Basketball: Freshman Jabari Bird attends classes on 19th birthday, already turns heads on campus

Cal freshman Jabari Bird celebrated his 19th birthday by attending two summer bridge classes Wednesday.

“It was definitely a little bit different,” Bird told me. “I’m not used to going to school on my B-day. It was only two classes — Education 98 and College Writing N2. It was fun.”

Yeah, sure it was. I’ve got a summer birthday and one of the things I liked best about it was never having to go to school and when I’d have been daydreaming about other things.

Turns out, Jabari and I have something in common.

“Oh yeah, multiple times in class I was thinking about what I’m going to do later,” he said.

The agenda called for dinner and a movie with his girlfriend. All in all, a low-key 19th celebration for The Next Big Thing in the Cal basketball program.

Jabari Bird shows off his No. 23 jersey. Photo courtesy of Cal athletics

Jabari Bird shows off his No. 23 jersey.
Photo courtesy of Cal athletics

The shooting guard from Salesian High in Richmond is coach Mike Montgomery’s highest-profile recruit to Berkeley. Still, Bird told me he’s been a little surprised that already he has a profile among other students on campus.

“I’ve had a couple people come up to me and say, `Hi. You’re Jabari Bird. I’ve seen your videos on YouTube,’ ” he said. “I haven’t played a game yet and they already know who I am. It’s a big thing for me.

“I like it that people recognize me. It’s a compliment. But I’m definitely a little surprised by it. It’s only been 3 or 4 people, but I’ll take it.”

There will be increasing attention on Bird, a consensus top-25 national recruit, to step into the shoes left vacant by Allen Crabbe, also a shooting guarad.

Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and preparing to begin his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers, leaves behind the team’s only vacant starting position.

“I’m not trying to come in and be Allen Crabbe 2.0. I’m just trying to be the first and only Jabari Bird,” he said. “I just expect to come in and get minutes right away as a freshman and help the team out. Just come in and make my mark in the program.

“Of course, there will be expectations and comparisons between the two of us. But even though we play the same position, I don’t think our games are really that similar.

“I would love to be half the shooter he is, but I feel I’m a better athlete and I can do other things.”

As to finding a place in the lineup, Bird said. “That’s obviously the goal — to be a starter. I’m not expecting (to be given) anything from the coaching staff. Their job was to get me here. My job is to play hard.”

Bird is getting to know his fellow freshmen Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer and Kameron Rooks, and looks forward to meeting Roger Moute a Bidias, yet to arrive on campus.

“The four of us are working out with each other. We have a big chemistry right from Day 1,” he said. “I’ve been impressed with the skill level and intensity of Sam Singer and Kameron Rooks.

“I knew Jordan from last year — met him at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and played against him in AAU. He’s really improved his game.”

Bird knows he needs to improve his strength and size. At 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, he is part of a “serious” weight lifting program for the first time.

“We’re really getting after it right now. It’s fun,” he said. “I like getting better. Anything that can get me better, I’m for it.”

The most significant adjustment Bird has had to make so far is getting accustomed to the sprawling Berkeley campus.

“A lot of walking. Not used to that part. It’s a lot bigger than Salesian,” he said. “But it’s pretty cool.”

Bird, who introduces himself on Twitter as “young dude wit BIG dreams,” is putting no limits on what the Bears can achieve this season.

“I think we can be really good, one of the top teams in the conference,” Bird said. “Hopefully we can get people to stop sleeping on Cal. Nobody talks about Cal, always about other schools.

“I just want to help the team have a really good year and get Cal some respect.”


Jeff Faraudo

  • gobears91

    Solid interview, Jeff. I already like this kid. Sounds bright, humble and appreciative, and we know he’s got all kinds of game.

  • SteveNTexas

    Ivan Rabb Frojm Bishop O”Dowd in Oakland is ranked the #3 Recruit in the 2015- what are our chances?

  • BlakeStreetBear

    This will be a Monty team that is getting better in March, finally. The depth will be great! Go Bears!

