BERKELEY – California sophomore guard Jabari Bird, who recently participated in the Kevin Durant Skills Academy representing the nation’s top 15 collegiate wings, reflected on his experience playing with the NBA’s Most Valuable Player and college basketball’s other elite wings.
“Overall, it was a great experience,” Bird said. “I got the opportunity to play against some of the top college players in the country and really got after it. I felt like I represented the University of California well with the best of my ability.”
Bird spent three days in Washington, D.C. learning techniques from the NBA’s Most Valuable Player and participating in drills that focus on ball handling, spot shooting and fast breaks among other skill work. The sessions also included one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three full-court competitions. At the end of each session, participants in the academy played a game with a squad selected by Durant that also included the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star.
“It was fun to play against the MVP himself,” Bird said. “He was really competitive. He wasn’t taking it easy on us because we were in college. He was real tough to guard.”
For Bird, the Kevin Durant Skills Academy was different compared to others he attended in the past, because it was limited to just the top wings.
“When I found out I was invited to participate I was real excited, because it is very exclusive,” Bird explained. “It was an honor to be there.”
The Golden Bear sophomore listened closely to each of Durant’s speeches and what advice he offered each of the participants.
“He explained how we all have a lot of potential and that many of us could be playing with him in the NBA one day. “That was very inspiring to hear from the MVP himself.”
Bird’s immediate takeaways from the three-day academy will serve as a springboard during off-season workouts back on the Cal campus as he continues to prepare for the 2014-15 season.
“I need to continue to get strong, continue to work on my shot, my handle, and my defensive intensity,” Bird said. “I came away with a lot of confidence in my overall game, but I also know I need to get better for my sophomore year.”
Bird played in 31 of Cal’s 35 games as a freshman last season, starting 12 contests. He averaged 8.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 20.0 minutes per game. The dynamic guard started all three games during the Bears’ run to the quarterfinals of the postseason NIT, averaging 16.7 ppg. in 28.3 minutes per contest during the three-game span. Bird posted a career-best 24 points on six three points, including a three-pointer with 1:25 to play to lead Cal to victory over Oakland in his third career collegiate game. He poured in 17 points to go along with seven rebounds against Syracuse in the Maui Invitational. A 2013 McDonald’s All-American, Bird arrived at Cal from nearby Richmond, Calif. as a consensus top-20 signee nationally.
Bird and the Bears open the Cuonzo Martin era at Cal on November 14 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.