The unexpected decision of Gary Franklin to transfer from the Cal basketball program just 13 games into his college career took Cal’s players, coaches, and fans by surprise. But it was not the first surprise Franklin sprang upon Cal. The first surprise came when Franklin first donned a Cal uniform: Franklin conspicuously wore jersey number 4 for the Bears.
By doing that, Franklin became the first player to wear number 4 for the Bears since the Sweet 16 round of the 1997 NCAA tournament, where Cal lost to the North Carolina Tar Heels. That night, sixth year senior Alfred Grigsby played his final game as a California Golden Bear, wearing the number 4 he had worn since the fall of 1991, when he suited up as a true freshman. In a touching gesture that was a surprise to most in attendance—including Grigsby—Cal retired the number 4 on senior night in 1997 when Grigsby played his final game in Harmon Gym. At the time, Grigsby’s number was only the second one retired in Cal men’s basketball history. (Kevin Johnson’s number 11 was the first. Since that time, Cal has retired Jason Kidd’s number 5 and Darrall Imhoff’s number 40.)
Trust us -- Darrall Imhoff's retired number is up there, too.
It has been discussed in the broadcast media and on the Cal blogosphere that Franklin either requested or demanded that he be allowed to wear number 4 and that Cal allowed him to do so with Grigsby’s gracious blessing. Now that Franklin has transferred, the number 4 is once again in the Haas Pavilion rafters, restored to retired status as a testament to Grigsby’s long career as a Golden Bear.
The Hit Squad decided to take this opportunity to look back on the career of Al Grigsby.
1. Educate some of our younger CGB readers. Why is Al Grigsby's jersey retired?
CALumbus Bear: I, too, await this education, as I have yet to hear a compelling answer.
Ohio Bear: Hatters gonna hat!
Seriously, what CALumbus Bear might be trying to say is that Al Grigsby’s jersey was retired for unconventional reasons. By comparison, it’s easy to see why Cal retired the other numbers that hang in the Haas Pavilion rafters—Kevin Johnson was an all-time great player for Cal and had a very good NBA career; Darrall Imhoff was the best player on Cal’s national championship team in 1959 and had a serviceable NBA career; and Jason Kidd is what we know he is. By contrast, Al Grigsby compiled modest stats during his career at Cal. (For his career, he averaged 8.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, with a career FG percentage of 56%.) You won’t find Al Grigsby on Cal’s all-time career leaders in scoring or rebounding, but you will find he is one of the most beloved Bears of his era. His tireless work ethic, his team-first mentality, and his determination to fight through countless injuries endeared him to his teammates and to Cal fans.
Kodiak: Al Grigby's jersey is retired as a tribute to perseverance. He wasn't the most talented player. He didn't have the most noteworthy career or statistics. But he absolutely refused to give up. I hope that most you have never had a surgery nor had to rehab from one. It's not fun. In fact, it's miserable, soul-crushing, and an ever-present struggle against despair. I forget the exact number, but I thought I remembered that Big Al came back from at least three major surgeries and rehabs. That's endless hours of therapy, ice, tape, and pain...with no promise or guarantee that you'll ever be right again. He probably should have hung them up, but didn't. Not only was able to come back and contribute to Cal's Sweet 16 run in his final season, but he managed to play professionally in Japan after graduating.
2. What do you remember most about Al Grigsby's game?
LeonPowe: He was a man's man down low. Just a big strong dude, who would shed bodies and grab rebounds in traffic. Not a prodigious leaper, and not a whole lot of moves, Big Al was what I've heard people in Texas (where he was from) say "country strong."
Kodiak: Heart. Despite being gentle and soft-spoken with an easy smile off the court, I remember that he battled down low with absolute ferocity. He never did have much of an outside shot, but he had a little baby hook and a drop-step move. He was probably best cleaning things up either on the break or on put-backs.
CALumbus Bear: Perhaps the most memorable thing is how long he was at Cal, and all the injuries that hampered (yet extended) his Cal career.
