After a nine-point, three-rebound, three-assist night at the United Center in Chicago as part of a 52-48 losing effort for the Boys West team in the McDonald's All-American Game, five-star California signee Jabari Bird took some late-night time to speak with Cal Sports Digest about his week in Chicago.
"The crowd was amazing," said Bird. "I really had fun out there, playing with those guys, and I look forward to playing against some of them in college."
The experience in Chicago was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was particularly meaningful given the fact that Bird has been dreaming of Wednesday night's game ever since he first picked up a basketball.
"What really stuck out to me was the banquet we had (Tuesday) night," Bird said. "For the first time, I really talked to some of the guys that I hadn't talked to before and got to know them a little bit better. I got to know Jabari Parker really well on this trip, and that was a fun experience, considering we have the same name."
Bird took special satisfaction in the fact that he was playing in the famous Chicago arena wearing the number of perhaps its most famous tenant: Michael Jordan.
"It means a lot," Bird said. "When I was growing up, I really looked up to Michael Jordan, and I still do, to this day. Wearing his number in the arena that he basically built was an honor. I wouldn't have traded it for anything else in the world."
Bird went 3-for-5 shooting, hitting his first shot towards the end of the first half -- a three-pointer -- to settle him down as he came off the bench for the first time in quite a while.
"It was definitely a relief to hit my first shot," Bird said. "I kind of settled down, and the pressure went away. It was time to play basketball ... Coming off the bench was kind of unusual, but it was something that I had to accept for this week."
Bird was good-natured about coming off the pine to contribute, despite its unfamiliarity.
"I haven't come off the bench in quite some time," laughed Bird. "It was definitely weird to do, but it happens."
Next season, Bird will not be coming off the bench for the Bears, as he strives to step into the shoes of Allen Crabbe, who announced on Wednesday that he had decided to forego his final year of eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft.
"First off, I want to say congratulations to him," Bird said. "He's had a good three years at Cal, and for myself, personally, I'm looking to going in there and not necessarily replace him, but to be my own player, and be the first Jabari at Cal; not the next Allen Crabbe."
With Crabbe's declaration also came word that point guard Justin Cobbs would be returning to Haas Pavilion for his senior season, coming off of a second-team All-Pac-12 campaign as a junior.
"It should make things a lot easier for me on the court to have a senior point guard out there, running the show," Bird said. "He can definitely help me out and let me know where I need to be on the court. I'd like to build some good chemistry with him. I'm looking forward to it."
While the past four years have been a whirlwind for Bird as he made his journey to Chicago, now, for the first time in that span, there isn't another game, there isn't another tournament, there isn't another hurdle. There's just his first day of class after getting back to Richmond (Calif.) Salesian. But, that doesn't mean he's done working, because in just a matter of months, he'll be on the floor at Haas Pavilion, getting ready for his freshman season.
"Basically, I'm just trying to spend as much time as possible with friends and family, finish up good in school and then work out and try to get bigger," said the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder. "That's the main thing. I feel if I can get bigger, I'll be 10 times the player I am right now."
Bird said that he needs to make more of an effort to lift more, and use his now-ample free time to get into the weight room as much as possible.
"When I get back home (Thursday), I'm definitely going to make the effort to get into the weight room three or four times a week, because I've got to get bigger," Bird said.
As far away as Bird is from etching his names in the Cal annals, though, he already has an admirer in four-star 2014 Bears point guard commit Ahmaad Rorie, who, like Bird, has expressed the driving need to win his state title, AAU tournament titles and maybe – just maybe -- reach the 2014 All-American Game. Bird hasn't even stepped on the college floor yet, and already, he has someone who wants to follow in his footsteps.
"It's definitely cool," Bird said. "It's an honor. I really appreciate that coming from somebody who kind of looks up to me, because I don't even really see myself as a person people look up to, but apparently, I am, and that means a lot. It motivates me, too, because I know that I still have work to do. I need to stay ahead of guys."
For Bird, it's always the next thing, the next game, the next practice, the next season. No matter how lofty his laurels are, there's no use resting on them.
"I've just got to keep moving, man," Bird said. "I never stop. This week pushed me to my limits. It was a tough week, and I struggled a bit at times, but towards the end of the tip, I really figured things out. I found my niche on the team, and when I was out there, I just played my game."
Bird Flies in Chicago
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