With a lineup that includes a 6-foot-11 forward who would like to become the first Israeli to play in the NBA and a hot-shooting forward from Los Angeles who leads the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring, it's easy to overlook California freshman point guard Richard Midgley.

Midgley doesn't score a lot of points for Cal, as do forwards Amit Tamir (17.1 points per game) or Joe Shipp (21.1 ppg). Two other starters match him in the assist department. But what makes Midgley invaluable to the Bears is the way he unites the diverse team on the court.

"Richard is a chemistry-type guy," Cal Coach Ben Braun said. "Here's a guy that doesn't shoot the ball very much, but is a very good shooter. . . . He'll take advantage of the opportunities, and he wants to help the team. He's that kind of player, and I think he's only helped our team chemistry."

Midgley's contributions are as surprising as Cal's success in the Pac-10 this season. The No. 22 Bears (17-4, 10-2), who are enjoying their best season since 1960, have won 11 of their last 13 games and are a game out of first place in the Pac-10 standings. Cal plays Washington (8-13, 3-9) today in Berkeley.

Being a freshman, Midgley wasn't expected to run the Bears' offense this season. He hadn't even played as a senior in high school because of eligibility questions. But when Shantay Legans, who helped lead Cal to the NCAA tournament's second round last season, decided to transfer to Fresno State, Midgley was thrust into the role.

Braun didn't rush him into the starting lineup, though. Instead, he started A.J. Diggs for nine games while Midgley adjusted to the rigors of college basketball. By the Pac-10 season, Midgley was a starter.

Since then, Midgley has flourished. He doesn't take a lot of shots; but those he takes, he usually makes. Midgley, who averages nearly 10 points per game, is shooting 52 percent from the field, including 46 percent from three-point range. He scored a career-high 23 points in Cal's 73-68 victory against USC on Jan. 23.

"It's not been too bad," Midgley said. "The older players help me a lot. They give me lots of advice, tips."

Midgley, a native of Burgess Hill, England, grew up watching the Brighton Bears of the British Basketball League and decided at age 10 to eschew soccer for basketball with hopes of one day playing professionally. He came to the United States four years ago to give himself the best chance at realizing that dream.

Unlike many European players, who are faulted for being more finesse than physical, Midgley is fearless around the basket.

"He's tough and is not afraid to take charges," Braun said. "He doesn't mind contact and he has a mentality where he doesn't complain about fouls."

-- Kathy Orton

Richard Midgley had to deal with Arizona State defender Jason Braxton in the teams' Jan. 30 meeting, but overall he's had success with Cal No. 22.