OhioBear: I remember him as your quintessential lunch pail and hardhat guy. He was a hard worker in the paint and was a force to be reckoned with on the glass, whether offensive or defensive. The other thing I remember is how Grigsby was, in a sense, exactly what I expected when he came to Cal from Yates High School in Houston. I remember Lou Campanelli talking about Big Al when he was discussing the recruiting class that was coming in the Fall of 1991. When someone asked Coach Campanelli to talk about Big Al, the coach said something like, "Well, I know he can run." Coach talked about going to watch one of Big Al’s practices at Yates High and saying that the Yates coach ran the players relentlessly at practice. According to Coach Campanelli, Big Al just ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. So I sort of had this expectation of a big strong kid who was a hard worker with a lot of stamina. Big Al didn’t disappoint in that regard.
3. How about individual plays or games? Is there any performance from Al Grigsby's career that you remember in particular?
LeonPowe: Unfortunately, playing a career that started with the spectacular Lamond Murray, had the Basketball Hall of Famer Jason Kidd in the middle, leading his own. . .mediocre team in the middle and then finishing with another spectacular couple of players in Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Ed Gray, Al never really had a signature play or game that I can recall off the top of my head. He did catch some oops from Kidd - I remember a fast break off the opening tip against LSU in the NCAA. But I do remember Al would just consistently emerge from a crowd of players with the ball for offensive tips. The man would work and throw people around.
Kodiak: I don't remember which game it was. But Al's signature sequence was hitting the offense glass with bodies all around him, tipping the rebound, once...twice...finally being the one to come down with the ball and put it in while being fouled. Years later, he had a similar sequence during his final season. Only, after all the tips, he wasn't able to make the shot. He had a rueful smile after that. I was both proud and very sad in that moment because although he was finally able to play again, you could see that he just wasn't the same player anymore.
Ohio Bear: More than any individual plays, I suppose the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Al Grigsby is a team-oriented fact. (Given Al Grigsby was a consummate team guy, perhaps that is appropriate.) When Al came to Cal in the Fall of 1991, he was part of a buzz around the Cal basketball program because of the recruiting class of which he was a part. He joined Lamond Murray, Monty Buckley, K.J. Roberts, and Stevie Johnson to make up what was thought to be a boffo recruiting class for the Bears – and this was one year before Cal added Jason Kidd and Jerod Haase to the program. While the 1992-93 season made Cal relevant again in college basketball circles—when Kidd led Cal to a win over Duke in the NCAA tournament and Cal’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1960—it was Grigsby’s recruiting class that laid the groundwork for that success.
But as far as individual performances go, I guess the one I remember more than any other was in the second round of the 1997 NCAA tournament. Grigsby played almost the entire game, grabbed 13 rebounds, and played very well defensively on Tim Thomas of Villanova. Grigsby neutralized Thomas (who would be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft), which was one of the keys to Cal winning the game and reaching the Sweet 16.
4. A few years ago, Tightwad Hill put Al Grigsby in its "Sweet 16"-- the 16th best Cal basketball player EVAIR. High praise indeed. What do you think of that lofty status for Big Al?
Kodiak: Well, that's a bit of blue n' gold colored glasses there. By heart alone, I'd allow it. But in terms of skill and achievement, I'm afraid you'd have to say that what might have been simply never came to pass. If he had never been hurt, I am positive he would have been on the list.
Ohio Bear: When Kodiak talks about "heart," he’s right. Grigsby endured five (five!) surgeries during his time at Cal, truly sacrificing his body for his team. It’s no wonder that Grigsby is the only player in Cal history to be voted the team’s "most inspirational player" four times. As the Tightwad Hill so appropriately put it, Cal should name that award after him.
LeonPowe: I love Big Al. My Honda Civic was named after him. My neighbor's fish was named for him (he also had a big white fish named Raef LaFrentz). 16th best player . . .well, the man sacrificed a lot of pain and effort for the University and never gave less than his best. He was a great Bear.
CALumbus Bear: This is telling. I won't quibble with his rank of 16, but at the very least it is telling because we're now thinking "is he deserving of #16 all time?" We only have 4 male jerseys retired. Shouldn't Grigsby be in the top 4 all time if we retired his jersey? How about top 10? That's the bottom line here: he was a damn good player. But not "let's retire his jersey 4EVAIR!!!1" good.
Ohio Bear: Hatters gonna hat!
Al Grigsby in action during his final game at Harmon Gym
5. Rebounding was a strong part of Al Grigsby's game. How would you compare him to some of the other formidable rebounders Cal has had in recent years (e.g., Leon Powe, Ryan Anderson, Jamal Boykin)?
