Kurtis Townsend knows all there is to know about University of California basketball, having worked as a Golden Bears’ assistant coach from 1993 to ’97.
His pick for the best player in school history should come as no surprise.
“Jason Kidd, no question,” Townsend, Kansas University’s seventh-year aide, said of the 10-time NBA all-star who currently plays for the Dallas Mavericks.
“Kevin Johnson was very good. Lamond Murray and those guys who won a national championship (1959, NCAA runner-up in 1960) under coach (Pete) Newell, but that was a different era,” added Townsend. He coached point guard deluxe Kidd just one season — Kidd’s second and final season — at Cal.
Kidd, whose freshman year ended with a Sweet 16 loss to KU in St. Louis, did not play all his home games at 11,877-seat Haas Pavilion, site of Wednesday’s 10 p.m. nonconference clash between the Jayhawks (10-0) and Bears (6-4).
“We played mostly in the (Oakland) Coliseum to accommodate the larger crowds that Jason helped attract,” Townsend said. “Their current arena was once called Harmon Arena. They remodeled it and tried to do what we did with Allen, keep the traditional feel of the building, but make it more modern. It’s really a nice facility.
“They won it (Pac-10) last year, so I’m sure the crowds have gotten better. My last year, we went to the Sweet 16, but didn’t win the league. We had good crowds but didn’t sell out every game. Stanford, UCLA … games like that we’d sell out.”
Haas Arena should be loud as ever Wednesday with the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks in town and Cal coach Mike Montgomery seeking his 600th career victory (against 270 losses).
“He is an unbelievable coach,” Townsend said of Montgomery, now in his third year at Cal. He’s also coached college at Stanford (18 years) and eight years at Montana, to go with two seasons with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
“He’s a good recruiter and a heck of a defensive coach. He has a nice little system that’s worked nicely for him,” Townsend said. “He had great teams at Stanford and went to the Final Four there. I like him a lot as a person and respect him a lot as a coach.”
The Bears, who have averaged 7,611 fans in six home dates, own a 4-2 home record, with losses to San Diego State (77-57) and Southern Miss (80-78) to go with wins over Cal State-Northridge, New Mexico, UC Davis and Cal Poly. The Bears are led by 6-8 junior Harper Kamp (13.1 ppg) and 6-3 junior Jorge Gutierrez (12.6 ppg).
“It’s just a great institution,” Townsend said of Cal. “The academics are really good. It’s a beautiful area. It doesn’t get much better than Berkeley. My memories were fond because it’s the first job I ever had in college. It was a dream come true for me to coach at that level. With that and being pretty good, it was nice. Of course, it was home for me.”
Townsend grew up in the Bay Area. He came to Cal from Willow Glen (Calif.) High School.
“It’s going to be great to be back,” Townsend said. He and the Jayhawks arrived early Monday evening. “I love it back there. It’s one of the prettiest places in the country to live. The weather is always good. There’s a lot to do. It will be great to see some family and friends.”
Any seafood dining recommendations for fans?
“Scott’s Seafood in Jack London Square. Kincaid’s is a place we’ll eat at,” he said of the restaurant in Oakland the Jayhawks flocked to at 7 p.m. Monday. “The absolutely best for me is Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco because it’s so fresh, and they catch it every day.”
Selby honored: KU’s Josh Selby on Monday was named Big 12 rookie of the week. Selby scored 21 points and hit the game-winning shot in Saturday’s 70-68 victory over USC. He finished 5-of-11 from the field, 5-of-8 from three. Selby became the first KU freshman to earn rookie of the week accolades since Xavier Henry was named three times last season. Khris Middleton of Texas A&M was named player of the week.
Taylor up for Cousy Award: KU junior Tyshawn Taylor is one of 66 candidates for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the country’s top point guard. Big 12 guards on the list: Taylor, A.J. Walton (Baylor), Alec Burks (Colorado), Diante Garrett (Iowa State), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Michael Dixon, Phil Pressey (Missouri) and Keiton Page (Oklahoma State).