Allen Crabbe didn't volunteer for this, but he had Mike Montgomery's reputation and Cal coaching career in his hands Sunday night.
I mean that figuratively for Crabbe, which is an important distinction because Montgomery literally and inexcusably put his hands on and angrily shoved Crabbe during the second half of Cal's eventual victory over USC.
From that moment on, Crabbe could have reacted in any number of understandable ways that probably would have gone a long way toward dampening or dousing Montgomery's tenure ... and storied coaching career.
Instead, Crabbe saved Montgomery from the worst-case scenarios. He might not even have been conscious that he was doing it, but it was still a gracious act by Cal's best player.
The 20-year-old guard was the calmer and more reasonable person, which is good for Crabbe as a person, for his future in the NBA, for Montgomery and for the Cal program in the short-term, but troublesome for Montgomery's fate as you project this into the future, I would think.
Crabbe's response was healthy -- absorb his coach's emotion, allow himself to be walked behind the bench by his teammates, get back in, rally Cal to victory, brush off the incident as just a motivational moment when asked after the game.
And all that saved Montgomery. For now.
But this won't be forgotten; and neither will Montgomery's flippant reactions in the minutes after the game -- he was unapologetic about the incident in his postgame news conference, sounding like he was sort of proud of himself for getting Crabbe and the team back into the game emotionally.
That he did what he had to do.
Montgomery, who turns 66 next week, even said he told Crabbe he'd do it again if he had to.
The only proper response to that is: What?
That's not only wholly out of character for the vast majority of Montgomery's great career, but it's incredibly tone deaf to the situation.
Montgomery put his hands on a player, he got out of control, he screwed up, and that has to be addressed, no matter if it helped spur a victory.
I listened to Montgomery's postgame radio show with the Cal broadcasters, and Montgomery brought up the push generally himself, talked about firing up his team, about how much he wants to win, and then was not asked about it any further.
Again, that's so out of character: If anything, Montgomery was mildly criticized during his Stanford tenure for not showing enough passion and connection to the players, for keeping himself removed from the high-pitched opera on the court.
And now ... this? And Montgomery's immediate reaction was that he was laughing about it?
Line that up against the statement from Cal A.D. Sandy Barbour a few hours later, saying that Montgomery would not be punished by the school but that this was an event that the university could not support:
"Sunday's game was an emotional one for everyone who cares deeply about our men's basketball program, and the Bears certainly showed tremendous resolve coming back to earn a win over USC," Barbour said in the statement.
"However, it is unacceptable for our coaches to have physical contact with student-athletes regardless of the circumstances. The second-half incident was certainly out of character for Mike Montgomery, and I am confident that something like this will not happen again."
It was a different-sounding Montgomery in the late-night Cal statement:
"I have great passion for this game and tonight, I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment," Montgomery said "While my intent was to motivate our student-athletes, my behavior was inappropriate and I apologize for my actions."
But here's what Montgomery said when he was asked about the shove by reporters after the game:
"Worked, didn't it?"
There is something going on here, maybe mostly under the surface, but it showed up in a hugely public way last night.
Maybe Montgomery's feeling a little extra pressure in his fifth season at Cal -- he has three tournament appearances and could be heading to his fourth this season.
But Cal has only one tournament win and flopped in a play-in round last season. Some local talent has recently headed elsewhere (Arizona, in particular).
Maybe the push to make it this season is jangling some nerves. Maybe we are seeing some fraying and raw public anxiety. It's possible Montgomery believes this period is a make-or-break situation -- either this month or this season or these several seasons.
Sometimes that kind of pressure brings out the best in players and coaches, and sometimes it brings out the worst.
Last night, it brought out the best in Crabbe, and the worst in Montgomery.
Just think about where this could've gone ...
Crabbe could have screamed back at Montgomery and -- given Montgomery's level of agitation -- possibly triggered an even more embarrassing Montgomery reaction.
Crabbe, probably the best player in the Pac-12 this season -- could have refused to return to the game despite the coaxing of his teammates.
Crabbe could have stunk it up on the court when he returned, or he could have blasted Montgomery (or refused comment) afterward.
Any of those responses -- again, natural responses -- could've ended Montgomery's Cal career, if not immediately, at least by the end of the season.
If Crabbe never wanted to play for Montgomery again, I don't know what Cal and Barbour would've or could've done next.
But Crabbe sloughed it off, and he played tremendously.
That's partial justification for the shove, but not close to fully explaining or absolving Montgomery for it. And it shouldn't be who he is now. It just can't be.
If this is who he is now, if he's changed that much, then a lot of what we think about Mike Montgomery -- and his career -- will change, too.