With the departure of seniors Alexis Gray-Lawson, Natasha Vital and Lauren Grief, plus the unexpected heart condition that prematurely ended the career of Tierra Rogers, Joanne Boyle was faced with the prospect of replacing lots of production and roster spots for the 2nd year in a row. The result was a four team recruiting class heavy on guards to replace the trio of senior perimeter players leaving Berkeley. ESPN ranked Cal's class 12th in the country, and that was before Avigiel Cohen signed in May. And that's after Cal's 4th ranked class in 2009! Only one team has averaged a higher class ranking over the past two years, and that team is . . . Stanford. Curses!
Afure Jemerigbe, Lindsay Sherbert, Mikayla Lyles and Avigiel Cohen should all get a chance to contribute next year. The Bears only have three returning guards/slashers on the roster, and Coach Boyle has shown a preference to play three at once along with two post players. It should be another exciting season of young players learning on the court, as Cal will carry an amazing ten true freshmen or sophomores in addition to seniors Rama N'diaye and Rachelle Federico. I'm going to try to give you an idea of what each player may be able to contribute in the 2011 season.
A big hat tip to Avi for helping me find the various videos and articles about each Cal recruit. The usual disclaimers apply - you'll soon be reading some quick hit observations based on very limited video glimpses from a fan with no real scouting qualifications. But that won't make it any less fun! The amount I'm able to talk about each recruit is directly proportional to the amount of information and video available about each player. Hit the jump for some quick thoughts on each new Bear:
Afure is all smiles as she signs with the Bears! via www.saintmaryshighschool.org
Jemerigbe is generally regarded as Cal's best recruit for 2011. The 5'11'' shooting guard out of St. Marys of Stockton, she's described as a relentlessly aggressive, attacking player on both offense and defense, with the speed to cause problems on both ends for opponents.
Notes from the video (Jemerigbe is #4):
0:10 - The very first play jumps out at you as Jemerigbe quickly darts from out of nowhere for a steal and attacks the paint for a bucket and one. Her speed is immediately obvious.
0:50 - 1:05 - Jemerigbe hits two three pointer that were both easily beyond the men's line. I'll admit that her jumper looks unusual to me - she seems to have a low windup and release. It certainly worked for her in high school but it makes me wonder if she will have to change her mechanics to avoid blocks in the college game. The two three pointers sandwich another nice drive for a layup and a foul.
1:20 - She takes her defender one on one and a quick spin-move gives her the space to roll in a floater. I like how decisive she looks.
1:35 - Jemerigbe takes a nice pass and immediately goes up high for a jumper in the middle of the key. Good, that jumper looked much better from a release standpoint and makes me wonder if she shoots lower when she knows she has the space.
General thoughts: Two things I really liked seeing - 1. It looks like St. Marys played lots of full court press defense, and Jemerigbe looked comfortable and dangerous while running that defense. It looks to me like she brings the same type of quickness that Eliza Pierre has. If she has the same kind of defensive instincts that Eliza has, they could combine into a back court that opposing ball handlers would despite having to play against. 2. The video also showed lots of Chelsea Gray, a Duke recruit. I noticed that whenever Gray took a long jumper, the entire team, including Jemerigbe, immediately crashed the boards. I've always loved how Joanne Boyle has coached her entire team, guards included, to rebound. If this video is any indication, Jemerigbe has already had that mentality coached into her.
Afure is one of the top combo guards in the country. She is an extremely athletic and physical player with great rebounding skills and the versatility to play multiple positions. She is a slasher who can really get to the rim. Afure knows how to win. She'll be a great addition to our backcourt next season.
Lindsay towered over her high school competition, averaging 27.4 points per game as a senior - via bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com
Unfortunately there are no game videos of 6'0'' guard/forward Sherbert in action, although you should check out this video of Sherbert sinking a few halfcourt shots and juggling three basketballs while sitting down. Here's Joanne Boyle again:
Lindsay is one of the more versatile guards I saw all summer. Her length on the perimeter will add another dimension to our perimeter game both on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Lindsay can play the two through the four [positions]. She is a nightmare match-up for a lot of teams as she is an athletic shooter who can take people off the dribble and post up smaller guards. She has an incredible work ethic and basketball I.Q that will make her a great college player.
