Cal forward Ivan Rabb has added to his game this offseason and is projected as an NBA Draft Lottery pick

Now Cal's No. 1 scoring option, Ivan Rabb returns to Berkeley for his sophomore season with sky-high expectations as one of the top big men in college basketball, and the peripheral stats bear that out.

Ivan Rabb hasn't spoken very much publicly since he made his decision to stay in Berkeley for his sophomore season -- just one interview with Sports Illustrated, one with ESPN, and one with the San Francisco Chronicle -- and certainly not at all, beforehand, and not even once the decision was reached.

He didn't tweet. He didn't put out an announcement. All he did was let the clock tick, and let the California men's basketball program put out a simple release.

Rabb was slated to go anywhere from No. 8 overall to No. 14 in the 2016 NBA Draft in various mock drafts. The first-year salary for the 10th overall pick was slated to be $2.14 million, according to the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. With his affability and intelligence, his home-grown star narrative, he could have signed a shoe contract, gotten endorsements. He could have done the easy thing. But, sometimes, the hard things are hard because they're worthwhile. It's a mantra that head coach Cuonzo Martin adheres to. All but one of the top 14 freshmen in the draft declared. Rabb was that one.

"First and foremost, it was his family," Martin said. "He grew up in this area, so that part made it comfortable, but I think, with him, more than anything, he understands the financial gains he could have had, if he had gone to the draft, but he also understands the importance of getting his degree. I'm not saying he'll be in school for four years, but getting his degree, and doing the things on the basketball floor that he wants to do to be successful, that's that."

The easy thing would have been to give his family financial security, to ensure that his mother, Tami, his sister Ivanna and brother Tamarik, would never have to worry about money ever again. He could have gone to the NBA Combine, performed, and then, even then, pulled out, just like Marcus Lee, who is sitting out this year after transferring from Kentucky. But he didn't. He just let the days and minutes go by. 

"As a coach, the one thing I try to do is stay away from helping a young man make his decision," Martin said. "It's my job to be the coach and give information. I've never been a guy to give information that you need to stay in school because of this, this, this and this. I don't think that's fair to the young man.

"People ask how much did I impact it, but my job, as a coach, is over the course of a year. We don't all of the sudden, at the last minute, say, 'Here's a couple things to think about.' I've talked to him every day in the process, so now, when he makes a decision, he knows where I stand. I want what's best for him."

Rabb is soft-spoken, and as unassuming as a 6-foot-10 future pro can be. He rarely speaks up, and last year, with dominant personalities like Jaylen Brown and point guard Tyrone Wallace, his voice tended to fade into the background. One of the biggest points of emphasis for Martin and his staff was to get Ivan to not only demand the ball, but to force himself into the position in which he could demand the ball. He needed to be more assertive. He needed to be a force. The one thing he kept coming back to when asked why he stayed was simple: He wanted to improve.

"I know I need to get stronger," Rabb told ESPN. "I want to come back better defensively, a better shooter, a better rebounder, more comfortable on the floor. I want to be the leader. I wanted to have a bigger role." Since he let that last second slip past, Rabb has spent 169 days, 14 hours, 29 minutes and 26 seconds (as of this writing) working, and becoming that force, and as the Bears began practice just over a week ago, it's shown.

Last year, he finished with an 80.2% shooting percentage at the rim (per, averaged 11.9 rebounds per 40 minutes ( and saw 38% of his offense com off of post-ups (per Draft Express). The biggest deficiency in his game was his mid-range jump shot (7-of-23 in 2015-16), and he's ben hitting 200 of those every single day during the offseason.

"Every day, he's working on the jumper and extending his range, and I think he's comfortable now, shooting mid-range and hitting three-point shots," said senior point guard Sam Singer. "You saw a little bit of it last year, but now, he's really comfortable. Also, he gets to the spots he wants to, because he's stronger. He's not getting pushed around as much. I think and underrated his qualities is his passing. When he's facing double teams, he's really good at finding the open guy. We're obviously looking forward to all of that. We're happy he's back."

Last season, No. 3 overall NBA Draft pick, Brown, had a 31.5% usage rate for the Bears, who earned the highest NCAA Tournament seed in school history, before the triple whammy of a sexual harassment-fueled dismissal of assistant Yann Hufnagel, a broken hand suffered by Wallace and a back injury to Jabari Bird -- all within a matter of days -- sent Cal sprawling to the mat, where Hawaii easily stepped over the Bears in the first round.

