Looking ahead: Ivan Rabb's return gives Cal its first victory

It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: California Golden Bears.

So, Ivan Rabb came back.

That’s reason enough to celebrate if you’re a Cal fan. It’s actually reason enough that could turn Rabb, a local product from Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High School, into one of the most beloved Golden Bears ever.

The 6-foot-11 forward/center could have been an NBA lottery pick in this month’s draft. From the day he signed, the prevailing assumption was that Cal had one year to make good with Rabb and teammate Jaylen Brown before they collected paychecks in the pros.

Brown did what was expected. It would have been easy for Rabb to do the same, especially in light of how the Bears ended last season.

California’s season of promise quickly deteriorated into a final week no one in Berkeley will soon want to relive. The Golden Bears seemed tantalizingly close to fulfilling their potential after entering the NCAA tournament winning nine of 11 games, sweeping back into the top 25 and earning a No. 4 seed — the best in program history.

The good vibes evaporated so quickly. They lost their senior leader, Tyrone Wallace, to a broken right hand that had previously kept him out of five games in January and early February. A sexual-harassment investigation led to the ouster of assistant coach Yann Hufnagel. They lost guard Jabari Bird to back spasms right before tipoff in their first-round NCAA tournament game against Hawaii and, unsurprisingly, were handed a first-round exit.

The fallout over Hufnagel’s departure started with a university investigation over how coach Cuonzo Martin handled the allegations. And it ended with their top recruit, Tyson Jolly, asking out of his letter of intent. The shooting guard from Oklahoma City cited his close relationship to Hufnagel for wanting his release.

Rabb’s decision to postpone a multimillion-dollar payday was an offseason win for a program that sorely needed one.

And after last week, Rabb, who led the team with 8.6 rebounds and whose shooting accuracy of 61.5 percent ranked second in the Pac-12, will see his role next season get bigger.

The Bears’ lineup suffered a late hit last week with Jordan Mathews’ surprise announcement that he would graduate from Cal this summer and transfer. The 6-4 guard was fourth on the school’s list of career 3-pointers. Only two teams in the Pac-12 scored more of their points from behind the arc than the Bears, and Mathews (41.6 percent) was a big reason they ranked second in the league by making 38.2 percent of their 3-point shots.

Mathews would have been the leading scorer returning at 13.5 points per game. That distinction now falls to Rabb, who averaged 12.3 points last season. How Cal compensates for Mathews’ outside production will fall on Bird and a couple of transfers.

Grant Mullins is a graduate transfer from Columbia who averaged 13.3 points last season as a combo guard. Former Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo averaged just 10 minutes a game last season, but the 6-7 guard with the deep range could find himself a key part of the rotation as a senior.

Bird, who averaged 10.4 points per game, has been a role player and is ready for a starting position his senior year. Cal will need the former McDonald’s All-American to fulfill his potential as a well-rounded scorer.

Senior guard Sam Singer showed a lot of growth during the second half of last season, when he replaced an injured Wallace in the starting lineup. Backing up Singer will be freshman Charlie Moore and junior college transfer Dontae Coleman. Moore, a 5-11 point guard, initially signed with Memphis, but he was granted his release after Josh Pastner left to become the coach at Georgia Tech.

The Bears’ frontcourt will have a pair of experienced 7-footers to go alongside Rabb in juniors Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh. Both split time at center last season, and the thought was that if Rabb left, they might be used more in the same lineup.

That’s not as likely to occur with Rabb back on campus. And no one at Cal will complain about it.

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