Cal hoops coach Cuonzo Martin must be one hell of a card player. On the sidelines, his tone and demeanor rarely change; his suits don’t even seem to wrinkle. He isn’t a tactician known for sui generis schemes like John Beilein or Shaka Smart. He isn’t an icon who gets blue-chip recruits because of his, or his program’s, name recognition. But in his second year with the Golden Bears, Martin looks like the right man for one of college basketball’s most unusual jobs.

For half a century, Cal has been trying to make up for lost time and find a replacement for legendary head coach Pete Newell, who led the Bears to consecutive national championship games in 1959 and 1960, during the primordial years of the NCAA era. Before he retired—at the age of 44, on the advice of his doctors—Newell was a legendary molder of (big) men; his name is on an award for best collegiate frontcourt player, and on basketball’s preeminent big man camp. Newell built a strong program at Cal, won his final eight matchups against John Wooden’s UCLA teams, and then watched helplessly as UCLA put the sport into a musty submission hold in the 60s. Newell’s successor, Rene Herrerias, won half as many games in his first year as Newell had in his last, and lost 100 of his 192 games.

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