Freshmen Jabari Bird, the highest-rated local player recruited to Cal by coach Mike Montgomery, enjoyed his exhibition debut Thursday night.
“I played here before in high school,” said Bird, the former Salesian High star. “But putting on the Golden Bears uniform was a totally different experience for me and I enjoyed it.”
Bird had nine points, four assists, three rebounds and two blocked shots as the Bears scored an 83-61 win over Humboldt State.
It was an encouraging opening night for five Cal freshmen, who combined for 33 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Jordan Mathews, son of former USF coach Phil Mathews, led the way with 15 points, including four 3-point baskets in a span of 2 minutes, 38 seconds in the second half.
Bird played in front of his entire family, including his father Carl, who averaged 15.2 points for the Bears in 1975-76.
“I think it’s kind of funny,” Bird said, “that so many years ago he was in a simlar position to go out and do what I want to do — be a prolific scorer for the Golden Bears.”
“Jabari is still getting his feet wet, but he’s certainly a spectacular athlete who ultimately be be really good,” Montgomery said.
But it’s been Mathews, Montgomery said, who has been Cal’s best perimeter shooter through the first few weeks of practice.
“That’s one of the things I definitely take pride in,” Mathews said of his hot stretch. “The coaches encourage me to take open shots.”
“The gun’s always loaded with Jordan. He’s ready to shoot it when he gets it,” Montgomery said. “He’ll thrive because he’s ready to shoot. He knows how to get himself square with his shoulders to the basket.”
Montgomery was happy enough for the first time out.
“The freshman group is going to be a pretty good group, but there’s going to be growing pains,” he said. “Some of them are going to have to be major minutes guys or major contributors as time goes on.
“Some of those guys are going to be among our better shooters, but we also know they’re going to make freshmen mistakes.”
Senior point guard Justin Cobbs scored 13 points in 22 minutes, forward Richard Solomon had 11 points and nine rebounds and forward David Kravish chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds.
Cal led 45-21 at halftime before pushing the margin to 32 points. The Bears outrebounded the Division II Lumberjacks 57-32. The second half was a little choppier, with the Bears allowing 40 points and coughing up many of their 15 turnovers.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, no quesiton,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got eight new players out there and some of them, frankly, get nervous.”
Mathews said the game was a mixed bag.
“The positive is we played really hard first half,” he said. “The negatives, we got really sloppy.”
He said the freshmen are eager to be major contributors.
“We don’t have a cool mentality. We know to win we have to play hard,” Mathews said. “It was a good tuneup for us. When we get our feet under us, we’ll be fine.”