Coming off the best finish in terms of NCAA tournament success in school history, Joanne Boyle is facing a tough task to repeat the level of play we’ve seen from the Bears in the last three years. Let’s take a look at what Cal has lost, what Cal has coming back, and what Cal is bringing in for the 2009-2010 campaign.
Ashley Walker, Devanei Hampton, Shantrell Sneed, Casey Morris (Transfer to Texas Tech), Kelsey Adrian (Transfer to…New Mexico? I couldn’t find 100% confirmation)
Obviously the focus here is the loss of power forward Ashley Walker and center Devanei Hampton. Walker is, in my opinion, the greatest Cal women’s basketball player ever (although you could argue the point). Hampton never quite lived up to her great potential in part because of constant injury struggles, but was still a consistent presence on offense and defense in the paint. Sneed came to Cal at the same time but never gained a significant role.
More unusual was the news of two transfers – the first two players off the bench, guards Morris and Adrian - Adrian’s transfer is less surprising, as she struggled significantly last year and showed significant regression in her offensive stats. Morris is more surprising considering her strong showing in her first year. 17 minutes per game as a true freshman on a veteran, top 25 team is impressive and it’s a shame that Morris was evidently unhappy in Berkeley. We wish both the best in their continued basketball pursuits.
Alexis (Lexi) Gray-Lawson, guard
Gray-Lawson will probably have to carry the Bears this year. As the last remaining member of the ‘big three’ that revived women’s basketball, she is easily Cal’s most important player. Her 12.2 ppg leads all returners and she will again be Cal’s primary ball handler. Without Walker and Hampton to draw the attention of defenses Lexi will probably be the focus of most defensive game plans. Her ability to create shots, distribute the ball and lead a young team could be the difference between a ‘reloading’ year and a rebuilding year.
Natasha Vital, guard
Cal’s other guard and somewhat unsung returning starter, Natasha Vital has had three excellent years as a complimentary player to Walker, Hampton and Gray-Lawson. Thrust into the starting point guard role her freshman year after Gray-Lawson injured her knee, Vital has consistently provided about 8 points per game and has surprisingly led the team in assists for three years running. Unfortunately, she’s also led the team in turnovers for three years running, a stat that has been the Achilles heal for Cal in recent years. Vital is the team’s best three point shooter and has raised her 3 point percentage from .254 to .391 over her Cal career.
Lauren Grief, guard
A player who does a little bit of everything, Grief leads Cal in rebounds and steals among returning players. This speaks both to her all-around ability (she also scores 5 ppg and had the most assists after Vital and Gray-Lawson) and to the hole left by the departure of Walker and Hampton. Grief will not be expected to pound the boards, but she is the proverbial ‘hustle’ player that seems to be in the right place at the right time and isn’t afraid to get on the floor. Think of her as the Jorge Gutierrez of the women’s team.
Rama N’Diaye. center
Rama was the first big off of the bench two years ago but a serious injury suffered in the NCAA tournament kept her off the court for the first half of last season and seriously curtailed her impact for the rest of the year. If she’s healthy Rama would presumably start at center for Cal and take the bulk of the minutes. Easily Cal’s tallest player at 6’5’’, Rama is a high percentage shooter and solid rebounder (in 2007-08 she led Cal in field goal percentage and rebounds per minute). Her health will probably be a key for Cal’s success.
Rachelle Federico, guard
Rachelle only played in 24 games last year and as best I can tell she is a three point specialist, as more than half her shots have come from behind the arc in the last two years. It is unlikely that she will play more than mop-up minutes.
And that’s it. Five players coming back, and only four that will play significant minutes. Rebuilding year? Quite possibly. But, Joanne Boyle did arguably bring in the best recruiting class in the country:
Gennifer Brandon, Talia Caldwell, Layshia Clarendon, Brenna Heater, Eliza Pierre, Tierra Rogers, DeNesha Stallworth
Wow, seven freshman, all ranked in the top 100 of most recruiting rankings. I’m going to do my best to tell you what to expect from them. Full disclosure: I don’t follow recruiting in the least, and have no knowledge of these players beyond what The Internets tell me.
Tierra Rogers, F, San Francisco CA
First, the bad news. As many of you may have already heard on CGB and elsewhere, Tierra Rogers was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, a form of heart disease that will prevent her from continuing her basketball pursuits. Tierra has overcome obstacles in her life that I can’t even begin to fathom, so hearing this news was difficult and depressing. I wish her the best of luck at Cal and beyond.
Frontcourt recruits: Gennifer Brandon, F, Chatworth CA, Talia Caldwell, F/C, Los Angeles CA, Brenna Heater, F, Ashland OR, DeNesha Stallworth, F/C, Richmond CA
Brandon, Caldwell, Heater and Stallworth all figure to get a significant chance to contribute in their freshman season because Cal lacks any kind of returning inside depth. Stallworth and Brandon both come in with the highest recruiting grades and will presumably have the best chance to earn minutes, but the ability to be a consistent, solid contributor early will likely be the deciding factor. Cal probably needs at least two of the four to show the ability to start on any night if needed.
A few interesting quotes from ESPN’s recruiting service. Note: All quotes taken from player pages attached to this page
Gennifer Brandon is a big time prospect with a great deal of athleticism that translates on the court. She can dominate a game with her leaping ability alone. She's one of the few female players to goaltend a shot during play.
…The youngest player in the Youth Developmental Festival, being the only player born in 1992. The overall impression is that she has tremendous upside and potential. She's one of the smaller front court players in terms of height but once she got her confidence that didn't seem to bother her.
Brenna Heater, playing through and elbowed nose!
Backcourt recruits: Eliza Pierre, PG, Pasadena CA, Layshia Clarendon, G, San Bernardino CA
Cal’s two freshman guards seem likely to get 10-15 minutes per game at most considering Cal has 3 returning senior starters. Pierre is the point guard of the future for the Bears and perhaps the best recruit of the class. It will be interesting to see if she gets time at point guard when Lexi needs a breather, or if Vital will handle the ball in those situations. While the three seniors will obviously get the bulk of the minutes ideally Pierre and Clarendon would get minutes in preparation for 2010-11, when they’ll have to carry the load.
Quotes from ESPN recruiting again:
Eliza Pierre, the 5-7 guard out of Pasadena, Calif., may have set a new standard for perimeter players this summer. Her ability to dictate a game from the defensive end of the floor is something rare and even more so, something valuable to college coaches.
She does a great job of creating space and has some shot making ability on the perimeter. Known for her scoring exploits with her high school team.
Now that you know the players, we’ll take a look at Cal’s schedule and the rest of the Pac-10 next. Go Bears!