Even with four winning seasons, three NCAA Tournament appearances and a conference title in coach Mike Montgomery’s four seasons, the Cal men’s basketball team’s best might still be yet to come.
On Thursday, Jabari Bird, Jordan Mathews and Sam Singer all signed their letter of intent to enroll at Cal and play for the Bears next fall. They make up a consensus top-20 recruiting class.
Bird, a five-star swingman and the nation’s No. 20 prospect, is the squad’s highest-ranked recruit since Leon Powe a decade ago. The 6-foot-6 Bird from Richmond, Calif., whose father Carl starred for the Bears in the mid-1970s, had committed to Cal verbally months ago.
“We have watched Jabari grow as a player for a long time,” Montgomery said. “When the game is on the line, he makes a play … Everyone knew about Jabari, and we are very happy to keep him home.”
Mathews is expected to extend the floor as a shooter. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, the Santa Monica, Calif., product garnered four stars and is a consensus top-100 recruit.
Singer is a 6-foot-4 point guard from Florida. Another top-100 prospect, he averaged 34.1 points and 7.7 assists per game as a junior at Ransom Everglades High School.
“It is not often you go coast-to-coast to get a guy,” Montgomery said, “but he came out to our team camp, and we were very impressed with him.
The three guards will help fill the void left next year by Cal’s three current seniors, including starting point guard Brandon Smith. The shooting and scoring ability of Bird and Mathews could be even more crucial early on next season if current junior Allen Crabbe sustains his shooting tear — he’s averaging 30 points a game through two contests — and leaves early for the NBA.
Still, that’s a long way away. Nevertheless, Montgomery is excited about the recruiting class, even without five-star power forward Marcus Lee from nearby Antioch, Calif., who despite recruiting pitches from Bird and Mathews opted to sign with reigning national champion Kentucky.
“We really shored up our perimeter position substantially,” Montgomery said. “The real positive for me is they are terrific individuals. They have great personalities and are going to be tremendous contributors to the University of California.”
As much potential as this group may have, it may not even be the best recruiting class at Cal. The No. 12 women’s basketball team also added a top-20 class, highlighted by star guard Courtney Range and standout forward Kendall Waters.
The Cal women’s swimming team, of course, had the biggest coup of all, signing four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, arguably the biggest recruit in any sport in recent history.
It is worth noting that rankings and stars for high school athletes are often meaningless. Case in point: Crabbe was only ranked in the 60s and 70s as a high school senior. NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers was only noticed once he first went to junior college. And Chris Harper, whose freshman receiving stats this season rank among the best in Cal history, was listed as a three-star recruit by ESPN, the same network that aired his seven-reception, 101-yard game against Washington two weeks ago.
Jonathan Kuperberg covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]