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August 14, 2011

Crabbe leads off trip with big night



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MORE EUROTRIP: Taking the Show on the Road

Sophomore Allen Crabbe led the California basketball team with 25 points on Sunday, as the Bears kicked off their five-game, 10-day European swing with an 89-71 win over the Solna Vikings in Stockholm, Sweden. Before Crabbe and his mates left for Scandinavia, BearTerritory sat down to speak with the reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

As Crabbe sat down inside Room 180 at Haas Pavilion, there was just a small bump on his nose to tell the tale of a nasty collision that knocked the 6-foot-6, 205-pound shooting guard out of the Under-19 US National Team tryouts this summer. The sparkling diamond earrings he sported did their best to distract from it, too.

"I was setting a screen for Richard [Solomon], his man caught himself getting into the screen, hit me with an elbow," Crabbe says.

So, in the end, it was Solomon's fault?

"Not even," Crabbe laughs. "I don't understand how you can get your nose broken setting a pick, but I guess it just happened. It's unfortunate, but it happened."

The biggest adjustment Crabbe has had to make since getting his shnoz smashed has been the Hannibal Lecter mask he's had to wear on the court.

"He just got a new one, so it doesn't look too bad. I told him he looks better with it on than with it off," jokes senior power forward Harper Kamp. "He looks good, though. His first step is pretty quick right now. It looks like he's been working."

Clearly, with his big day in Stockholm on Sunday, that new mask is paying big dividends.

"The second mask is a custom one, so they did all the adjustments that they needed to so that it fit my face and would be comfortable," says Crabbe. "The first one was like just off the shelf, so it was kind of far out on my nose and it seemed like it messed with my vision. It's like, I see straight, but when I shoot, it seems like my shot went to the side a bit. This new mask is great. I practiced with it [Wednesday]."

Before the Bears went to town on the Vikings -- with newly-eligible Justin Cobbs throwing in 12 points and six assists, and walk-on center Robert Thurman adding 14 points and eight boards -- they tooled around the centuries-old city and visited the Vasa Museum.

The Vasamuseet is built around the almost-fully-intact 17th-century, 64-gun warship Vasa, which sank just minutes into her maiden voyage in 1628.

While viewing a craft that spent more than three centuries under water was a unique experience, to say the least, Crabbe said that the biggest thing he was looking forward to on the trip was the chance to bond with his teammates.

"Just for everybody to get to know each other more, getting more bond time with the team, just get everybody on the same page, just build up on that chemistry a little bit earlier this year," says Crabbe. "Everybody has put in work in the offseason. We're going to be faster, this year. We've got a lot of bodies. Even the bigs can run the floor, so that's good. Everybody's done a little extra, because they know they have to work in the summer. I think we're going to be great."

Another big attraction to Crabbe before leaving was getting to see how the game is played overseas.

"We're going to get to play against some pro teams, so I think it'll be a good experience for us," said Crabbe before the team left. "We can take this short time and bring it back here, and I think it's good for us because we get to start practice earlier than the normal time, we get the freshmen in there, get them acquainted with the offense and the defense and all that stuff, and I just feel it's going to help us with our chemistry more."

During the team's pre-trip scrimmages, the Bears played under FIBA rules, including the 24-second shot clock, which forced Cal into a more up-tempo style. Judging by the results on Sunday, the Bears are very much at home in that style.

"It makes you stay aggressive," says Crabbe. "Of course, you have 11 more seconds in college, but we do a lot of fast break, early O, and we can get a lot of stuff like that, just board the ball, get out, and we can run. I kind of like to run, but coach [Mike] Montgomery's a half-court guy, and I like the half-court. Sometimes, you can get out of control if you just fast break the whole game. I think it's going to be cool for us."

Even after being on the shelf or limited for a few of the pre-trip practices, Crabbe has done a lot of work on his body and his game during the offseason. Head coach Mike Montgomery has remarked that Crabbe seems more aggressive, and more confident, ready to take the next step.

"I've gotten a lot stronger in my legs," says Crabbe. "Last year, coaches were always telling me that I was dribbling the ball then falling down, and it was just because I didn't really get to to at the weights because of my knee, the tendonitis, a little bit. But, this year, coach [Scott] Thom, he's done a great job."

Taking over for head of strength and conditioning, Mike Blasquez, who has moved to coaching the football team primarily, strength coach Scott Thom has been the man for both Crabbe and the 6-foot-10 Solomon, who is now close to 230 pounds.

"I just feel that the upper body is there," Crabbe says. "I just feel more explosive."

There are moments in the video highlights of the pre-trip scrimmages that show clear advancement not just in the way that Crabbe plays the game, but in the way he approaches it. In one instance during the second scrimmage, where Crabbe jab-steps in as if to drive, and, in the same motion, pulls up and nails a three. It seems like something fans and coaches always knew Crabbe could do, but now, he's actually doing it, and no, it wasn't a trick he learned while trying out for Team USA.

"The USA trials, the first day, I didn't really have a good day, in my perspective," says Crabbe. "In the second day, well, I didn't really get too much, because I broke my nose as soon as it started. I just feel that I'm more confident, since I have a year under my belt. I know more. I have more experience. It's just trying to do a little bit more."

The ever-humble Crabbe even has a bit more swagger.

"I can say that," he smiles. "I've been working more on my one-dribble pull-up game, that's true. I think I'm implementing it a little more."

Crabbe's teammates are definitely taking notice.

"If anything, I think, when he gets the chance, he's more willing to take the shots," says Kamp.

Even while getting the ball from as many as four different point guards -- Cobbs, Jorge Gutierrez, Brandon Smith and Emerson Murray -- Crabbe has kept his shooting stroke and overall game consistent through the various lineup changes.

On Sunday, Cobbs and Smith started at the one and the two, with Gutierrez sitting out and Kamp seeing two rotations in the first half. That, of course, didn't phase Crabbe, or any scorers. Solomon recorded nine points and four boards, Smith had eight points and six assists and true freshman David Kravish netted six points and four boards.

"Some of them are more aggressive, when it comes to taking the defender off the dribble, and you know Brandon, he runs the team," says Crabbe. "He runs the club, does a great job, did a great job last year and got people involved. When he needed to score sometimes, he even stepped up and knocked down threes, got to the basket, made good moves to get there. Everybody knows about Jorge, being aggressive. Emerson, he's doing a lot better. He understands the system, so he's definitely going to be good."

Murray hit a big three before halftime against the Vikings, and Crabbe gets the sense that his recruiting classmate is playing more under-control than he was in his rookie season.

"The coaches even said that he was under control more," says Crabbe. "He's going to be a good help for us."

Also making a big contribution in Sunday's win was redshirt freshman Alex Rossi, who sat out last season due to a hernia. Rossi pulled down some clutch boards in Stockholm, and saw a good amount of action.

"He's going to be a big help, too," Crabbe says. "I'm just glad to have him on the bench this year. He's going to be able to come off and help us a lot, knock down those threes, and when he catches fire, I mean, it's like he never misses. He's going to be good. That's what he does, he shoots. It's definitely going to be good to have him."

Notes
Starters on Sunday were Smith, Cobbs, Crabbe, Solomon and Thurman. Kamp played two first-half rotations. Rossi and freshman Christian Behrens saw action, along with Kravish and Murray.

Cal next takes the court on Monday against Uppsala, once again in Stockholm, Sweden.



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