BERKELEY, Calif. — California coach Mike Montgomery said Tuesday there was no excuse for him shoving star player Allen Crabbe during a game and that the action was completely out of character for him.
“It’s obvious I made a mistake and I feel very badly about it,” Montgomery said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “There’s no place in sports that you can basically put your hands on one of your student athletes. Got a little carried away in the heat and emotion of a basketball game so I apologized to Allen, I apologized to the team. I feel very badly. In 30-plus years of coaching it’s never happened before. It’s something I deeply regret. It’s not going to happen again.”
Montgomery has been publicly reprimanded by the Pac-12 conference and his own athletic director for pushing Crabbe with both hands during a timeout in the second half of Cal’s 76-68 win over Southern California on Sunday night.
Montgomery sounded a very different tone than the one he had in the same room two nights earlier, when he downplayed the event by calling it a motivational tactic and saying he would do it again because it worked.
He acknowledged that he didn’t initially recognize the gravity of the event. He first saw video of the shove when he got home that night and later issued an apology through the school.
He then endured what he called “a couple of sleepless nights” as he watched coverage of the event that to his shock became national news.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “It was a little bit surprising the legs that it got. I made the bed. I have to lay in it. I regret the incident. I thought Allen handled it very well. I’m really appreciative of that. Allen and I have a great relationship.”
Crabbe spoke before Montgomery on Tuesday and tried to move past the controversy, saying the whole thing had been “blown out of proportion” the past two days and that he and the team have moved on from it.
“He just did it as a way to spark my play,” Crabbe said. “I don’t take it as anything negative. I just take it as motivation. He expects a lot out of me. If I want to be a leader on this team I can’t play lackadaisical. He was just trying to help me get my mind focused on the game.”
Crabbe, the leading scorer in the Pac-12 with an average of 19.8 points, scored 14 points after the shove and led the Bears back from a 15-point deficit to win.
Montgomery said he called Crabbe’s father to tell him he was out of line and said he would address the issue with his team at practice Tuesday. Montgomery said this incident can be a learning experience for him and his players about the scrutiny they are under and the importance of controlling emotions.
Montgomery said his talk with Crabbe’s father was all positive and that his relationship with his star player is good. Crabbe said after the game that emotions were high at the time and Montgomery was just trying to motivate him.
“To try to mitigate or find an excuse or a reason why something like that might happen, doesn’t work right now,” Montgomery said.
Lost in the hubbub from the controversy of the shove Sunday night is the fact that Cal has been playing its best basketball of late. The Bears have won five of the past six games to get into contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and to move into a tie for fourth in the conference with Arizona State.
Cal has quality wins over Oregon and Arizona when both teams were ranked in the top 10 and gets another shot at the Ducks on Thursday night when the Bears begin their weekend trip to Oregon.
Crabbe said he doesn’t believe the talk about the shove will be a distraction this week.
“I’m over this,” he said. “Me and my coach have settled everything. These questions can stop. I just want to talk about the game and focus on that.”