If Cal lands Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee this week, it will come at quite a price.
The roster spot now potentially earmarked for Lee became vacant Tuesday when the Bears’ best perimeter scorer announced he was leaving.
Senior-to-be Jordan Mathews intends to graduate from Cal this summer and play his final college season elsewhere. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.5 points per game last season, shot 41.6 percent from behind the arc and would have been Cal’s leading returning scorer had he opted to come back.
“This decision was not easy but I am incredibly thankful for this experience,” Mathews wrote on Twitter. “The relationships I have developed will last a lifetime. I will always be a Cal Bear and I will forever cherish my time in Berkeley.”
Mathews’ departure is a massive blow to a Cal team that had high expectations next season despite losing its top two scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team. With Ivan Rabb delaying his NBA dreams for at least one more year, the Bears boast one of college basketball’s top returning big men and seemed to have some capable perimeter talent to complement him.
Without Matthews, Cal’s perimeter shooting becomes a question mark. Jabari Bird is Cal’s only returning player who hit more than 11 threes all of last season, though Columbia graduate transfer Grant Mullins is a proven shooter.
Cal’s best-case scenario is Rabb becoming a monster, Bird finally taking a long-awaited leap forward, Mullins spacing the floor with his shooting and Sam Singer and Charlie Moore solidifying the point guard position. In that case, it’s conceivable the Bears could finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 and return to the NCAA tournament.
Cal’s worst-case scenario is Bird plateauing further, Mullins not being able to handle the jump from the Ivy League to the Pac-12 and Rabb facing too many double teams to make a consistent impact. In that case, the Bears are a lower-tier Pac-12 team unlikely to sniff the postseason.
As for Mathews’ next destination, CBSSports.com reported that Gonzaga is the early favorite. His outside shooting and ability to space the floor would be an ideal fit for a Zags team with a strong frontcourt and a pair of slashing point guards in its starting backcourt.
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