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Jason Kidd Cal Basketball Retrospective, Part I: Freshman Year

With Jason Kidd fighting for perhaps his last chance to win an NBA ring with the Dallas Mavericks, we thought it'd be a good time to look back at Kidd's career at Cal and reflect on his overall legacy with the California Golden Bears. Without question he's the greatest basketball player to ever suit up for the Bears at Harmon Gym. He's still proving that at 38 years old, he can play with the best in the world. He played effective defense on Kobe Bryant to help sweep the champs, and notched up five steals in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals to keep the Mavs in it against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This won't be a legacy ring; Kidd will have earned his long elusive prize.

(via NBA)

Kodiak, LeonPowe and Ohio Bear were all there to witness Kidd as a Bear. We recap the best moments in a three part series.

Ohio Bear: Jason Kidd: the greatest player I have ever seen play for Cal.

My Kidd memories really begin when I was a junior at Cal, interning at KGO-TV in San Francisco. One of the sports guys did a feature on Jason Kidd, who at that time was a junior at St. Joe's HS in Alameda and already regarded as one of the best (if not THE best) high school basketball player in America. I wasn't really a high school basketball enthusiast or a recruitnik, but 'd heard of Kidd, only because I had read a couple of articles about him in the Bay Area papers. The kid (pun intended) had been viewed as a basketbal prodigy since he was in the 8th grade, if not sooner.

Anyway, as we were talking about the interview, the KGO sports guy said to me: "Don't even think about it. No way he'd go to Cal." So I didn't think about it.

For those who were there, share your memories of Kidd's freshman season in the comments. (Sophomore season to be covered in Part II). After the jump, highlight videos!

(via adlee78)

I figured that Lou Campanelli (our coach at the time) wouldn't be able to get a recruit like that anyway. At no time had Campanelli ever recruited anyone close to that caliber at Cal. Brian Hendrick had probably been his best recruit to that point; as good as he was, Brian was not all world like Jason.

But then, it happened. It started with the boffo recruiting class of 1991: Monty Buckley, Alfred Grigsby, K.J. Roberts, and Lamond Murray. Then the next year, we got a commitment from Jerod Haase. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Jason Kidd decided to spurn Kansas and stay home to attend Cal.

LeonPowe: My Jason Kidd memory begins around January/February of 1992 when I was a senior in high school. I had just gotten into Berkeley, and I remember reading in the Cal High Sports newspaper that the #1 basketball recruit in the country was considering Cal. But I really didn't put 2 and 2 together until McDonald's All American game, when I watched the co-#1 recruit in the country play. In a continuing example of my lack of basketball scouting eye, I thought "really? this guy?" (This would go on to repeat itself when I saw Yao Ming at an early stage and predicted he'd never be strong enough to play in the NBA and also, when I thought that Billy Owens was going to re-define the small forward position in the NBA).

Fast forward to October, and its Midnight Madness at Harmon -Gym- Arena. The band is playing, and this guy comes in with a freshly shaved head. It was clear from the first practice that he was seeing angles that no one else was seeing - not even his teammates, as they failed to finish these seeing-eye passes.

Kodiak: My dad and I drove up to watch Night Court for the first time because Cal had this new player who was supposed to be pretty good. Despite coming off a losing season (10-18?), the stands in old Harmon were packed. It was a long wait to get in - almost like trying to get into a concert. The new guy didn't look all that impressive in the opening drills. Not much of a jump shooter. But, then the actual scrimmage started. You could tell that the game just moved at a different speed for him. He saw things that other guys just didn't see and he saw them before they happened. We all got a good laugh over him bouncing a no-look pass off the side of Ryan Jamison's head. He completed a number of alley-oops which got the crowd fired up. He also had the audacity to try an off the backboard pass more than once, but couldn't get one of those to go down.

LeonPowe: But the season didn't start out that well for the Bears - culminating in an ugly loss to James Madison in December which began the dominos which eventually toppled Coach Campenelli midseason.

Ohio Bear: It was a tumultuous year for Cal basketball. Expectations were high in Berkeley because of the wealth of talent, albeit young talent, on the Bears' roster and Kidd was considered the Jesus in Sneakers of his time. In a controversial move, Athletic Director Bob Bockrath fired Coach Campanelli midseason after a 10-7 start due to verbal abuse of players. But after assistant coach Todd Bozeman took over the team, Cal went on a tear, due in no small part to the play of Kidd.

kidd from cal - part 2a - freshman season (via adlee78)

Sure, Kidd has his moments prior to the Campanelli firing. My first glimpse of how good he could be was in the nationally televised Oklahoma State game in December 1992. With Dick Vitale yelling his head off at Harmon, Jason "The Captain" Kidd (a moniker coined by Dickie V.) had his coming out party.

I remember one of Vitale's calls after a great assist by Kidd. It basically went like this --


LeonPowe: So the 2nd game that Coach Bozeman coached ended up against USC which was a decent, but not elite squad, but had the utterly annoying Burt Cooper. I remember Kidd took over the game down the stretch into overtime - and sealed the game by missing a layup - grappling with two Trojans for the rebound, powering up and finishing with the and 1.

That was the loudest I'd ever heard Harmon - which was an extraordinarily loud gym to begin with - and when we won that game, we rushed the court - mainly in relief - but oh it was a joyous rushing!

Ohio Bear: Kidd was also fantastic in a 101-81 drubbing of Ucla at Pauley Pavilion, a signature win by Cal that happened less than a month before Campanelli's firing. But it was the winning streak and NCAA tournament that truly launched Kidd into stardom. If memory serves, Cal lost only once during the remainder of the regular season after the Campanelli firing.

LeonPowe: We finished that Pac-10 season on a roll and the team was starting to come together. With 3-time all-Pac-10 Center, Brian Hendrick, multi-talented combo guard KJ Roberts, scoring machine Lamond Murray, rugged PF Al Grigsby - then off the bench was my favorite Cal Bear of all time Monty Buckley, freshman defensive specialist shooting guard Jerod Haase, Ryan Jamison, Rich Branham and Akili Jones - we were deep and finally unleashed from Couch Lou's slow it down and set-up offense.

I mean seriously - you can't run set plays when you have the best fast breaking point guard of the last 15 years on your team.

The two games Cal played in the NCAA tournament - well, really what can you say. The pretzel layup that Kidd made to beat LSU in the first round and then the one-hand cross over, go baseline, throw pass to Lamond that almost gets stolen, pick the ball off the floor, shovel it in while getting fouled layup was the greatest Cal moment I had experienced as a fan - even better than beating Oregon 42-41 or Desean returning punts against Tennessee.

Ohio Bear: Kidd was the reason Cal won its first round game against LSU -- the "pretzel shot" off the backboard for the gamewinner was typical Jason Kidd. And so was the performance against Duke in the second round, in particular the play late in the game where Jason picked up a loose ball underneath, wrestling it away from a couple of Blue Devils, and went up for an "and 1." (Verne Lundquist on the play-by-play: "OH MY. OH, GOODNESS!") That play showed the type of strength Jason had: then-Washington State coach Kelvin Sampson once quipped about Kidd: "He's not a point guard. He's a pulling guard."

(via adlee78)

LeonPowe: And then we just ran out of gas against Kansas. But that only made us hungry for Jason's sophomore season.