BERKELEY -- The opening of the 2013-14 season for the California Golden Bears is always full of anticipation. But what could exceed those anticipations is the hype of a certain individual new to the roster.
Enter freshman Jabari Bird, one of the most sought-after prospects in the country. Bird is the McDonalds All-American -- an anticipated one-and-done player -- who some believe may be among the most talented players in Cal basketball history.
While Bird did not start in the Bears' opening 83-64 win over Coppin State, he was the first man to come in off of the bench, and he did not disappoint in showcasing his talents and his natural scoring ability.
In the first half, Bird was particularly keen on shooting the ball from deep, as 5 of his 6 attempts came from beyond the arc. Against Coppin State's zone defense early, Bird seemed a bit more passive waiting for passes to spot up and shoot. With experienced guards Tyrone Wallace and Justin Cobbs effective in both dribble penetration and quick passes to the open zone, Bird had plenty of open looks from deep, particularly from the elbows. For the first half, Bird went 2-for-5 from deep, providing all 6 of his points.
Bird did have his moments besides his three-point shot. At the seven-minute mark in the first half, Bird showcased his athleticism driving into the key and just missing a seven-foot tear drop. On defense, Bird also had a nasty block on a layup attempt, then got fouled trying to push the ball up the floor. His passing was solid, as the freshman out of Richmond (Calif.) Salesian provided a fast-break alley-oop to senior Richard Solomon that really electrified the crowd. All in all, a solid first half for the talented freshman, as he put up 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 8 minutes of play.
However, in the second half, Bird really made an effort to get closer to the basket and get higher percentage shots. Many have said that Bird's true strength as a shooter is with his midrange jumper, and he took not a single midrange jumper in the first half. In the second, Bird found his way to those spots on the floor, with 4 of his 8 second-half shots coming closer than 15 feet.
After a questionable deep twi-point shot in the corner, Bird really became aggressive in attacking the basket. At the 10-minute mark, Bird was fouled getting an offensive rebound. His next 3 shots were from the midrange -- all pull-up jumpers. Bird also made a nifty reverse layup coming off of a steal. All in all with his scoring, Bird finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. As time passes, his three-point attempts should turn into more aggressive drives to the basket, which should make him even more efficient scoring the basketball.
Defensively, Bird electrified the crowd a second time with a nasty Lebron James-like block on a layup attempt off of the glass, leading to a David Kravish layup. Bird also fought for 4 more rebounds in the second half, while compiling 3 more assists to go with his stat total. His aggressiveness earned him 13 minutes in the 2nd half, and Bird took full advantage.
For his debut, Bird finished with an impressive line of 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. The scary thing for opponents is that Bird did not play his best basketball on a consistent basis -- something that should change as he garners experience against Division I opponents.
"He's a slasher, and we're going to have to find ways to allow him to slash to the basket," said head coach Mike Montgomery postgame. "It's obvious Bird can do the spectacular. There were some things that I thought -- the everyday plays -- we need to work on that."
But still, Montgomery could not hold his giddiness on Bird's overall production, which he expects to only get better.
"14-7-5," Montgomery said. "That's pretty good."
Bird Soars in Debut
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