Cal isn't piling expectations on Jabari Bird
SAN FRANCISCO – Few incoming freshmen joining the Pac-12 are as talented as Cal's Jabari Bird. Arguably, none are more important in replicating their teams' success of a year ago.
Yet, Golden Bears coach Mike Montgomery knows that expectations won't mold Bird. They can only hurt him. At Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day joined by senior Justin Cobbs, Montgomery preached patience regarding his young star.
“I'm always leery about the attention that freshmen get because the adjustment of coming into a successful college program is always difficult,” Montgomery said. “What I want to do is make sure we're not pushing him to do things he's not comfortable with. It's going to be the responsibility of a guy like Justin to make sure we take care of Jabari's abilities.”
Bird is a 6'6", 190-pound swingman and a McDonald's All-American last year at Salesian High School out of Richmond, Calif. He has been labeled as the man to fill the shoes of scoring swingman Allen Crabbe, who left for the NBA after his junior season.
In terms of skills and not expectations, Montgomery didn't completely shy away from comparing Bird to Crabbe. Rather, he said the Cal staff is hoping Bird develops the type of shooting mentality that made Crabbe one of college hoops' elite shooters. Crabbe came into Cal with an itchy trigger finger. Whether it was coming off screens or floating around the weak side, he was always comfortable catching and shooting.
Montgomery hopes Bird will find more comfort in thinking a bit more like Crabbe – even if he is more athletic.
“Jabari can really shoot the ball, but he's really more inclined to get to the basket,” Montgomery said. “We're trying to get him more really to where Allen is. That'll open up the drives for him.”
The Golden Bears have Cobbs returning after averaging 15.1 points and 4.8 assists per game. Forward Richard Solomon is back for his senior year and, among other returning players, guard Ty Wallace will have a bigger scoring role as a sophomore.
After going 21-12 last season and falling to Syracuse in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, the Golden Bears have another step to climb in their attempt to be named among the Pac-12 elite – that's despite appearing fifth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.
Cobbs' role in the success is two-fold. Not only will he be in charge of running a team as the point guard, but he'll need to help in the development of a team that includes five freshmen and three true sophomores.
“If we work on the defensive end and we get stops, we can cover that hump,” Cobbs said.
But Cal stills needs help in making up 18.4 points per game that left with Crabbe. So there aren't expectations placed on Bird to play a big role. But there is a need.
“I want him to develop, I want him to learn as a freshman,” Montgomery said. “The expectations is he has a great freshman year and he helps us win basketball games.”