Last year Tierra Rogers was recruited to be Cal's combo guard/slasher type player, and her tragic heart condition left Cal's roster very shallow at the position. Both Jemerigbe and Sherbert were recruited to fill that role, though I think they both bring a few different skills to the position. Versatility seems to be the defining quality for Sherbert. With her history and Coach Boyle's comments I'd hazard a guess that Sherbert may be the freshman most likely to contribute immediately for the Bears, though all four will undoubtedly get their chances eventually in 2011.
Mikayla Lyles from Bishop O'Dowd, just south of Berkeley via l.yimg.com
5'7'' guard Lyles, at least from the fan point of view, is the mysterious unknown. She wasn't a big time recruit, probably in part because she was unable to play her entire junior year because of eligibility issues brought on by the overbearing sounding California Interscholastic Federation. During her senior year she helped lead O'Dowd to the regional semi-finals in Division III and gained a reputation as a sharpshooter, and her play earned her interest from Oregon and Arizona St., in addition to Cal. It's that shooting ability that will most excite the fans. Cal's struggles behind the arc were well documented in 2010, and if Lyles can step into the role of a shooter she could be immediately valuable:
With an impressive knack for knocking down three's, Lyles was named the second best shooter of the summer from the 2010 class by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
Mikayla can shoot the ball! She can shoot from deep and she gets her shot off quickly. She has an unbelievable release. Her perimeter shooting will help stretch the defense and prevent people from sagging in the paint. She also has a blue collar, gritty game" said Boyle. "She is a player who will find a way to get things done and make good things happen on the floor.
Avigiel leads Israel to international glory! via www.womensbasketball-in-france.com
For me, Cohen is easily the most intriguing pick-up in the 2011 class. Perhaps I'm being unduly influenced by a spectacular highlight reel from the European Under-18 Championships. Perhaps it's the mysteriousness of finding a potential diamond in the rough from way out in Israel. Or maybe I just miss the halcyon days of Amit Tamir. But if Cohen plays for Cal the way she played for Israel, she'll become popular very quickly:
0:00 - 0:55 - There are three nice step-up jumpers here, including one three pointer that looks to be from men's college basketball distance. This is the type of shot that would really help Cal's offense if she can hit it consistently.
1:55 - 3:00 - There are three really nice outlet passes, and at the 2:40 mark one crazy 3/4 court buzzer beater! If these clips are any indication Cohen has some strong, accurate arms and a nice flair for getting a fast break started. It's a valuable skill for a guard that's so active on the defensive boards and could be valuable in games that find Cal struggling from the halfcourt set. With players like Eliza Pierre and Gennifer Brandon Cal has some great speed, and I'd love to see more transition offense.
3:10 - 4:20 - Cohen goes for 35 points against the Netherlands and you get a sense of how she's playing when she's at her best offensively. she got her jumper going early as the Dutch played off her, then started beating her defender off the dribble as they played up to stop her jump shot. The confidence she carried while handling the ball is evident and her aggression is impressive.
4:45 - 5:05 - Cohen shows impressive body control with two drives through contact and a nice fast break when she takes an outlet pass and splits two defenders and converts a pretty layup. More aggressive, tough play.
5:25 - 6:30 - Let's look at her passing. Cohen only scores 9 against Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we can't tell if she just had an off game or if the opponent focused their defense on stopping her. In any case, she picked up 5 assists with a variety of pretty passes. On a fast break she draws both defenders before making a bounce pass at the last moment. Three different times she drives to the paint and finds herself surrounded before finding a player on the wing for an open mid-range jumper. Then another nice baseball outlet pass to boot.
6:40 - Whoa! A sweet crossover into a behind the back dribble before going up and hitting the shot off the glass. That's some fancy moves!
