Jabari Bird has big debut in Cal opener, with 14 points, seven boards and five assists in the Bears'…
PREVIEW: Hardly Flying Solo
WHERE: Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
WHEN: 9 p.m. Pacific
TV: Pac-12 Bay Area, with Roxy Bernstein on the play-by-play and Dan Belluomini on analysis
RADIO: Cal/IMG Radio Network (810 AM KGO), with Todd McKim on play by play, and Jay John on analysis
BERKELEY -- Richard Solomon has never been seen as particularly mature. As a sophomore, he missed most of the season after he was declared academically ineligible. He notably attempted some ill-advised three-point shots over each of his first three seasons, going 7-for-28 from beyond the line, much to the consternation of his coach, Mike Montgomery.
These days, though, the discipline Solomon learned as a young martial artist seems to have finally taken hold. In his own words, a light's gone off.
[BTTV: Exhibition Video Highlights]
"After three years, sometimes the light just goes off a little late, but I think the light went off this summer," Solomon says. "I have a post game now. I'm not too worried about being on the wings and shooting threes as much as I might have been in the past. I had to find my post game, and I know I'm 6-11. I know how to play big.
"Personally, I think this offseason's been my best offseason yet. I just really decided to get back on the floor and put that whole offseason to the test and do whatever I can to help the team win, and hopefully, we can be back where we were last year, and maybe a little bit further."
Solomon went into the gym every day to work with his father. No more three-pointers. No more turnaround jumpers from the wing. Just banging – that's Solomon's game now.
[SCRIMMAGE FILM: Part I, Part II]
"He's been more around the basket, going to the offensive glass and he's been effective," says Montgomery. "The more we get him the ball in the paint, the better he's going to be, the harder he's going to work. Like any big guy, if you feed the big people, they're going to continue to work for you."
As attested to by several recruits, Solomon has even taken on a leadership role both on the court and off.
"He's maturing," says Montgomery. "He should be one of the better big people in the conference. He's explosive and he gets going a little bit. We've got to eliminate the silly fouls – the touch fouls -- that get him in trouble that way. That's maybe a concentration issue, or habits, but he should have a real good year. He's maturing, slowly but surely."
[SCOUT TV: Emphasis on ‘Team' for Montgomery]
Solomon has not only been a guiding voice for recruits, but also for the clutch of young freshmen in the locker room, the most Montgomery has had in quite some time.
"We've got a good group of young kids with a good foundation," Solomon says. "Basically, we're just going to throw them in there and they get to go against us, the veterans. They've got a few things they've got to learn, because they're still adjusting from high school to college. They haven't played any college games yet, so it's still that learning curve. They're ready to work, they're ready to learn new things, and they're picking up – not as fast – but they're picking up. It's going to be a fun season."
Because of Solomon's maturation, and the development of David Kravish, fifth-year senior point guard Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace, Kravish says that expectations for this team – with the addition of former five-star Jabari Bird – are "really high."
[SCOUT TV: Pac-12 Media Day: Justin Cobbs]
"We've got a solid group of veterans at every position. We've got a solid group of newcomers. It's really exciting, especially knowing where we've been," Kravish says. "The last two years, we've been so close, and making it to the Tournament last year. Given who we have back and the mentality of these players, I'm really, really excited."
When the Bears face off against Coppin state on Friday at 9 p.m. Pacific, Bird is expected to be the first freshman to be thrown into the mix, in front of the same crowd, in a building that – in another form – housed his father's college career.
"Everybody expects so much, and you feel for the kid a little bit, because he's just a young pup that's got to figure it out like all the other freshmen – how hard you have to play to get a rebound, he's got to learn to shoot it when he's open and pass it when he's not and just get involved with what we're trying to do," says Montgomery. "We can get him shots, if he'll figure out in our offense where he needs to be and how to get his feet set. He's a talented player, but there's going to be growing pains, just like there are for all the freshmen."
[FEATURE: Fly the Friendly Skies with Bird]
Despite four returning starters, and replacing an NBA Draft pick with a five-star, though, the national pollsters haven't paid Cal much attention.
The Bears did not receive a single vote for the AP top-25 poll, and was No. 34 in the season-opening USA TODAY/ESPN poll. Despite being picked second in the conference by Pac-12 media, there were seven Pac-12 teams with votes in the AP poll, with Cal nowhere to be found.
Of course, Bird isn't the only Bear cub who'll see significant minutes. All five freshmen are likely to play, with Montgomery saying that even big Kameron Rooks will have to get in on the action, with a short big man rotation limited to Kravish and Solomon, with Ricky Kreklow and freshman Roger Moute a Bidias serving as small fours if either Solomon or Kravish leaves the floor.
"I think a lot of the new guys are going to have to learn on the fly," Montgomery says. "I don't know that we can put all new players in there and expect to be effective with new guys. I think we can use them one or two with veteran groups, but they're going to have to kind of learn on the fly. They're going to have to learn in game situations, some of the things that we're trying to talk about, that they need to do."
[Pac-12 Media Day: Mike Montgomery, Crime Fighter]
As far as Solomon is concerned, some of the teaching will have to come from him.
"You come in as a freshman, especially ranked high out of high school, you kind of think you're somebody, a little bit. Some of those guys – not saying that they have that reputation – but they definitely come from backgrounds where they were that guy, so adjusting to a new environment and a new system to where it's a whole different level, and they have to start over," Solomon says. "Yeah, I can relate to them a lot. I'm just trying to help them and guide them through whatever they're doing. If they have a problem with something, they know they can come talk to me, and same thing with David. We just try to help them get through that learning curve. The better they are, the better we're going to be."
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