With 5:24 remaining in the 1st half today at Haas Pavilion, Ivan Rabb received the ball on the right wing, surveyed, and then passed to his precocious freshman point guard Charlie Moore. As Charlie used his quick first step to get into the lane from the left elbow, Ivan was simultaneously diving toward the basket on the opposite side. At the Cal logo 8 feet from the bucket, Ivan raised a long right arm toward the sky. Charlie was seemingly not even looking that way, but his spider sense knew anyway. He tossed a perfect lob to the right of the rim and Ivan rose and rose, lifting that long right arm toward the sky--reaching, reaching, eventually cradling the ball at its apex, and throwing it with force through the net for his 15th and 16th points of the contest.
And then as the camera panned to Ivan for a reaction to the spectacular play...there was none. Alcorn was hustling the ball back the other way, and Ivan was hustling right along with them, pointing left and then right at the transition runners...getting the defense organized.
The moment told a story about the essence of Cal basketball this year: the Bears' hopes rest on the prodigious talent of their All-American forward, and on the supernatural point guard instincts of their 18-year-old floor general. This version of Cuonzo Martin's crew will go as far as that tandem, and the back of Jabari Bird, can carry them.
But it also showed us why this season will be memorable regardless of the won-lost record. Because of the long, gangly, slightly awkward kid in the #1 jersey who will be one of the best bigs to ever wear a California uniform, and one of the best student athlete representatives of the greatest public school on earth.
We are only now beginning to see what a mature, developed, unencumbered Ivan Rabb will look like. After fighting mononucleosis and an injured toe in the early season, his practice time had been severely limited, leading to early season results that were simultaneously impressive and mildly disappointing: a double-double every game, averaging 18.3 points, 11 rebounds and a 57.7% eFG.
The disappointment will not last long.
On the Court Dominance
On a crisp fall afternoon, in an easy 83-59 win against a vastly overmatched Alcorn State squad, Ivan Rabb showed us the deep reservoir of talent he will bring to the party this year:
His first bucket, soft hands in the block to catch an errant pass, then the quick elevation to go up before the defense arrived and the soft finish with the left hand. Two.
Anticipation you have to be born with, spotting the area Roger's three was going to miss, leaping a fraction of a second sooner than the guy boxing him out, meeting the ball at the top of his leap, a quick pump fake then quickly back up with the right hand. And one. Five.
Catch on the left block and a quick survey of the defense. The double comes quickly from the left wing, but Ivan is quicker. Pivot away from the double on his right foot, gather, then up for the J. Seven.
Again on the left block, again surveying the defense. No double coming. This time an inside pivot, face up, easy J. Nine.
Right block, turning middle way from the double, across the lane with a runner. Fouled. Makes one. Ten.
Back to the left block. This time two dribbles toward the middle, reverse pivot, off glass, two more. Twelve.
Back cut on weakside motion, pushed hard, fouled. Two more. Fourteen.
And then the glorious alley-oop from Moore, so high he could almost touch the sky. Sixteen.
Final line: 26 points on 10-12 shooting, 7 boards, and 2 assists in 29 minutes of action.
And Off the Court Transcendence
When I see Ivan Rabb, however, I see more than just all-time great interior talent. I see my drive on the way home every day.
I am a teacher in East Oakland. Every night I drive up 73rd, where Ivan Rabb grew up, and every night I see the poverty and the despair in those neighborhoods. I am fortunate to live on the other side, up the hill, away from the flats. I can only imagine what it's like to grow up in the streets that I see out my car window. I only have the barest sense of what's going on in those neighborhoods. But my students, they tell me. They tell me about gangs and drugs and crime and learning to look around, warily, whenever you're on the streets. They tell me about robberies and rape and drive-by shootings -- about brothers and cousins and friends lost in a world where options are too few and hope too rare.
And I think, on every drive home, of Ivan Rabb. Who grew up on that street, and who carries it with him in his heart, and who came to the University of California not just to play basketball, but as a symbol, a beacon--as concrete proof that East Oakland does not have to be a sentence. It can be a starting point. You can carry East Oakland with you into the world -- into a place with hope, where dreams can come true. And you can bring that hope and those dreams back to East Oakland with you.
Ivan Rabb came to Cal to represent:
"I didn't even think about going to Cal when I was younger," Rabb said. "That wasn't even an option. And, I saw so many people wearing Cal sweatshirts and stuff in Oakland. But Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro, nobody from there is going to Cal. Nobody I know, nobody in my group of friends. So, it's really been like a blessing.
"The biggest reason why I came here was because I felt like at the other schools I would have been just another player who came in and potentially left to go to the NBA, God willing," Rabb said. "But, here it's like I'm from the area. There's been a lot of great players, I could be another person on that list. But, it's not a lot of people from here who actually stayed and went here, and played well, and really put on for the city, so that was, like, my thing.
He came because he follows a different path. He hears a different song. And because of what he can mean to this community.
"I didn't want to be just another player that came in and out of a program and not really be remembered because they had so many great players," Ivan says. "Here at Cal, there are so many guys who are from here and from the area — California or whatever it may be — but they come and then they leave and go other places."
"I just want to represent for Oakland," Ivan says. "I think I can be a household name here."
And ultimately he came to make a difference.
"At the same time I want to put it out there that there are a lot of kids out there who just need an opportunity. Kids who are smart and who can take advantage of it."
"I just want to influence other people who come from Oakland, whether they're athletes or not, even though I'm young. I know that there are people who can still learn from younger people. So, I just want to influence them to reach out too," Rabb said.
When Ivan Rabb made a decision to pass up guaranteed millions in the NBA to come back for his sophomore year, it did not surprise me. I was almost expecting it. This is a college sophomore with the wisdom of a person twice his age. A young man with a clear sense of purpose, who understands himself, his value, and his importance to the community around him. A player who understands that basketball is not the end, it is the means through which good can come into the world.
A student of mine recently wrote in an essay: "When people think of East Oakland they think of crime and drugs and gangs. They think of the ghetto. What the don't understand is East Oakland has the people with the most heart. If you come out of here you can do anything, because you've learned how to survive, and to climb, through whatever life gives you."
Ivan Rabb is a Golden Bear from East Oakland. He's a symbol for everything great about the flagship university of the state of California and the downtrodden, resilient city five miles away. He is the hope, and the light, and the future. He will give us a season we will never forget, then he will make his millions, but he will carry us, this university, and our shared community, with him wherever he goes. As he did on the pass from Charlie Moore today, he will touch the sky. He will change the world. But his feet will always be firmly planted here in the East Bay. In Berkeley. And in Oakland.
We are lucky enough to be standing here with him. And to witness. Go Bears.