OAKLAND -- A quick glance at last year's Bishop O'Dowd High boys basketball team could've easily fooled someone.
There was a wiry, 6-foot-9 player wearing No. 23 for the Dragons. But Brandon Ashley, the former O'Dowd star who helped the team to the previous two state title games, left the school during the summer of 2011 to play at noted basketball factory Findlay Prep in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev.
Did O'Dowd produce a clone of Ashley?
Not quite, but meet Ivan Rabb. Now a sophomore, Rabb is considered among the best in the country in his class and just may surpass the level of play of Ashley, a freshman starter for the University of Arizona.
The thinking in many circles is that Rabb is already ahead of the pace set by Ashley, a 2012 McDonald's All-American.
"He's taller, he's more athletic. He's more skilled and he's a better defensive rebounder," O'Dowd coach Lou Richie said of Rabb.
ESPN ranks Rabb as the No. 2 player in the class of 2015, while also rating him as the nation's No. 1 power forward and the top player in California and the West region.
College coaches have taken notice. Rabb received his first scholarship offer last summer from Arizona and also has official offers from Cal, UCLA, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Kansas, UNLV and Connecticut. Many more will likely come.
He's averaging 23.5 points, 13 rebounds and 13 deflections a game while helping the Dragons to a 16-3 start
Rabb didn't enter O'Dowd expecting to replace Ashley. He didn't even immediately know he was wearing Ashley's former number.
"I had always worn 23," Rabb said.
Of course, he heard the comparisons.
"People tried to tell me I looked like him," Rabb said.
Richie says that Rabb's desire to play with Ashley is one of the main reasons he came to O'Dowd. That didn't happen because of Ashley's transfer to Findlay Prep, but Richie wonders what might have been.
"What if Brandon had stayed?" Richie said. "How much better would Ivan be right now if he had played against Brandon every single day?"
Unlike Ashley, who was immediately thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman, Rabb spent much of last season learning. He was a role player off the bench who definitely showed flashes, but a lot of his grooming came during practice.
That's where he battled daily with a pair of seniors in Richard Longrus Jr. and T.J. Daniel. Longrus is now a key freshman reserve at Washington State, and Daniel plays football for the University of Oregon.
"They didn't take it easy on me," Rabb said.
While Longrus, Daniel and company were leading O'Dowd to the North Coast Section Division III title and within a game of a third straight state championship appearance, the team's future foundation was being built with the development of Rabb.
Rabb believed he could've played more as a freshman, but still felt blessed to earn minutes and even some spot starts. Richie, in his first year as head coach after replacing the retired Doug Vierra, thinks Rabb could've been a full-time starter last season.
"I felt he should've been a starter from day one, but we as a staff didn't agree on that," Richie said.
Rabb really took off during the offseason with his AAU team, the Oakland Soldiers. He earned invitations to the LeBron James Skill Academy and Team USA Development camp. When Richie went to watch Rabb train with Team USA, he was shocked.
"I've never seen a kid play the way he did. He was talking, communicating and a leader of young men," Richie said.
Turns out that Rabb is a guy who prefers to blend in, which is tough to do when you're 6-9 walking the hallways of O'Dowd.
"At O'Dowd, he can't blend," Richie said. "He's 6-9 and always 6-9. But at USA Basketball, he's not the tallest person."
His growth has extended to the classroom. Richie set up an academic support system for the entire team that has helped Rabb raise his grade-point average a full point.
"He was overwhelmed, as are a lot of kids who come to O'Dowd from public schools," Richie said of Rabb, who lives in Oakland and went to Montera Middle School. "We figured out a way for him to become engaged in school."
The physical growth is evident, too, as Rabb has filled out from 176 pounds to 204. He hopes to eventually get to 6-11 and 245 pounds.
"We're going to see a lot more as he continues to grow and get stronger," Richie said.
Follow Jimmy Durkin at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.