Recruiting success has Cal basketball on upswing 

click to enlarge Cuonzo Martin
  • Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
  • Cal men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin has expectations rising after the school's best incoming class, which included two top-10 national recruits.
The Cal men’s basketball team is not generally regarded as a Pac-12 Conference or national recruiting powerhouse. Local high school legends Leon Powe and Ayinde Ubaka head the team’s top all-time recruits, a list that is not a very long one.

That perception began to change in the span of about a month, however, with Bears head coach Cuonzo Martin landing two top-10 national recruits in Oakland product Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown of Marietta, Ga., rated by Scout as the No. 4 prospect nationally. They joined another Rivals 150 shooting guard, Tyson Jolly from Oklahoma City, to form what is one of the best recruiting classes in the country and in school history.

“Why not?” Martin said Thursday. “We’re the No. 1 public institution in the world. That’s what people should say. That’s what’s most important.

“We’ve gotten tremendous energy from [fans and boosters]. I even received an email from someone in Brazil, a Cal alum. And it’s great for the Bay Area, for us to represent and do our part. We have all the parts to be successful.”

Along with Rabb, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Brown was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. He averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds and won this year’s state title at Wheeler High School, where he was a four-year starter.

Martin, who compared Brown’s game to his former college teammate Glenn Robinson, made it clear that the player’s versatile skill set gives him the ability to play four positions, while pointing to competitive spirit, professionalism and defense as his key attributes.

Brown and Rabb are regarded as potential one-and-done prospects, though Martin reiterated that both players take the responsibility of being student-athletes quite seriously. Brown already is on the record saying he will need at least two seasons before he is NBA ready.

The second-year Cal coach first met Brown years ago when he was at Tennessee, where the prized freshman was just getting started at Wheeler. The 6-3, 170-pound guard was touted as “the next guy, when it’s all said and done.”

“Sometimes, you’re blessed with a gift,” Martin said.

It all started, though, with Rabb, a 6-10 Bishop O’Dowd product who first committed in early April. The decision keyed a domino effect that eventually led to Brown’s signing just a few weeks later.

“It was first call I had to make,” Martin said. ”For us to move forward as a program, this is a guy you have to get.”

Newly hired assistant coach Wyking Jones, who was previously at Louisville, was certainly not surprised Rabb decided to stay close to home.

“I always knew that Ivan was going to end up here,” Jones said. “From talking to him, he’s a kid whose very proud to be from the Bay, a proud Oakland kid. When I saw Cuonzo was hired [last year], I said, ‘That’s where Ivan’s going to school.’ Now that’s the case, I’m very excited. He’s an absolutely great kid.”

As for the season ahead, last year’s leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace, touted by some as a potential 2015 NBA first-round pick, will return to Berkeley for his senior season. He will join junior guards Jordan Matthews (13.7 points per game) and Jabari Bird (10.6).

The Bears will head to Australia on Aug. 14 for a summer trip, practicing for 10 days in Berkeley ahead of the flight, before traveling to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane for four games against Australian pro teams.

“Poll the fans, and if they say we need to do it, then we’ll do it,” Martin said. “Let me know how that poll turns out.”

The results are in for short term, and they are quite favorable.

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Jack Ross

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