BERKELEY -- While the world of California basketball fans held its breath, so did five-star Ivan Rabb. Rabb missed the final shot in overtime against Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, but was granted a reprieve – he headed to the free throw line to shoot two. Rabb missed the front end, barely grazing the front of the net, before icing the game with his second attempt from the charity stripe, with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.
The buzzer sounded shortly after the in-bound by the Monarchs, and Rabb’s Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd Dragson claimed a 65-64 win and their first state title in decades.
“Paris made a good dish-off at the end, but I just didn’t finish,” Rabb said. “To be honest, that first one, I knew that was off before I shot it. I knew for a fact I was going to make the second one. The second one, I knew it was in before I even touched the ball. I wasn’t nervous about the first one. I just had cramps in both my legs, and I didn’t finish with my toes, but the second one, I finished on my toes, and it was all net. I’m at a loss for words.
“The way the game ended, you couldn’t have written it better than this. It’s not about me. It’s about my teammates. They pushed me to get to this point. We pushed each other, and I’m just thankful to God that the game ended the way it did. It’s about us putting in that work, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Bears fans, though, could have hoped for at least a bit more, as Rabb was expected to announce his commitment to Cal after the win. That did not happen. Instead this was a night for celebrating his team’s accomplishment. His commitment – either to Cal or Arizona – will come later.
“Right now, I still haven’t decided,” Rabb said. “I know there are rumors that I might commit, but I’m going to talk it over with my family. I don’t want to rush anything. Right now, I’m just very happy about the way my team played. I think it’s been about 35 years since my school won a state championship, and for it to end the way that it did, not only with me hitting that free throw, but Austin [Walker] hitting that basket [to send the game to overtime] and Paris [Austin] taking over in the second half, Alex Zhao hitting big shots, everybody contributed. Franklin [Longrus] played great defense on Rex Pflueger, everybody did a great job.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about where I’m going to school right now. It’s about putting this ring on our fingers, and bringing happiness to my school.”
Rabb and the Dragons broke Mater Dei’s streak, as the Monarchs were going for their fifth straight state open division title. Mater Dei’s fourth straight came last year at the expense of Rabb, Austin and Bishop O’Dowd.
“The only thing I’m worried about is bringing some happiness to my school,” Rabb said. “It’s not about Mater Dei. They definitely played a great game, but this is about my teammates, about my school, our families. We weren’t aware of that streak. We knew that they beat us last year, and they got us during the regular season the year before. We definitely wanted to some revenge, and it’s definitely sweet.
“We had that sour taste in our mouth coming into the game, and for the game to end the way that it did, it means a lot. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s an incredible feeling.”
Rabb’s 21 rebounds were one shy of the state title game record, set the night before in the Division 5 game by 2017 four-star Cody Riley of Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon – another Cal target. Rabb had 10 boards at the half, as the Dragons came out a step slow.
“I would just say that we weren’t communicating to the best of our abilities, and that’s why they got open shots,” said Rabb. “We didn’t get down on each other. At halftime, we talked about it, and we did whatever we could to hit those open guys, guys that stepped it up. We did a good job of closing out.”
Rabb’s work on the boards came against Notre Dame-bound Pflueger and 2016 four-star M.J. Cage, perhaps the strongest rebounding effort Rabb has had in his senior season.
“Cage is definitely a really good player, but he wasn’t being so aggressive on the offensive end, so I knew what I had to do to keep him from scoring,” Rabb said. “He made a few great plays.”
In attendance was Oakland Soldiers founder Hashim Alaudeen, as well as the entire Cal coaching staff -- Cuonzo Martin, Jon Harris, Tracy Webster and Yanni Hufnagel -- as well as a very vocal contingent of Bears fans, helping give Haas Pavilion a very loud and very welcoming environment for potentially the biggest star to commit to Cal since Jason Kidd, whose jersey hangs in the rafters.
“I was planning on making it today,” Rabb said of his announcement. “But, I’m not sure, right now. I’m going to think about it some more. I don’t want to rush into a decision. I think it’s coming very soon, though, next few days. I just need to talk it over with my family.”
As for the fans, Rabb was wide-eyed, after the game.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I can’t really describe it. I’m just thankful that everybody came out. People didn’t just come from the Bay Area. They came from across the country to see us play tonight. It’s not about me, it’s not about my team. It’s about the people who came and supported us, the people who really want to see us win, the people who’re rooting for us. We’re just thankful to God that we finished the way we did.”
Winning on the floor that could very well be his home next year was particularly meaningful.
“It means a lot, because this is one of the schools that I’m considering very heavily, and it couldn’t happen any better,” Rabb said. “It couldn’t happen any better. I’m still talking to my family, but I definitely think this helped. I could definitely feel the energy. There’s nothing but love out here, and I can’t explain it.
“It’s easy to say that I would make a decision, because we won here on this floor, but I still want to make the best decision. I’m definitely very happy with this school, for sure, without a doubt, and I want to make that clear, but I still want to talk with my family to make sure I’m making the right choice.”
Rabb will join several other five-star Cal targets this coming week at the McDonald's All-American Game, including his official visit buddy Caleb Swanigan, as well as Scout's No. 1 overall player Jaylen Brown, who visited Berkeley last weekend. If he makes a decision soon, that could be the venue to do it, on April 1 at Chicago's United Center.