It would be an intriguing story if California guard Allen Crabbe, only lightly recruited by hometown UCLA after he led Los Angeles Price High to the 2010 Division IV state title, said he was especially motivated to beat the Bruins on Saturday.
And it's not like UCLA, which instead signed guard Tyler Lamb of Santa Ana Mater Dei, couldn't use Crabbe, who was The Times' player of the year as a high school senior.
A deadly perimeter shooter, Crabbe was voted last season's Pacific-10 freshman of the year and earned all-conference honorable mention for averaging 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game while shooting 44.6%.
After adding five pounds of muscle this season to stretch 205 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, Crabbe was averaging 15.9 points and 6.1 rebounds and shooting 44.7% before the Golden Bears faced USC on Thursday at the Galen Center.
He had matched the 62 three-pointers he sank last season to set a Cal freshman record and upped his three-point accuracy to 43.1%. Lamb, who averaged 2.6 points last season, was averaging 8.9 points through UCLA's first 23 games, including a season-high 26 in the Bruins' 85-69 loss at Cal on Dec. 31.
Crabbe, as soft-spoken as he is talented, has no time for vindictiveness over UCLA's snub. He's happy where he is, developing into a game-breaking shooter who led the Golden Bears to an 18-6 record —including 8-3 in the Pac-12 — entering Thursday's game.
"It wasn't serious on their part," he said of UCLA's interest in him. "They didn't recruit me as hard as the other schools did, especially Cal.
"I just felt that Cal would be a better fit for me because they showed they wanted me and I just felt like I fit right in with their style of basketball. I look forward to playing UCLA. They've been a great program for so many years. I just take it as another game, basically."
But he takes every practice and game seriously, a habit instilled by his father, Allen Jr., who played at Pepperdine.
While at Price, a tiny Christian school named for Crabbe's grandfather, the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, Crabbe would sometimes ask Coach Mike Lynch to reopen the gym and weight room after practice so he could put in extra work. He often shot under his father's watchful eye, sometimes staying until he made 1,000 baskets.
"He was always able to shoot from the first time I laid eyes on him as a little kid. But it's his work ethic that has helped him develop his overall game," said Lynch, who plans to watch Crabbe play at UCLA on Saturday.
"We didn't know what the numbers were going to look like, but we expected him to be able to compete at the college level."
Crabbe needs to be more physical, and he addressed that by focusing on strengthening his legs. Strengthening his resolve came instinctively.
"I feel that I have to do a little more this year. I know my team and my coaches expect more of me," he said. "With a year of experience I kind of knew what to expect this year."
That includes tougher defenses that have tried to take away the shots he got as a freshman.
"Sometimes it's been hard," he said. "Some games teams have played really good team defense that has taken me out of my game, but it's a learning experience for me. As I keep seeing more and more defenses I understand that I have to be aggressive and that attack the defense is what I should do."
Lynch has no doubt Crabbe will lift his game.
"He's an incredible young man. He has a reverence for God and he's goal-driven," Lynch said. "His goal is to get as far as he can with this game of basketball, which is the NBA, and he's not going to let anything deter him."
Crabbe said he wouldn't have a problem staying at Cal for four years — "if it comes down to that I have to" — but that's not his immediate focus.
"I'm pretty sure every basketball player's dream after college is to play in the NBA," he said, "but you've just got to make sure that you're ready and you have all the tools that you need in order to not just make it to the NBA but to compete when you get there."