Besides having arguably the best hair on a Cal athlete in the history of the world, what are your memories of basketball dynamo Jorge Gutierrez?
Twist: It's got to be, first and foremost, that Cal-Stanford game the other Valentine's Day when he helped spur that HUGE comeback. Am I the only one who remembers that???
Guess I am the only one who remembers that.
Avinash: Who doesn't remember that? It was the first of about a billion times Jorge would volleyball a basketball off some poor sap's legs.
When we first watched Gutierrez, it was hard not to love him. Jorge was just a high energy bundle that wasn't terribly focused, but it always seemed to spark the team when he was really able to get into it. Here was a guy who struggled to dribble, struggled to pass, struggled to shoot, and there he was locking down James Harden, spearheading a double digit comeback against the Furd, dunking and throwing an and-one layup high in the air to clinch a Pac-10 title.
Love does funny things to you. It makes you forget about turnover rates and field goal percentage and free throw rate because numbers be damned, watching Jorge was a joy. You discard those things because you like to imagine you can play with that sort of wild desperation, put that much effort into something you love that much. With that type of effort, that type of confidence, and just enough skill, anything is possible.
Today, watching Jorge is still a joy. But it's different now. He's not just a boy following the ball anymore. He's a man controlling it. He's become a basketball player, a legit Pac-12 player of the year candidate.
The Jorge that we long feared handling the ball for 30 minutes a game is long gone. Jorge can hold the rock for as long as he wants and do whatever he wants with it; I'm usually pleased with the result. Jorge has left Cobbs to do most of the passing, but he runs within the offense and does whatever the defense dictates. For a team featuring a sharpshooter like Crabbe, it's Jorge who's emerged as one of our most consistent mid-range shooters, someone who can run off curls and pull up, or catch the ball and keep on going inside to dish it to his big man or the outside shooter. And Jorge proves he can play as well off the ball as he does on it offensively, cutting baseline or down the middle of the paint, then finishing on either side of the basket.
FrankCohen: I'm not sure that any description or any one memory of Jorge can truly do him justice. He has fought through a huge amount of adversity to get to where he is, amazingly developing into a fringe NBA player at this time. And, given his past tendencies to prove the doubters wrong, I truly wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a solid player at the next level. But it's not Jorge's level of play that has set him apart as possibly the biggest fan favorite in Cal basketball history...it is his heart and his passion. He represents virtually every characteristic we wish to be associated with the university as a whole. It has been a true pleasure watching Gutierrez wear the blue and gold, as I fully realize that I have had the opportunity to watch a Golden Bear legend in action.
Kodiak: Avi has already described rather eloquently the evolution of Jorge's game.
I think what resonates so strongly with fans is that his impact on the court comes from effort. He's not the biggest, strongest, or quickest guy. Sure, he's a great athlete, but you don't see him out-jumping anyone. At risk of a cliche, he wants it more. It still amazes me how he can take over a game by sheer strength of will.
When I watch him play defense, he's a constant blur of energy. He makes guys uncomfortable because they're just not used to having that type of intensity directed at them for a full game. Damian Lillard just went 6th in the NBA draft. He's an elite athlete with an all-court game and incredible scoring abilities. Jorge destroyed him when they went head to head. He did the same with just about every top scorer we faced this past year.
I've seen hustle guys from time to time during my Cal fandom, but I've never seen one improve themselves as much as Jorge did. Usually, they're energy players who come off the bench to change the tone of the game, or have a bit role to lock someone down. It's amazing that Jorge both guarded the other team's best player, and still had a key role in initiating our offense.
I'm hoping that there's a GM and coach open-minded enough to give him a shot in the NBA. I know it's a league of specialists and you usually need at least one truly exceptional skill in order to stick. But if Shane Battier is able to hang around because of his defense and occasional shooting, I don't see why there wouldn't be a slot somewhere for Jorge.
Atomsareenough: I’ve said it before, but Jorge is not just my favorite Cal Bear, he’s my favorite basketball player. Ever. I grew up as a Laker fan in the 80s, but I love Jorge even more than Magic. Not saying he’s a better basketball player than Magic, but it really transcends basketball ability; he just embodies, both on the court, and I suspect off the court as well, so many of the virtues that I respect and admire. He’s humble, he’s incredibly determined, he never gives up, he hates to lose, he’s always battling, and he seems driven by this fierce, quiet pride, which is so much more powerful and deep than the sort of outward, flashy, attention-seeking pride that’s all too common these days.
The other thing is that he works incessantly, always trying to improve himself. Let’s think about his progression for a second. Even when he came in as a freshman, he was a dogged, scrappy defender. He’s always had that game-changing defensive intensity and instinct. But his offense… I swear, when he was a freshman, I grimaced every time he dribbled, let alone took a jumpshot. He didn’t lose the ball very often but just watching him bounce it so awkwardly, it always felt like he could turn it over at any second… but by his sophomore year, guess what, it wasn’t really a problem anymore. He was still someone you thought of as a defensive guy, but he was at least able to be a role player instead of a liability offense. Though, that jump shot was still flat and every time he took a jumper I’d be nervous, even though it went in a fair amount the time.
His junior year was an utter revelation, though. It was like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon or something. Partly because, well, we didn’t have anyone else, he was actually running the offense a fair amount of the time. But Jorge was up to the challenge, because he’s up to every challenge. His ball-handling was actually SMOOTH now! The jumper was a lot better, his passing was good, and wow, he was actually kind of a scorer, who knew?? But wait, there’s more! Suddenly, he was an 80% free throw shooter instead of a 60% free throw shooter. All those hours in the gym had paid off. And oh yeah, he was still a dominant defender.
This year he’s shown us that he’s the total package. Whatever the situation calls for, he’s been able to step up and provide it. He’s not the main scorer every game, but if we need him to be, he will be. If we need him to facilitate, he’ll facilitate. If we need him to lock down a star player on the opposing team, he’ll take the assignment. I think the fact that he hasn’t had to run the offense or be the dominant "star" of the team this year has enabled him to be a leader in the way that suits him best. He makes everyone on the team better at what they do. He makes me so proud to be a Golden Bear. I’m going to miss the hell out of him. I’ve been wondering if he’s going to play in the NBA. I don’t think he really has an obvious NBA skill set that jumps out at you, so it’s possible nobody will give him a chance and he’ll have to go overseas. But he’s such a great player nonetheless, such a hard worker, I’m sure he will be successful wherever he ends up, and I’ll be rooting for him.