Cal Golden Bears: Pair of Blue Chip Freshmen Bring Hope To Team


Jason Kidd. Lamond Murray. Shareef Abdur-Rahim. These diaper dandy prospects brought the fervor back to Cal Golden Bears basketball in the mid- 90s. The height of the era was the 2nd round NCAA Tournament upset of recent back to back champion, Duke, that had fans going crazy.

But the magic would not last as Cal faced severe sanctions in the wake of the Todd Bozeman fallout.

In the two decades since, Cal basketball has had little to cheer about, only advancing to the Sweet 16 once more after the Duke win in 1993. Recruiting has also been less than stellar, with only a few impact players choosing to attend Berkeley. More notably, local top prospects rarely chose Cal, opting to sign with other Pac-12 rivals.

Cal basketball needs to find that electricity and fervor once again.

After an up and down first season under head coach Cuonzo Martin, the swagger for the Cal Bears seems to be returning in time for the 2015-16 season. In Martin’s first full season of recruitment, Cal was able to nab two players in the top ten of the ESPN 100 — power forward Ivan Rabb from local high school Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, and small forward Jaylen Brown from Alpharetta, Georgia.

Both players were considered long shots to commit to Cal but were swayed by what Martin had to offer. Martin wanted both to become the faces of helping rebuild a program back to prominence.

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Rabb, who considered offers from Arizona, UCLA, Kansas, and Kentucky, will fill in nicely on a team that lost its best big man in David Kravish to the NBA. At 6’10”, Rabb’s length and athleticism should feature prominently on both ends of the court.

Cal’s transition game should benefit immensely from Rabb’s activity and leaping ability, which were on display in the state championship game win for Bishop O’Dowd.

Against Southern California powerhouse, Mater Dei-Santa Ana, Rabb finished with 19 points and 21 rebounds, and even sank the game winning free throw with 0.8 seconds left in overtime. He finished the season with averages of 20 ppg, 15 rpg, and 5 bpg.

Brown, who had to pay his way to visit Berkeley, having used up all five of his official visits, was lured to Cal even later than Rabb by Martin. Initial reports were that Cal was behind Michigan, Kentucky and his local choice Georgia Tech, so Brown’s commitment was a huge coup for Martin. He is considered to be one of the most explosive and exciting players in the 2015 recruiting class and should be a highlight reel waiting to happen.

The 6’7″, 220 lb swingman is already built with an NBA body and could be poised to be one and done after his freshman year. Brown is adept at attacking the rim with a quick step and just like Rabb, should be a huge weapon on the fast break. Coincidentally, Brown also hit the game winning free throws in his state championship game for Wheeler High, sinking two of them with 0.6 seconds left to seal a 59-58 win.

Returning for Cal are First Team All Pac-12 guard, Tyrone Wallace (17.1 ppg), guard Jordan Matthews (13.6 ppg) and guard Jabari Bird (10.6 ppg). Coupled with Rabb and Brown, Cal figures to have one of the most dynamic lineups in the conference and should challenge for the title.

If Martin’s two new stars can live up to their potential and be molded with his seasoned upperclassmen, Cal will return the fervor to Berkeley and become an attractive college basketball destination once again.

Next: How the California Golden Bears Shocked the College Basketball World