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September 9, 2012

COLUMN: Hoops Recruiting on Historic Pace



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Stars do not equate to wins. It's not a date until she's in the car. Commitments don't mean national titles.

With all of that said, what Mike Montgomery and his California basketball staff have done in the past week is positively preposterous, astoundingly audacious and potentially, program-changing.

With the commitments of five-star Jabari Bird and four-star Jordan Mathews, the Bears have snagged the No. 20 and the No. 85 player in the country. The highest-ranked player in Montgomery's tenure to sign a national letter of intent? D.J. Seeley, a four-star prospect in 2008 who was ranked No. 58 in the country.

The last time that Cal had more than one Rivals150 player in its recruiting class? 2010, when Montgomery brought in four-star Allen Crabbe (No. 69), four-star Gary Franklin (No. 78) and three-star Richard Solomon (109). That class was ranked No. 21 in the final estimation.

As mentioned before, this is the first time that Montgomery has ever hooked a five-star, and the first time that a five-star has committed to Cal since 2003.

That 2003 signing class included Marquis Kately, a four-star, No. 46 player in the country; Dominic McGuire, a three-star, No. 88 player in the country; home-grown four-star Ayinde Ubaka, a four-star, ranked No. 55 in the nation; and of course, Leon Powe, the five-star, No. 10-ranked player in the land.

How does this class compare so far?

Local five-star? Check. California-bred four-star guard? Check. That bunch, though, was coached by Ben Braun.

Over the next five years, the Bears would end the season with first-round losses in the Pac-10 Tournament twice and a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament once, fail to make the postseason in 2007 and lose in the second round of the NIT in 2008.

This bunch has Montgomery, a man who's beaten cancer, won 635 career games as a head coach, won an NIT title, taken home the Pac-10 conference crown five times, the Pac-10 Tournament title once, has taken teams to the Sweet Sixteen three times, the Elite 8 twice and Final Four once. He's made the Big Dance 15 times and reached the postseason in every season he's coached since 1993.

In his tenure in Berkeley, Montgomery has a record of 88-47, and a conference record of 47-25. That's been with a roster of under-the-radar, hard-nosed grinders -- not outright stars. And, in a sense, that's Montgomery's personality -- he's a blue-collar guy who is the very antithesis of flash.

However, what Montgomery has found this recruiting cycle -- and, let's be honest, he's been watching these players for years, now, so it's not exactly news -- are young men who combine tremendous athleticism, upside and ability with humility and team-first mentalities.

Let's for the moment take Bird and Mathews out of the equation and turn the focus to two of the other big Cal targets -- the biggest, in point of fact.

First off, Marcus Lee of Antioch (Calif.) Deer Valley. Lee is likely to take at least a few more official visits, so don't expect a commitment out of him too soon, but with the commitments of his AAU teammate Mathews and his friend Bird, things are looking up for the 6-foot-9 prospect.

Lee is painfully quiet, and though already a shot-blocking machine, doesn't carry himself like a haughty hot shot. He's a hard worker, dedicated, has length already and a very projectable build that could easily carry 20-30 more pounds of muscle. He loves to get up and down the floor.

Unlike some prospects, who go dark with the media at arbitrary points in their recruitment, Lee has been running silent for his entire recruitment as his star has continued to rise. He's very much a family-first young man who's mother is intent on him coming to Cal.

Lee has been a dominant force on the AAU circuit this summer with California Supreme teammate Torren Jones. Jones is a 6-foot-9, 215-pound garbage man, a jumbo athlete who's not afraid to do the dirty work and let his athleticism speak for itself. He knows what he is and doesn't try to change that by taking to the three-point arc. In short, he does his job with great gusto.

Beyond that, if Montgomery and his staff finish strong, they will be bringing in mostly local players, with three Bay Area natives, giving the program even more of a local connection. That isn't just lip service, either. More local connections -- and above all, more local pride -- will help to fill the seats in Haas Pavilion and make that venue a very tough place to play for opposing teams.

With two quality wings already in his back pocket, the consummate big man coach Montgomery and his staff now turn their attention to those twin towers in Lee and Jones. Adding those two would give the Bears two five-stars, a four-star and a high three-star in this class, with the flexibility to add yet another five-star in Aaron Gordon should he decide to join Bird, et al., in Berkeley.

No, it's not a date until they're in the car, but this class has already opened the door, and what follows could be the start of a very happy marriage, indeed.

More on Cal's Big Hoops Recruiting Run
Bears Snag Five-Star Commit
VIDEO: One-on-One With Bird
VIDEO: Commitment Presser
VIDEO ANALYSIS: Shockwaves of Bird Commitment
VIDEO Hoops Target Highlights
Beyond the Commitment: Bird Hunting for Teammates
Beyond the Commitment: Jabari Bird Scouting Report
FEATURE: Bird Has Struck a Blow for the Bay Area
Bird Previews Group Visit Mathews Takes Cal Unofficial
Mathews Gives Cal Rave Reviews
Mathews Makes the Call for Cal
Beyond the Commitment: Jordan Mathews
Jones Has Bears Among Leaders


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