  • Juancho

    Steve i actually met rabbs dad at a bird game last year. Real solid family. We talked about cal and monty. I took my baseball kids to that game on a field trip. He was a really measured guy and he didnt give me a good read of his thoughts on monty or cal. But he was in awe of jabari. So was his son. They are close. If jabari stays at cal for rabbs first year i think weve got a shot.

  • SteveNTexas

    Thanks Juancho – Zimmerman the number 2 overall prospect (Bishop Gorman LV) and a great center is being recruited by a bunch of teams including Arizona and UCLA but I don’t see us in the mix. Zimmerman is not going to think about recruiting for a while. He’s a bit skinny but maybe Cal can poise itself for when he does.

    Also in the Top 10 is Tyler Dorsey a combo guard out of LA. I think he is ranked #8.

    Hey Juancho can you join the Cal recruiting on a part-time basis? I’m sure there’s an NCAA rule for that.

  • Juancho

    Tell you what steve. Id love that.

    I guess right now as a baseball coach i sort of see myself as an ambassador for Cal. Even now that im working with 8-11 year olds i focus just as much on school and cal as i do on baseball.

    I have a strategy background. I emailed sandy barbour once with my idea. Which is that cal should approach recruiting more holistically. Instead of each major sport being on its own. There should be a recruiting czar that builds relationships with all the major high schools especially locally. Through this cal could set up events at high schools or host events and accreditations for local coaches.

    I would want that job someday. Id out tosh tosh.

  • Gobears49

    Any news or rumors out there about what Cal plans to do with its last available scholarship for next year? Also, without getting another big man, who do you think is going to be the third big man playing for Cal next year?

  • BlakeStreetBear

    Gobears, big men? BIG MEN!? we don’t need any steeenking big men!

    It will be Rooks as the third big, but this team is guard-tastic! Solomon and Kravish will be (one of) the best interior defensive combos in the country, mark my words. The way they defended the glass last year at times was marvelous and I think they both get bigger/stronger/quicker this offseason. Rooks will have moments too, he is BIG. Not sure if Frid/Behrens will have any impact (or even play), but if so, that would be GREAT! The freshman Roger will help on the boards too, hopefully.

    But the guards, have I mentioned them yet? Cobbs should be all-p12 first team along with Bird. Wallace, if he shoots better will be outstanding, and if not he will still be better and a difference maker. Kreklow, if totally healthy, well I don’t know what he’s capable, but I imagine a Jorge type who can shoot it from 25 feet. Singer may surprise and take over #2 PG duties, I think he is that good. Mathews should spell Bird and can really shoot it. And of course JPowers may just decide to become a dead-eye off the bench too, that would be nice. Not sure if Johnson will help at all.

    All in all, this team is going to be athletic, talented AND deep. Even up front I think they will have enough help from the big gaurds who rebound well (Wallace/Bird/Kreklow) to not get out-muscled by anyone. Of course they gotta stay outta foul trouble, but who doesn’t and Solomon/Kravish showed good skill in that regard last year.

    Wait, football hasn’t even started yet and I’m already totally ready to watch this bball squad!! Go Bears!

  • Gobears49


    Love your optimism. You must be either young or at least young at heart. Reminds me when I was a kid and my beloved L.A. Rams were way behind late in the fourth quarter, but I figured they’d score quick touchdowns after recovering every onside kick. Next year we play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s, right?

    Rooks could be good, but not based upon the YouTube video I saw of him, where he looked kinda clumsy and slow. Frid is just as tall as Rooks, and may be more coordinated, but he hasn’t really played team basketball much, though I liked his YouTube video a lot more than Rooks’. I think Behrens, who is 6’9″ and who showed some promise last year before he got hurt is likely to be the first big man substitute for us next year. I think he moves a lot better than Rooks or Frid.

    I agree we are deep at the non-front line positions, though I think it will take most of the next year for them to be really productive (which Monty is famous for doing) but we need a productive Big Three up front (and Big Four would be even better). I am skeptical that can happen with who we now have, which is why I am hoping for an early Christmas (or Chanukah) present to soon read that Monty has signed a big man, with good JC or college who can help us next year. Then there is a decent chance we can have four big men who play decent minutes for us next year.

  • Uh huh!

    Frid has parted ways with Cal, from what I understand. FYI.