Wallace's usage rate -- despite missing six games -- was 28.6%. Rabb -- the McDonald's All-American five-star -- averaged just 7.7 shots per game as a freshman, with a usage rate of just 20%. Even with a usage percentage far below Wallace and Brown, his win share (how many wins his offense and defense contributed to Cal's final tally) was 5.1, while Wallace's was 3.4, and Brown's was 2.7.

Rabb's box plus-minus -- analogous to baseball's WAR, in that it measures how many points he was worth per game, above an average player, translated to an average team -- was 8.9. Brown's was 3.6, and Wallace's was 7.1. All this, and Rabb was the third option.

Now, with Wallace and Brown gone, the 6-foot-10 former Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd star will take center stage.

"I thought he was comfortable with making the decision to come back to school," said Martin. "He's obviously bigger and stronger, completing his game, feeling confident from the standpoint of shooting the three-point shot, the offense flowing through him -- not necessarily, 'Give me the ball,' because he's not that type of guy, but just really understanding, 'I can put the team on my shoulders, and we can be successful.' More than anything, it's the guys around him that will allow him to do what he needs to do, and I think that's the best thing about this team."

With Bird now healthy -- he's changed his diet and worked out like a fiend this offseason to stave off injuries that have derailed him two of the last three years -- that gives Cal a perimeter threat to draw defenders out, but instead of taking touches away from Rabb, Bird will allow more room for Rabb down low, where, at 220 pounds, he should have more bulk to bang. Plus, with more passing-minded guards in Singer, Charlie Moore and Columbia transfer Grant Mullins, the Bears will be feeding Rabb enough to burst a lap band. "With he and Jabari, flowing through those guys, it should be fun," Martin said. "More than anything, the ball will be in Ivan's hands more -- not necessarily bringing the ball up like a point guard, but the ball will be in his hands to make plays. Jabari's a focal point on the perimeter to get him shots and make plays. I think you've got to allow both of those guys to make plays offensively, and other guys can be the spot-up shooter, dive to the basket, whatever it is you do, that's the ability, but it has to flow through those two guys."

That 7.7 shot-per-game stat? It was heavily bolstered by Rabb's final six games, when he shot 35-for-60, averaging 15.2 points and 10 rebounds. Being tested in the heat of the Pac-12 Tournament, against the likes of Jakob Poeltl, and in the NCAA Tournament, showed that Rabb had a higher ceiling. He was only just starting to come into his own and demand the ball down low.

"For Ivan, it's splitting the double team and making plays, and just going into games, getting 15-20 shots a game, with that type of mentality," Martin said. "A lot of things will go through Ivan, as far as when he comes off ball screens, when we're attacking the rim, getting him in the post and making plays, catching the ball or even shooting the three-point shot. It helps him being assertive every time down, to think, 'Score.' I think that's the biggest thing with him -- every time he touches the ball, think of scoring the ball."

Now, as the Bears' unquestioned No. 1 scoring option, Rabb is listed by at 8:1 odds to be the National Player of the Year. In the first 2017 mock drafts, he appeared at No. 5 in a projection by The Big Lead, No. 7 by Bleacher Report, No. 10 by and No. 13 by Draft Express, who named Rabb the No. 3 prospect in the Pac-12.

Bleacher Report ranks Rabb the No. 2 returning forward in the nation. Sports Illustrated has him as one of the top 20 big men, while NBC Sports went all-out and christened Rabb the best big man in the nation

"We want to throw the ball in the post as much as we can," said Singer. "But, I think the ball's going to be moving better. With Jaylen, he wanted to get his. He was more of a one-on-one guy. We're going to throw the ball in the post, and we're also going to play really fast, and really move the ball and work off each other more."

With 11 double-doubles last season, in a year where he often deferred to Wallace and Brown, it's hard not to think he'll average a double-double for the entire 2016-17 campaign.

"I think his game is more polished now," Bird said. "Last year, being a freshman, not bing physically ready against some of the bigger guys, it kind of caught him off guard, I think. This year, he's gotten a lot bigger, physically, and his game seems more fluid. He knows what he wants to do in the post, and we're looking forward to him having a big sophomore year."

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