Basketball: Freshman Jabari Bird calls his Cal debut `an amazing experience’

Jabari Bird’s freshman debut for the Cal basketball team was everything he dreamed about.

“An amazing experience,” he said after Cal’s 83-64 season-opening win over Coppin State. “It was really fun going out there playing with my friends and getting a W.”

The McDonald’s All-American from Salesian High in Richmond had 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and zero turnovers in 21 minutes off the bench in front of 8,249 fans at Haas Pavilion.

“It’s obvious Bird can do the spectacular. He can bring people out of their seats, no question about that,” coach Mike Montgomery said.

The first time that happened was midway through the first half when the 6-foot-5 guard went high to block a swat a shot into the stands. He was immediately whistled for goaltending.

“It’s the every day plays we need to get him to understand the value of,” Montgomery said. “The early goaltend got people excited, but at the end of the day it’s a goaltend.”

Sophomore Tyrone Wallace scored a career-high 20 points for the Bears, adding six rebounds and seven assists. “Early in the game he was our best player,” Montgomery said.

Justin Cobbs had 16 points and six assists, Richard Solomon had 10 points and 10 rebounds and David Kravish grabbed 11 rebounds.

The Bears had 23 assists to just seven turnovers and blocked eight shots. They held the visitors from Baltimore to 33-percent shooting. Montgomery was less happy with their 10-for-20 effort at the free throw line.

Bird, a McDonald’s All-American at Richmond’s Salesian High, played a controlled game with his father, former Cal standout Carl Bird, among 20 friends and family members on hand.

“That’s definitely a big reason I’m here. I wanted to stay close to home,” he said. “It was a great feeling having them here supporting me.”

Bird, the most high-profile local player Montgomery has recruited to Cal, gave himself a passing grade for his debut.

“I thought I played OK in spurts. At times I was lazy out there,” Bird said. “I still get hit by a lot of screens so I’ve got to work on that. As far as working on (defensive) concepts, I’m understanding those.”

All five Cal freshmen played, combining for 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

“We’re going to have to be patient,” Montgomery said. “We’re trying to work five freshmen into the lineup and they’re going to make mistakes.”

Sterling Smith, a sophomore guard from Chico, had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Eagles, who play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Cal returns to action Tuesday night at home against Denver.

Jeff Faraudo