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.' "