Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Alfred Grigsby ... Allen Crabbe?
On the surface, the junior swingman seems destined to join the aforementioned hoopsters on the list of all-time greats at Cal. He won the Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year award two years ago, earned first team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 and last week he added the conference’s Player of the Year trophy to his mantel. With 1,510 career points, he’s the 10th-highest scorer in the program’s history, and if he sticks around Berkeley for his senior year, he could reach No. 1 by the time the Pac-12 season tips off in January.
Crabbe’s tenure at Cal has been anything but smooth, though, and at this point his legacy is a big question mark.
But the picture should crystallize by the end of the weekend. Without unlocking every cliche, it’s fair to say that March Madness is the time capsule through which we remember college basketball’s defining players. Picture Kidd in Cal’s gold and blue beating two-time defending champion Duke in 1993.
At this point, the defining moment of Crabbe’s college career is probably “the shove.” In many ways, the incident tells the story of his career up to this point. He is a supremely talented player — long and smooth, with a touch reminiscent of Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Chris Mullin — but sometimes it seems like he needs a little push to elevate his game.
Crabbe arrived on campus with high expectations after winning California’s Gatorade Player of the Year award at Price High School in Los Angeles in 2010. During his three years at Cal, he’s received almost every honor the Pac-12 dishes out. Yet, he still carries a reputation for being an underachiever.
The problem might be that Crabbe is too nice of a guy in a sport that requires a killer’s instinct. At times, when things get tough, he slumps his shoulders and shies away from the game rather than digging down and giving his team an emotional lift.
Exhibit A is his performance — or lack thereof — in the waning minutes of Cal’s upset loss to Utah last week. After the Utes cut the Bears’ lead to 47-46, Crabbe disappeared, attempting only two shots in the final 7:37 of the second half. In overtime, he didn’t get off his second shot until there was 1:12 to play, and Cal was down by eight at that point.
This is why most Bear-backers have probably given Crabbe their own mental shoves at some point.
But Crabbe needs to resist the urge to try to carry the entire load on his shoulders in San Jose today. UNLV will try to smother him, and if he forces up shots, he’ll put together a repeat of his performance against Creighton, where he shot 6-for-26 from the field.
Instead, he needs to let the game come to him while seizing the pivotal moments.
When Crabbe is feeling his game, Cal can play with almost anyone. And if they somehow get through the weekend and advance to the Sweet 16, he will stamp his place in Bears history, joining that other “kid” who made his name at Cal.
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.