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.
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.”