Sports

California's Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon bring balance to court

SportsProfessional BasketballBasketballAllen CrabbeNBAUSC TrojansPacific-12 Conference

This pairing has the makings of a sitcom, or possibly a buddy movie.

California seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon have been together since their salad days at Torrance Bishop Montgomery High.

"It's been kind of like a big brother, little brother relationship," said Bishop Montgomery Coach Doug Mitchell. "They are totally different people."

Cobbs, one of the best point guards in the Pac-12 Conference, has that life-is-serious view.

Solomon, a handful of a 6-foot-10 power forward, does not.

"I thought Richard was just goofy when I met him," Mitchell said. "When he'd get mad on the court, he'd put his hands on his head like he was trying to rip out his hair."

Solomon laughed when asked about time spent with Cobbs off the court.

"We were at the apartment last year and he put down a glass of water and I told him to move it," Solomon said. "He said, 'I'm not going to knock over the water.' Ten seconds later, he knocked over the water. Justin is clumsy."

The two traveled different paths to bring their polar-opposite personalities to Berkeley. Cobbs played a season at Minnesota. Solomon, who is a year younger, came from Los Angeles Price, where he spent his senior year.

They returned home this week for a last college tour of Los Angeles. It has been nothing to write home about so far. California was upset by last-place USC on Wednesday and will play UCLA on Sunday.

"Everyone tells you it goes fast," Cobbs said. "Well, it goes fast. It makes me think about my freshman year and how much I've grown."

The chance to play in the NBA awaits them. Before that, there is work to be done … together.

The serious man

Cobbs figured out quickly that Minnesota was the wrong choice. One season was enough. The problem? Minnesota was hardly the Go-Go Gophers.

"The whole style was different," Cobbs said. "The pace of games was slower. It was a defensive conference."

Cobbs had played fast at Bishop Montgomery, where he was the state's Division IV most valuable player as a senior in 2009. He and Solomon helped the Knights reach the state championship game.

California Coach Mike Montgomery offered a basketball life in the fast lane. In Berkeley, Cobbs found another Southern California transplant, Allen Crabbe, who played at Price High.

The two were arguably the best backcourt in the Pac-12 last season. Crabbe declared for the NBA draft after his junior season and is with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Cobbs returned and is averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 assists this season.

"If you tell Justin not to shoot because it is the best way for you to win, he won't shoot," Mitchell said. "If you tell him to take 30 shots, he'd do it. But his first instinct is always to set someone else up."

Montgomery recently had to push Cobbs to ignore that basic instinct.

"He was trying to lead the league in assists and be the best passer," Montgomery said. "We told him we needed him to score. He has kind of found a balance between the two."

For that, it's handy to have Solomon around as a scorer and rebounder.

The goofball

"He was just silly when I first saw him in high school," Cobbs said of Solomon. "He was the big guy who was always making jokes. Then we started playing together. It's crazy to watch people grow."

Solomon admits that, "Yeah, I was goofy."

Growth was easy … physically, anyway.

He was a 6-2 freshman at Bishop Montgomery. He was 6-8 as a senior at Price, where he teamed with Crabbe to win the state Division IV title in 2010.

"Everything changed," Solomon said. "I had to learn how to play the post."

Those changes to his body did little to alter his ability.

"Guys who have that kind of rapid growth usually are awkward," Mitchell said. "That didn't happen with Richard. He always had good feet."

The growing pains came in other areas of Solomon's life.

He said family issues led to him transferring to Price. They weighed heavily on him the first two years at California, though he declined to talk about it.

The fallout came when he was academically ineligible the spring semester of his sophomore season.

"There were things I was going through with my family that I let affect me," Solomon said. "I had to learn that I would be held accountable."

Solomon is on track to graduate this spring, "if he blocks out the NBA noise," Montgomery joked.

The noise is getting louder.

Solomon averages 11.7 points and 10.5 rebounds.

"He's figuring out that he's going to make a living rebounding the ball," Montgomery said.

Dynamic duo

There were five players at Cal from the Los Angeles area in 2010-11: Cobbs, Solomon, Crabbe, Gary Franklin (Santa Ana Mater Dei) and Nigel Carter (Los Angeles Dorsey).

"I thought it was going to be like high school all over again," Solomon said.

It wasn't.

Franklin and Carter transferred. Crabbe left for the NBA. Only Cobbs and Solomon remain.

"They are as different as two kids can be," Mitchell said. "I'm sure Justin rolls his eyes a bit at some of the things Richard says. I'm sure he has been good for Richard. And I'm sure Richard has brought a little frivolity into Justin's life."

Solomon "doesn't pull at his hair much anymore," Cobb said.

Cobbs "is certainly not clumsy on the court," Solomon said.

The two have one homecoming game left.

"This is the last time we come down here to play," Solomon said. "I want to do it right."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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SportsProfessional BasketballBasketballAllen CrabbeNBAUSC TrojansPacific-12 Conference
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