was at practice Tuesday, trying to lend support for first-year coach Billy Gillispie and his players. It had more to do with Gillispie's scrape with the law last weekend than his team's 4-12 record.

Gillispie, who had been an assistant at Illinois, was charged Sunday morning with driving while intoxicated after being stopped going in the wrong direction down a one-way street. Gillispie denied he was intoxicated.

"I'm not apologizing for anything I did," Gillispie said. "What I am apologizing for is any negative attention which has been brought to the city of El Paso, the university and the basketball program."

"We'll go through the process, but we support him and what he's doing right now," said UTEP athletic director Bob Stull.

Newsday and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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