THE SWEET SIXTEEN - #9 - RUSS CRITCHFIELD#9 - RUSS CRITCHFIELD, GUARD (1966-1968)
Those of you who have tuned in to FSN's coverage of Cal basketball this year have heard the name Russ Critchfield, for he is Cal's nominee for induction in the Pac-10's Hall of Fame for 2007. He's also #9 on our countdown of Cal's greatest basketball players. Generously listed at 5'10", Critchfield was not a basketball prototype in any era. He was, however, a shooter - one of the two greatest (along with Joe Shipp) in California history.
The Salinas-born Critchfield broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, playing for a team that would go 9-16 under the perennially disappointing Rene Herrerias. He announced his presence in the first round of the American Legion Tournament in Seattle, which was held right before New Year's 1966. Cal drew Texas and the Bears, 3-5 to that point on the season, figured to struggle. Critchfield, however, shocked the Longhorns and the assembled media by hitting for 36 points and leading Cal to a 82-77 win. He finished that year with 15.5 ppg, and became locally famous for the incredible range on his jump shot.
As a junior Critchfield blossomed into one of the most dangerous guards in the country, averaging 21.0 ppg and leading the Bears to a 15-10 overall record. He was named an honorable mention All-America by both the Associated Press and UPI, a 2nd team AA by Converse (which picked teams in those days) and a 1st team AAWU selection. He was also selected to represent his country at the World University Games in Tokyo - on a squad that included Butch Beard and Wes Unseld, Critchfield averaged 11.3 ppg in seven contests and helped Team USA bring home a gold medal.
There was more of the same his senior year (22.0 ppg), and a first-team All-America selection by the Helms Foundation, but the Bears could do not better than 15-9 and 4th in the AAWU. Critchfield capped his college career by hitting for 36 points in a home defeat of Oregon that left Harmon fans wishing for an extra year of eligibility (particularly true given the talent on Cal's freshman team that year, including Jackie Ridgle and Charlie Johnson).
Critchfield had bad timing at Cal - in his sophomore and junior seasons he played alongside talented Charlie Perkins in the back court, but the Bears were thin up front. In 1967-68, Perkins was replaced by sophomore Trent Gaines, and Bob Presley blossomed into a very nice center. Never during Critchfield's career did Herrerias put all the pieces in place to make a run at UCLA (or at least finish second in the conference).
After college Russ played for one year for the Oakland Oaks of the ABA, averaging about four points per game in a reserve role. That team won the ABA championship and featured an amazing assortment of talent - Rick Barry, Doug Moe, Gary Bradds and Larry Brown, among others. Critchfield got his masters (St. Mary's) and became a coach, assisting Dick Kuchen at Cal and Lynn Nance at Washington. When Kuchen was fired he was thought to be a candidate for the head job in Berkeley, but Dave Maggard recruited Lou Campanelli from James Madison. Today he is the head basketball coach at one of Cal's favorite football recruiting mills - Butte JC in Oroville.