BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Theo Robertson thought he would be back on the court for California around this time last year, just seven months out from hip surgery.
Instead, he spent his junior season on the sidelines recovering. Now a finally healthy Robertson is a big reason the Golden Bears are off to a 6-1 start under new coach Mike Montgomery.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound small forward is moving well, coming off screens to create chances and knock down 3-pointers and also making his presence felt on the defensive end - something Cal dearly missed.
``That's something I expect of myself,'' Robertson said. ``I put in a lot of work this summer and offseason and this fall. I never want to take these games for granted.''
He's certainly carried that hard work into the season.
Robertson dished out nine assists in a 10-point win over DePaul on Wednesday night. He scored 19 of his career-high 23 points - with five 3-pointers - in the first half of an 87-74 victory against San Francisco on Nov. 18.
Robertson?'' USF coach Rex Walters said afterward. ``The first five minutes of the game we couldn't guard him at all.''
Robertson's left hip began bothering him in high school while playing in the state tournament.
He thought nothing of it at the time, figuring it was just a pulled muscle. And it went away in a hurry. It wasn't until the 2007 Pac-10 tournament that things were clearly wrong: He couldn't walk up the arena stairs to greet his parents after a game.
Last January, after gearing up to return for the start of the Pac-10 season following April 2007 hip surgery, Robertson wasn't getting better and ultimately decided to redshirt his junior season.
At first he just tried to get back to playing consecutive days, then he turned his attention toward the long term. Even this summer he had his share of aches and pains while getting back into basketball shape.
``I'm taking each step,'' Robertson said. ``At first I wanted it to be summer so I could get back out there. Then I wanted it to be October so we could start practice. Then I wanted to get to November so we could start playing games. It was a long process, but it flew by. I had a good summer.''
During the team's preseason conditioning program, he made sure to ice his hip after every practice to avoid future problems.
I haven't thought about it, so that's a good sign. I hope it keeps that way.''
Former Cal coach Ben Braun, fired after last season, always considered Robertson his top defender. Robertson started all 33 games for the Bears as a sophomore, averaging 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds while playing the power forward spot due to his teammates' injuries.
``Theo's a great defender. He's one of the best I've ever seen,'' teammate Jerome Randle said.
Robertson is part of the old guard on the roster after DeVon Hardin's departure and Ryan Anderson's decision to leave school early for the NBA. Only Robertson and a couple of others remember the feeling of making the NCAA tournament as freshmen in 2006.
Cal finished ninth in the Pac-10 last season, going 17-16 overall and just 6-12 in league play, and reached the second round of the NIT.
For Montgomery, having a veteran such as Robertson around has been important during this transition process.
``Theo's had some really good early season games,'' said Montgomery, the former Stanford and Golden State Warriors coach. ``Theo's as solid as they come.''
The Bears are picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 this year, and Robertson and Montgomery have acknowledged a turnaround won't necessarily happen right away. But they're seeing some positive signs of progress.
``I think everyone's really hungry to taste some NCAA tournament experience,'' Robertson said. ``It's been an adjustment. With Coach Montgomery coming in it definitely brings a lot of excitement to the program. There's a sour taste in our mouth after last year. We definitely want to rebound from that and have a good year. Everybody's energy level is way up. We're feeling really optimistic about it.''

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