Pac-12 Senior Days: California’s Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

If you haven’t looked at your calendar, we’re ready to flip the page into March – which means, among other things, the Pac-12 Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, and mixed in there somewhere, the end of some great college basketball careers. Over the next week or so, we’ll dig into some of the best senior classes in the conference and reflect on what their careers have meant to their programs. To kick things off, here’s Adam Butler of giving us the rundown on the waning careers of California’s Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon.

Richard Solomon and Justin Cobbs Are Great Examples of Guys Who Have Grown Up Over Their College Careers (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

Richard Solomon (35) and Justin Cobbs Are Great Examples of Guys Who Have Grown Up Over Their College Careers. (Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

In an ideal world, or at least the world as it’s explained to us, you go to college to “discover yourself.” It’s the greatest time of your life and you’ll make mistakes and learn from them and grow and mature and leave ready to attack the real world. A grown-up. This, of course, is not always the case. But for Cal seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, perhaps it is. Maybe these two personify the college experience because look at them now. As they stand today they’re the leaders of a likely NCAA-bound team – the third Dance of their careers – and another top-half Pac-12 finish. Cobbs is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate and Solomon leads the conference in rebounding by nearly an entire board per game. To understand the magnitude of their senior years, we need to know where they started.

Cobbs was a lightly recruited Class of 2009 point guard out of Los Angeles (I see you, Ben). He committed to Tubby Smith and took his SoCal talents to Minnesota. Have you ever been to Minnesota in the winter? I haven’t and I don’t intend to. My cousin took a similar route (LA to St. Paul) for college and while he survived the four years, he’d be quick to tell you it was tough, cold. For Cobbs, we can pile onto the weather transition. He saw moderate success at best, playing just 10 minutes per contest and scoring only two points per game. In such a case, when going to the Gophers for playing time, you might be California dreamin’. So he transferred, leaving the place that frustrated him, for the college experience he felt was going to give him the opportunity to grow into, say, an all-Conference performer. Because he came to Cal to play, he’ll leave Cal as a leader. If he brought anything from frigid Minnesota it was the cold. Or at least an icy cold heart. Look at what he did to Oregon. And, of course, Arizona:

I don’t know if he does that in Minnesota. This isn’t Sliding Doors, but since moving west, he’s averaged 14.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 5.2 APG. He’s been the consummate point guard and the consummate leader.

And then there is Solomon. A different path he’s led but what else would you expect from a 6’10” karate enthusiast? If you listen to that video, Solomon’s comments center around responsibility, accountability and integrity. He effuses coachspeak. But he’s also the kid that saw himself suspended indefinitely in December 2011 and later that same season for academic issues. He would play just 13 games his sophomore year and watch the Bears finish second in the conference. We’ll call that the lost season and, perhaps, the “kick in the head,” according to David Kravish, he would need to begin the path to where he is today. His junior season saw improvement, a maturing Solomon, but crunch time was often deferred to the Thurminator (Robert Thurman) or just a smaller lineup. Solomon didn’t necessarily have the trust – or the number of fouls – to play deep into games. In that junior season, we’ll call it the improvement year, Solomon was committing the third most fouls per 40 minutes (5.2) in the entire conference. If you’re going to contribute you’ve got to be on the floor and Solomon was not yet there.

But then he became a senior. A matured version of himself, and like any good college experience, he got better. He’s improved and matured. He was kicked in the head and it’s resulted in the best season of his career. He’s seventh in the country in defensive rebounding percentage and putting up the highest eFG% of his career. He’s drawing fouls (68.8% FTRate) at a high level (90th in the nation). And those fouls he was committing? It’s improved, as is the theme. He’s committing one foul fewer per 40 minutes this season. He’s staying on the floor and now enjoys the highest scoring, rebounding, and assisting numbers of his career. It’s a correlation that suggests he’s talented. It’s a trajectory that suggests he’s matured. Richard Solomon, despite his academic shortcomings as a sophomore, is going to graduate in four years.

We come to college to learn, to get better and to grow. As the college careers of these two Bears come to a close, I think the proof is in the golden pudding. They’ve personified the ideal, discovered their best versions and are succeeding for it. And the Pac-12 will miss them.

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