Cal's Ivan Rabb explains his decision to return to school

Cal's Ivan Rabb attended nearby Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland. AP Photo/Ben Margot

Ivan Rabb was gone.

That was his mindset entering the season as the highly touted recruit who made it cool again to stay in the Bay Area and go to Cal. Nothing changed after Rabb's freshman season ended with a disappointing loss to Hawaii in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He was headed for the NBA draft.

Then came the validation that made his decision even easier.

Cal coach Cuonzo Martin relayed the feedback he received from NBA personnel.

"Six to 14," Rabb said.

Multiple NBA executives told ESPN that the 6-foot-10 Rabb, with his combination of size, skill and athleticism, was unlikely to fall past the 10th pick.

"Yeah, I heard that also," Rabb admitted.

Rabb also was privy to all the chatter that this was as lackluster a draft as there has been in years. Rabb would have a chance to shoot up the draft boards with strong team workouts.

Then there were those new draft rules, the ones that provided little to no downside to testing the NBA waters. Rabb watched as fellow big men such as NC State's BeeJay Anya (4.7 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks (9.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Washington State's Conor Clifford (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG) -- holding virtually no draft stock -- tossed their names into the NBA draft ring with the safety net of a May 25 deadline to withdraw and maintain their college eligibility.

"I heard it all," Rabb said. "Most people encouraged me to leave because of the new draft process. Everyone was doing it."

Rabb doesn't remember exactly when he began to have second thoughts about leaving Berkeley after just one season in college. Maybe a couple weeks after the season concluded on March 18.

But he began to flip-flop.


With millions of dollars sitting on the table -- the first-year salary alone for the 10th overall pick will be $2.14 million, according to the NBA's collective bargaining agreement -- Rabb finally made his decision via a simple news release sent out by the school on April 25. He'd be returning to class and spend another year calling Haas Pavilion home.

"I just wanted to improve," Rabb said. "I didn't just want to be in the NBA. I wanted to make sure I was ready when I got there."

Rabb was at one time considered the No. 1 player in the country. That was prior to suffering an injury in high school, before Ben Simmons elevated into to the top spot. Rabb didn't fall off the map completely, but he has been overshadowed the last few years -- whether it was by Simmons and even Skal Labissiere in the recruiting rankings, or by his own college teammate, Jaylen Brown.

"That doesn't bother me," Rabb said. "I know a lot of people have written me off and many felt I wouldn't succeed this year because I wasn't strong enough."

Instead, the 217-pound Rabb nearly averaged a double-double (12.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG) despite putting up fewer than eight field goal attempts per game (fifth on the team). With the departure of Brown and Tyrone Wallace, who took a combined 721 shots between them a year ago, Rabb will be more of a focal point on offense.

"I know I need to get stronger," Rabb said. "I want to come back better defensively, a better shooter, a better rebounder, more comfortable on the floor. I want to be the leader. I wanted to have a bigger role."

Rabb said he spoke to everyone in his circle -- his family, Martin, his high school coach, Lou Richie -- and also several NBA players about his decision.

"They told me there's no rush," Rabb said of his conversations with the pros.

Rabb realizes most people can't quite comprehend why he decided to turn down several million dollars to return to school, but he points to the choices made by former Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart and Providence standout Kris Dunn to help validate his choice.

Smart was considered a high lottery pick after his freshman season, but he opted to return to college for his sophomore year. And while Smart may have slipped a couple spots, to sixth overall in 2014, Rabb said Smart was more prepared to come into the NBA and make an immediate impact. Dunn looked like a top-15 pick after last season, now he has likely improved his draft stock.

"Marcus Smart's stock may have dropped a bit, but he came in ready to play. Kris Dunn became an alpha dog this past year," Rabb said. "This year will be a chance for me to show what I can do."

Rabb is a 3.0 student who hasn't looked back after making his decision. He said felt as though a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders when the news was announced.

"This was the right decision for me," Rabb said. "I just want to get better."