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Until his promotion last week, Wyking Jones had never been a head coach, had worked for Cal for just two years and wasn’t so much as the associate head coach on the Bears’ previous staff.
He had an IMDB page and four minor acting credits, but no Wikipedia page to highlight his basketball career.
But the jump from assistant to boss, so daunting for so many coaches, is not a concern for Jones.
“I’ve learned from such good coaches,” he said Wednesday at an introductory news conference. “I don’t anticipate it being as much of a challenge as you may think.”
Clearly, Jones is not lacking for confidence.
Nor does he lack an understanding of the challenges at Cal, from the admissions standards to the lack of a dedicated practice facility to the holes in the 2017-18 roster.
Everything else? As with all first-time head coaches, it’s wait and see.
“We like very much what we have here,” athletic director Mike Williams said, noting the continuity that Jones’ promotion brings. “We think we’re on an upward trajectory.”
Williams didn’t name names but said the Bears spoke with NBA and major college coaches during the search to replace Cuonzo Martin.
He also addressed what he called the “bad info” on the internet, a likely reference to reports that Eric Musselman had been offered the job but turned the Bears down in favor of staying at Nevada. (Musselman was never close to being offered the job.)
Cal also had detailed discussions with Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, but both sides expressed reservations.
“To preserve the integrity of the search, we didn’t address the speculation,” Williams said, adding that the Bears made “one and only one offer” — to Jones.
The immediate external reaction to Jones’ promotion late last week held that he was simply the last man standing, that Cal had churned through potential candidates and either didn’t like what it found or was rebuffed.
Williams refuted that presumption, saying Jones nailed the interview and was the best candidate.
“His thorough understanding of the culture, how to succeed at Cal and his vision for the future set him apart,” Williams said.
Jones, 44, is well-liked by the players and understands the academic mission. He also presented a detailed plan for structuring the program in the offseason, for his playing style and his recruiting methods.
He has seen firsthand the academic profile needed to satisfy Cal’s admissions requirements. For that reason, Williams said, Jones hopes to identify and pursue prospects earlier in the recruiting cycle.
Jones, who grew up in Inglewood and played for Loyola Marymount, intends to lean heavily on what he learned as an assistant at LMU, Pepperdine, New Mexico and Louisville, where he worked under Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.
He favors an aggressive defense, with an assortment of traps and pressures. Offensively, he wants the tempo brisk.
“We need to let our defense manufacture offense for us,” he said.
A native of Southern California, Jones is unlikely to cast a wandering eye to vacancies across the country — an issue Cal faced with Martin, who left for Missouri, and former football coach Sonny Dykes, who was fired for dalliances with other programs.
“You hear ‘fit’ used a lot,” Williams said. “That’s a big component.”
*** Jones received a five-year contract. Because the deal hasn’t been finalized, terms were not disclosed.
*** The Bears elevated Tim O’Toole to the role of associate head coach. O’Toole was an assistant under Martin last season. Before that, he was on the Stanford staff under former coach Johnny Dawkins.
*** A dedicated practice facility, desperately needed for recruiting purposes, has been “approved by campus” and discussed with donors, according to Williams. But there is no time-frame for construction.