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Cal freshmen stars Brown, Rabb focused on school first

Ivan Rabb

Ivan Rabb


BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) Ivan Rabb is so famous around Berkeley and San Francisco’s East Bay that fellow California freshman and top recruit Jaylen Brown is doing his best to take the pressure off.

“This guy, this is young Iv right here,” Brown said with a chuckle before Thursday’s practice. “Oh, it’s great. I kind of played a role for him like, `No pictures, no pictures.’ That’s the role I play for Iv when he’s walking around. It’s cool just seeing that. I’m happy for him.”

That’s how Brown tells it anyway. He figures there are a few times a week when he’s shooing away the crowd around Rabb, noting “it could happen multiple times in one day, sometimes I’m fighting off a group of people.”

Rabb begs to differ.

“I guess,” Rabb said with a sigh. “I think they’re asking both of us for pictures. I don’t know whose side of the story you’re going to take. I would just say, take my side.”

One thing nobody will argue is that these two are the new high-profile faces of the program, nationally ranked recruits landed by second-year Cal coach Cuonzo Martin who will make an immediate impact on the Golden Bears, who are picked to place second in the Pac-12 behind defending champion Arizona. Cal hasn’t won a conference crown since capturing its first title in 50 years in 2009-10.

NBA scouts have been regulars inside Haas Pavilion to watch practice nearly every day, and a couple of scouts showed up at the start of Thursday’s session. Most are there to see the 6-foot-7 Brown, from Marietta, Georgia, and 6-11 Rabb, out of Oakland’s Bishop O’Dowd High.

Yet you’d hardly know Brown and Rabb are freshmen going through the transition to college life and a new level of basketball after all they did in high school and traveling the world with USA Basketball. Both are well-spoken, which they credit to guidance from their families, and unfazed by the hype surrounding the start of their highly anticipated college careers. They held their first interviews since school got underway and practice began, and since the team’s August tour of Australia.

“We understand what’s going around on us. At the end of the day rankings only matter on paper,” Rabb said. “We’re going to take advantage of these academics to become better men in life, too.”

Both players will take on leadership roles right away, and want to be great defenders aside from their high-flying scoring abilities.

“They’re doing a great job. To their advantage probably since these guys were 14 years old, 15 years old, they’ve been in USA Basketball. They’ve been exposed to a lot of things,” Martin said. “They’ve seen it all. They’ve had thousands of cameras in their faces. So they know what that feels like. For those guys it’s just more than anything having a peace of mind to know that I can actually be a student and then an athlete. Both of those guys take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that people recognize them as students first even though they have a tremendous amount of talent and potential at 18-19 years old.”

Brown chose to come cross-country to Cal to have a balanced experience between athletics and academics. He learned the importance of that at home.

“It definitely is a blessing, I would say, to have parents like I did and grandparents like I did to teach us to understand and to be able to advocate for ourselves,” Brown said. “I appreciate that so much.”

In fact, when Brown was around sixth grade, his grandmother, Diane Varnado, required him and older brother Quenton to write a paper explaining why they wanted an Xbox 360 video game console.

“She made us tell her why we wanted it and what would be the benefit and we came up with some lame excuse like hand-eye coordination,” he recalled.

There are some benefits for Brown being the guy so far from home. Rabb’s mother, Tami, helps the young men with their laundry and delivers nice dinners to campus such as a memorable seafood pasta. Rabb is only about 20 minutes from home.

“I’m really comfortable but I didn’t realize how different Berkeley was from Oakland `til I got here,” Rabb said. “I feel like I’m at home but at the same time there’s a big difference.”