BERKELEY -- Richard Solomon needed to grow up, and he realized it just in time.

Now a senior at Cal, the 6-foot-10 forward has become one of the Pac-12's most dependable players. As the Bears take on unbeaten and top-ranked Arizona on Saturday night at Haas Pavilion, no player in any of the six major conferences can match Solomon's 10.7 rebounds per game.

"I think everybody watching him play wanted more," said former UCLA star and Pac-12 Networks analyst Don MacLean. "They felt like with the tools he had, he could do more. And this year he's doing it."

But two years ago Solomon's future nearly unraveled.

In early December of his sophomore season, Solomon was suspended indefinitely for "conduct contrary to athletic department and university values." Reinstated after two games, he suffered a stress fracture and missed four more games.

Then, in mid-January, Solomon was ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. He sat out the Bears' final 15 games.

"It hurt a lot," he said.

Solomon's older sister, Am'Ra, a former volleyball player at Cal, was playing professionally overseas when Richard's career went off path.

"I told him don't let this be your downfall," she said. "Let this be one of your strengths to get better. He used it as a positive."

Gradually, Solomon resurrected his academic standing to the point where if he passes the 16 units he's taking this spring, he will graduate in four years with a social welfare degree.

"Considering some of the difficulties he's had along the way, that would be pretty incredible," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "He has matured."

Frontcourt mate David Kravish, who became a starter as a freshman when Solomon was sidelined in 2011-12, watched to see how his teammate would respond.

"Everyone needs that moment when you kind of need that kick in the head," Kravish said. "Maybe that was his."

Solomon's transformation on the court was just as dramatic.

Just 6-8 when he graduated from Price High in Los Angeles, where he was a senior teammate to future Cal star Allen Crabbe, Solomon didn't see himself as a low-post player.

His vision was to become the next tall, athletic wing player. It wasn't Montgomery's vision, however, and Solomon did little to suggest he belonged on the perimeter.

Through his first three seasons at Cal, even as he grew to his full height, Solomon attempted 29 shots from beyond the 3-point arc -- many of them prompting frowns. Only seven of those shots went in -- less than 25 percent.

"When he was a freshman and a sophomore he wanted to score," said point guard Justin Cobbs, Solomon's oldest friend on the team. "I told him, 'Kevin Durant messed up your mind.' "

Durant no longer is Solomon's role model. He hasn't attempted a single 3-pointer this season, setting a different goal for himself.

"Now he says, 'I don't care about scoring, I'm going to lead the league in rebounding,' " Cobbs said. "Now he's just locked in, knows what he needs to do. It's all positive, and I'm happy for him."

Part of the process was being more accepting of coaching. Where he once bristled at criticism, he now understands its value. "You realize they see your potential, they see something bigger inside you," he said.

Solomon has improved his low-post scoring game and averages 11.6 points while shooting 58 percent from the floor. But it's his 11 double-figure rebounding games that set him apart.

Montgomery thinks he can do more. At practice Monday, he told Solomon he should be grabbing 20 rebounds a game.

"I agree with him," Solomon said. "I'm going to get 20."

Whether that happens or not, Solomon appears to have a future in basketball beyond college. MacLean, who played nine seasons in the NBA, believes Solomon has a chance to get there.

"He'll play for money somewhere," Montgomery added.

Cobbs and Kravish both used the word "crazy" to describe how much Solomon has progressed in every way the past two years.

Then Kravish paid him perhaps the ultimate compliment. "He's built himself into a really respectable young man."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

SATURDAY'S GAME
Arizona (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12) at Cal
(14-7, 5-3), 7:30 p.m. Pac-12 Networks