LeonPowe: Aside from Leon, Grigs was the biggest and strongest rebounder we've had in the last 20 years. And that's pretty high praise. Just a mean guy in the game, who wasn't afraid to get a little dirty under the board. Strong, effort, persistence, tenacity.
Kodiak: Ryan Anderson was a smart rebounder who used good timing, footwork and positioning. Boykin was much the same way...perhaps more so because he was undersized in the post. Leon Powe was just a beast and played all on heart and instincts. Pre-injury Al was probably most similar to Leon. Maybe he didn't have the same quickness/hops, but he was very strong and did a good job of using his body. Also, he was relentless - he probably grabbed at least 1-2 extra boards a game just from hustling and going for balls out of his area.
6. It's been reported that Gary Franklin asked (or demanded) that Al Grigsby's # 4 be taken down from the rafters at Haas and that he be allowed to wear the number. Now that Franklin has transferred, the # 4 has once again assumed "retired" status. Al Grigsby was reportedly okay with all of this. But regardless, what are your thoughts on Cal "unretiring" Grigsby's number for Franklin?
Kodiak: It's ironic that one of the most selfish players we've had, however briefly, was wearing the number of one our most giving and selfless players.
I'm not surprised that Al was classy about allowing the number to be used. He was never one to beat his chest and make it about him. I think he was surprised and little uncomfortable when they retired it in the first place.
The fact that they allowed it to be unretired speaks to me of a bit of split in the athletic department - I'm sure there are some who feel that the number didn't deserve to be retired, so it's no big deal to unretire it. Or, maybe they want to distance themselves from the Bozeman era in any way possible. (which is completely understandable)
Sorry, but that's still wrong and disrespectful. I don't care how brilliant a HS player may be or may have been during his prep years, if he hasn't done anything at Cal, then he doesn't deserve to wear the number of one of our greats.
As a school and as a basketball program, we decided to retire Al Grigby's number. Right, wrong, or otherwise, he deserves to have his number treated with respect.
LeonPowe: Well, I felt uncomfortable with the Franklin request. I understood the Grigsby number retirement - he was a warrior who played 6 seasons for the Bears. It doesn't mean I agreed with it, but since I liked Al so much, I was also ok with it. But disrespecting those who came before you - its just not right. I think it'd be one thing if GFrank had a special attachment to Al (say they were distant cousins or something - and Al gave permission) but that it was demanded and that the Cal Athletic Department acquiesced, something doesn't sit right with me.
CALumbus Bear: Some punk recruit should not be able to demand that a retired jersey be taken down. Our response should have been: "you are a high schooler, get over yourself and pay homage to the retired numbers in the rafters." Instead of asking for a retired number, a player should strive to play so well that his or her number is retired, and then (rightfully) be affronted if some punk high schooler later demands that it be unretired.
Ohio Bear: If this is true, I am disappointed that Cal would honor such a request. While I probably would not have retired Al Grigsby’s number if the decision were mine, the fact of the matter is that the program honored Grigsby in this way. The honor deserved to be respected better than that.
Al Grigsby today:
His jersey in the rafters shows that Al Grigsby is a Cal basketball immortal. These days, he is also a Bay Area treasure, as director and coach of the men's program at West Valley Basketball Club in San Jose. As this article from last year described, Grigsby coaches young men not only in basketball fundamentals, but also in choosing the right college.
Coming full circle, Grigsby now instructs about basketball, including recruiting.
"The first thing we tell kids is don't go crazy over your first letter [from a college coach]," he offered. "It's nice but doesn't mean much."
Grigsby sees hoops as a lot like life.
"First comes fit," he advises, which is what's most important to the individual.
"Be honest with yourself because a lot of kids think they are better than they actually are. What's critical for you? If you are marginal and do go D-1, you may not play much. D-2 has good coaches, it's good competition and there are plenty of these players playing overseas."
He also advises prospects to ask themselves, "are you doing the things necessary to get better?"
Sometimes these methods work successfully, sometimes not. "We have lost players due to our honesty because some want immediate gratification and, with that attitude, you're not going to make it here."
He continued, "We have our own little corner of the world. It's not like New York or Miami or Los Angeles where talent is everywhere."
And it never will be simply based on demographics. But that's okay because Grigsby cares about the individual achieving success both within the framework of a team and also society. He is a living example.