7:10 - 8:00 - Some more decisive passing. Admittedly some of this is taking advantage of bad defense, but Cohen's lack of hesitation is nice to see. Her ability to draw defenders and then pass to the open space is impressive, though it makes sense for a player that obviously is the focal point of the Israel attack.
8:15 - Cohen calmly sinks two technical free throws. I only mention this to point out that she shot 85% from the line during the tournament. It's a small sample size, but still good news for Cal fans used to iffy free throw shooting at times.
9:00 - 10:00 - More great passing, including two great lead passes to teammates making backdoor cuts. If these highlights are chronological Cohen's passing seemed to improve as the tournament progressed, perhaps a sign that she and her teammates were becoming more accustomed to playing with each other.
10:09 - I love this drive. Cohen is matched up against a player much smaller than she is, and Cohen ruthlessly takes advantage. A full speed ahead drive, one killer cross-over, and the lane is wide open for an easy layup.
Now, before we all get too excited it's important to recognize that some of the competition in this tournament may be suspect. Israel competed in the B Division, meaning they weren't going up against the best countries in Europe like Spain, France or Lithuania. And some of her gaudy numbers can be explained by the amount of shots she got as the clear number one option in Israel's offense. To further temper expectations Cohen is recovering from a knee injury that required surgery in February. She expressed pessimism that her knee would be ready by the summer, but with a potential return to the court in the summer we Cal fans can safely assume that she should be ready by October, barring any setbacks.
Still, it's hard not to get excited watching the confident and attacking style Cohen brought to the court. She was able to take what the defense gave her, taking jumpers and drives equally. She showed some range with her shot, good court sense, and lots of power to her drives and her passing.
And if anybody is wondering if moving halfway around the world will be difficult, she had this to say about her college decision:
"I am very excited to join the Cal family! From the beginning of my connection with head coach Joan Boyle, guards coach Charmin Smith and the rest of the staff I felt the chemistry and the positive energy that I was looking for."
Question her as to why she didn't pursue a route straight into the pro-game in Europe and the emphatic answer underlines that Cohen is one shrewd cookie who knows what she wants from life.
"In our family education is very important. Therefore, I was looking for a program that combines both basketball and degree. Getting a full scholarship from Berkeley is a once in a lifetime opportunity. A professional basketball career does not last forever and the degree from Berkeley will help me pursue other goals in the future."
"The University of California fits all of my requirements such as highly academics, a good basketball program and the environment. On top of that, I have a lot of close family and friends in the area. Moreover, Berkeley is been known for its Hillel (Jewish organization) which is very important for my religion and tradition."
So, what's the big picture?
Joanne Boyle has filled a big gap in Cal's lineup, and potentially has added a great deal of flexibility as well. Eliza Pierre and Layshia Clarendon are true guards, capable of playing the 1 and the 2. Mikayla Lyles will join them. DeNesha Stallworth, Talia Caldwell, Gennifer Brandon and Rama N'diaye are all true posts, capable of playing the 4 and the 5. Last year, Cal didn't really have a true small forward. With Jemerigbe, Sherbert, and Cohen Cal has potentially added three athletes capable of playing the 2, 3, or even 4 spots in the rotation.
Now Joanne Boyle has the flexibility to go big or small. Consider the following hypothetical lineups, listed 1-5:
Small lineup: Pierre (5'7''), Clarendon (5'9''), Jemerigbe (5'11'') Sherbert (6'0'') and Brandon (6'2'')
Big lineup: Clarendon (5'9''), Cohen (6'0''), Jemerigbe (5'11''), Caldwell (6'3'') and N'diaye (6'5'')
For the record, I don't really know if either of these lineups would actually work, but the basic idea - that Joanne Boyle should have a much more flexibility with her lineup and rotation - is still exciting.
From what little I've seen and read, all four new recruits have lots of talent and personality to add to the team, and I can't wait to see them in action with our returning players. Welcome to Berkeley!