David Kravish wasn’t a four-star recruit or an All-American. He didn’t even make his varsity basketball team until his junior year of high school.
But he will be Cal’s starting center in today’s NCAA Tournament play-in bout with South Florida (20-13), a game the Bears (24-9) might not be playing in had it not been for the freshman’s unexpected contribution this season.
“David’s saved our bacon,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said.
When Cal landed a Top 25 preseason ranking in October, pundits were anticipating a breakout season from 6-foot-10 sophomore Richard Solomon. But his season derailed quickly: he was suspended for two games in early December, he missed four more later that month because of a stress fracture in his foot, and then, six games into the Pac-12 Conference season, he was deemed academically ineligible for the rest of the year.
At that point, Kravish went from plugging a hole to being the team’s undisputed starting center.
“I never, never expected this in a million years,” Kravish said.
Last year, as Kravish was being recruited by a handful of teams in his hometown of Lee’s Summit, Mo., he mentally prepared himself to work as hard as he could to earn whatever minutes were available wherever he landed. He eventually committed to Cal, but had no idea he’d be thrust into the starting lineup in just his 10th NCAA game against San Jose State.
“I don’t want to say it was overwhelming — but it was kind of overwhelming,” Kravish said.
In a lot of ways, Kravish is a prototypical Mike Montgomery sleeper pick: he’s tall (6-foot-9) and coachable (and a pre-med student). But he still has a skinny-freshman frame, weighing in at slightly more than 200 pounds, which leads to bumps and bruises when battling the bigger bodies in the Pac-12 paint.
While Kravish has had his share of freshman moments, he doesn’t allow himself to get frazzled.
“He just kind of plays,” Montgomery said. “He doesn’t get all up and down emotionally.”
He currently leads the Bears with 41 blocked shots (Allen Crabbe is second with 19), while averaging 7.0 points per game on the offensive end of the court. He was the team’s leading scorer alongside Jorge Gutierrez against Oregon State on senior night, dropping in a career-high 17 points. And while Montgomery would like to see his production on the glass (5.7 rebounds per game) increase, his breakout 18 boards were a difference-maker at USC on Feb. 9.
Montgomery said Kravish’s swift maturation is, in large part, a reflection of the mentorship provided by senior Harper Kamp.
“I think he’s relied on Harper a lot,” Montgomery said. “Neither of those kids just do it with natural ability — they’re smart.” And that’s one reason why Kravish is so motivated to keep the season going with a win tonight.
“I really want to just go out there and bust it, so [the seniors] can keep playing,” he said.