Cal sophomores Crabbe, Solomon share bond on and off the court
Cal sophomores Allen Lester Crabbe III and Richard Solomon III have a lot in common beyond the digits at the end of their names: They both graduated from Price High School in Los Angeles, where they won a Div. IV state title their senior year; they both like rappers Drake and YG, and their brainwaves are in such apparent alignment that they sometimes finish each other's sentences. No Oscar and Felix, they are even in agreement on when the off-campus apartment they share has reached the point where cleanup is unavoidable. "We're like brothers with different mothers," says Solomon, a 6-foot-10 forward. "Honestly, blood couldn't make us any closer."
Yet they have their differences. Solomon, who has four inches and 15 pounds on the 6-6, 205-pound Crabbe, is outgoing and goofy -- "a big jokester," says Price High coach Michael Lynch -- while the soft-spoken Crabbe, a shooting guard, prefers to hang quietly in the background, observing and not saying much. And that orangey dye job that both Solomon and sophomore guard Justin Cobbs are sporting this season? There's some disagreement on whether that's a good look. "We asked Allen if he wanted to do it, too, but he said he preferred to stay black," says Cobbs.
Another distinction: While Solomon has yet to really break out on the college stage, Crabbe, who averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds and shot 40 percent from the three-point line on the way to earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season, is already an established force. Guard Jorge Gutierrez and forward Harper Kamp may be the unquestioned leaders of the Bears, but no one is more important to the team's success than Crabbe. "For us to be good, we have to get Allen shots," says Cal coach Mike Montgomery. "Is he our best defender? No. Is he our best rebounder? No. Does he need to be more physical? Yeah. But we have to get him shots or we're not going to be a good team. That's on everybody else. That's what a team is."
Solomon, who averaged 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds and had a team-high 27 blocks off the bench last year, has yet to achieve such indispensability. Which isn't to say the Bears, who don't have much proven depth in the frontcourt, don't need him to produce if they want to win their second conference title in three years. "We need Richard to finish, to be a shot-blocker, to be a dominant rebounder, which he could be, and to develop a little post game," says Montgomery.
"He still hasn't gotten to the point where he always finishes the plays he's able to get to. When he's able to do that, that's when he'll really be a good player."
"Richard has great potential," adds Crabbe of his friend, who is just in his sixth year of organized basketball. "He doesn't like it when people say that, but it's true. He's really fast and athletic for a 6-10 guy. He can take his guy off the dribble 15 feet out and get to the basket and dunk it or lay it up. Once he gets his back-to-the-basket game and can use both of his hands in the post, he'll be unstoppable."
No matter how much time Crabbe and Solomon spend together on the court this season, they will be nearly inseparable off it. "When you see Allen you expect to see Richard right behind him," says Cobbs, a transfer from Minnesota who played with Solomon at Bishop Montgomery High in Torrance, Calif., for three years. "They are always together. On the road last year they would even switch rooms so they could be roommates."
Crabbe and Solomon first met as seven-year-olds, when they played on the same YMCA team. But it would be a decade before they became friends. As a kid, Solomon spent most of his free time practicing karate -- at 12 he earned a junior black belt -- limiting his basketball to one-on-one matches in a parking lot with his dad, Richard, Jr. He didn't start playing organized basketball seriously until he was a 6-1 freshman at Bishop Montgomery. "All I knew how to do was dribble and shoot," says Solomon. "I didn't know defense, I didn't know about posting up." That would soon change. As a sophomore he sprouted to 6-7, seemingly overnight. "I woke up one morning, got out of bed, walked out of the room and hit my head on the door frame," he says. "It was that sudden."
Thanks in part to his karate training, Solomon didn't have much trouble adjusting to his new height. "In karate you do a lot of strength stuff and you become real flexible and able to move your body in certain ways," he says. "I'm 6-10 now, but I'm pretty agile. I feel like I can still move like a guard."
In Solomon's junior year, his Bishop Montgomery Knights team beat Crabbe's Price Knights in the regional final before falling in the state championships. The next year the family's economic circumstances changed -- Richard, Jr., worked in the struggling mortgage industry -- forcing Solomon to find a less expensive school. He landed at Price, alongside the kid he knew briefly in second grade.
Crabbe, meanwhile, had focused on basketball early. His dad, Allen Jr., had played at Pepperdine, "so it was probably inevitable," he says. As the grandson of the Price School founder, the reverend Frederick K.C. Price, Crabbe spent his youth shagging balls, fetching water and shooting around at breaks as the Knights' ball boy. "Even as a little kid, he was consistently making three-point shots," says Lynch. "In high school his shooting motion was almost the same as when he was younger, just higher."
While Crabbe calls his shooting touch "a gift from God," he doesn't take it for granted. "In high school I'd work out a lot with my dad," he says. "Sometimes we wouldn't be able to leave the gym until I had made -- not just shot -- a thousand shots."
Montgomery first saw Crabbe as a sophomore and was taken with his long arms and shooting skill. Crabbe liked the way Montgomery's system utilized screens to get the wings shots, and he appreciated Cal's ardent interest, something he wasn't getting from this dream school, UCLA. He committed to the Bears on Christmas Day of his junior year.
Montgomery was also interested in the long and active Solomon, who had a Cal connection even before he got to know Crabbe: his sister, Am'ra, was an outside hitter on the Cal volleyball team from 2005-08. "I knew from my sister that a degree from Berkeley is supposed to be everything you'd ever want," says Solomon, who recently switched his major from computer science to psychology. After playing with Crabbe on the Compton Magic traveling team in the summer of 2009, he, too, committed to the Bears.
When Solomon and Crabbe joined forces at Price that fall, neither had won a state title. "I think that was the basis for their bond at first," says Lynch. "When Richard came, Allen took him under his wing and said, 'Hey listen, we need you. Let's work out, let's push ourselves.' Allen and Richard bonded in that way: 'We won't be denied.'"
They weren't. Behind Crabbe's 25 and Solomon's 22 points, the Knights beat St. Mary's of Berkeley 69-51 in the state finals in Bakersfield. "When we finally won that game, I watched the two of them hug, like, we got the elephant off our back," says Lynch. "There were a lot of expectations on them."
Will there be another post-championship hug in the best buddies' near future? Coming off an 18-win season, the expectations for Cal are high but not overwhelming; the Bears are slotted anywhere from first to fourth in most Pac-12 preseason rankings. But Crabbe, who still puts up shots after practice when he can (he has to make 200 before he leaves the gym), and Solomon, who still works on the six-inch long list of needed improvements that he entered into his iPhone after last season, are still pushing themselves. Chances are they won't be denied for long.