Berkeley's Brittany Boyd Buoys Bears

I was fortunate enough to interview Cal Women's Basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and freshman point guard Brittany Boyd for this story. Much thanks to norcalnick for assistance! This piece also appeared on Berkeleyside

Lindsay Gottlieb already had Brittany Boyd’s number. The Cal’s women’s basketball coach recalls her whirlwind inauguration as the head of UC Berkeley’s program last April: "I was flying up here and was excited to meet the current team, but the first priority became… the recruits. I was in the car on the way to the press conference and Brittany Boyd was already in my phone."

Brittany Boyd dribbles the ball during the game against Utah at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley on February 23. Photo: GoldenBearSports.com

Boyd did not have to travel far to arrive on the UC Berkeley campus; she spent the previous three years as a star player a few blocks away at Berkeley High, leading the Lady Jackets to a #6 national ranking and a trip to the state championship game. The former BHS star hasn’t missed a beat since moving less than a mile up Allston Way, to her new home in Haas Pavilion.

Boyd nearly didn’t choose Cal however, as she was unsettled by the April 2011 departure of Gottlieb’s predecessor, Joanne Boyle. "I chose to come to Cal because coach Joanne Boyle did a really good job of recruiting me," she said in an interview last week with Berkeleyside. "When I first heard about coach Boyle leaving, my first thought was to leave and go somewhere else, or go to the same school as her."

However, the woman she now affectionately calls "Coach G" won Boyd over. "I wouldn’t say she told me what I wanted to hear, but it was genuine, and I could tell she was really serious," says Boyd. Gottlieb could have made certain promises, but didn’t. "Coach G told me ‘I’m not just going to give you a spot, you’ll have to earn it.’"

The quarterback on the hardwood

As point guard, Boyd brings the ball up the court and is in charge of running the offense. She’s also tasked with being the initial disruptor on defense. Point guard is probably the most important position on a college basketball team, the quarterback on the hardwood. It’s also, as coach Gottlieb points out, the most challenging.

Point guards "have the biggest learning curve of anybody," she notes, but adds that Brittany proved she could handle a lot of what comes with being a college basketball player more rapidly than anyone expected. Boyd started every game of the year except the opener, a rarity for a freshman at such an intricate position. When asked how she came to trust such a vital role to a first year player, especially with more experienced guards on the roster, Gottlieb discussed their personal connection:

"I think Brittany would tell you the same thing: we have a tremendous relationship...Her willingness to be coached, her willingness to hear me also built the trust for me and my willingness to go with her before others may have thought it was the thing to do...I made a conscious decision at the beginning of the year to say, "What Brittany brings to the table is going to make the team better, and the sooner I go with her, the more dividends it’s going to pay in March [during the NCAA tournament]."

Boyd’s game is a bit like Berkeley itself – diverse. Boyd is equally adept at offense (3rd on the team with 10.2 points per game) and defense (3rd in the Pac-12 in steals at 2.54/game). She’s great at setting up her teammates, leading the conference in assists, but Gottlieb also loves "having a true point guard who can get to the paint at will." "That’s what separates her. Her ability to get to the paint off the bounce pretty much at any time gives a new dimension to a basketball team," she says.

Boyd plays the game with a frenetic style, which has its roots in her time playing for her AAU squad, the Cal Ballaz, and at Berkeley High. You might call it a "Berkeley" style.

Boyd shoots the ball during the game against Vanguard at Haas Pavilion on November 3. Photo: GoldenBearSports.com

As Boyd describes it, "At Berkeley High, we pressured full-court, it was speed, up and down, transition, and that’s how my AAU team played, up and down, pressure, all in your face, 90-feet defense."

Gottlieb praises Boyd as an energizing force. "She plays with a flair that is good for the women’s game. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, which for the most part is really positive."

Yet this energy might go to waste without the intelligence and wisdom Boyd displays, uncommon for her someone her age, according to Gottlieb. "Brittany has special qualities and abilities that you can’t coach and I am grateful that she has them. Things like her pace, her ability to break you down off the dribble, her court vision is unreal, and her basketball IQ is incredibly high."

Boyd spent three seasons at Berkeley High, after moving from Hercules. She credits Berkeley High for preparing her for Cal. "Berkeley is a really good school district and Berkeley High is a really good school, so my grades went up a lot. The teachers there are very supportive, and there was always help if I needed it. Basketball-wise, the coaches there are very, very supportive, worked with us, and wanted to see us strive and do well."

Wait, she knows Brittany?

Gottlieb recognizes Boyd’s importance goes beyond piling up victories. She smiles when she recalls watching a game at a local high school. "I remember sitting behind a parent and a young son, no older than 10, and I heard him say to his mom, "Wait, she knows Brittany?" I just chuckled to myself, thinking ‘When a Cal women’s basketball player is in the mind of a young boy and that’s his reference point to basketball, that’s a good thing."

Boyd realizes she’s a role model to many, especially being a Berkeley High grad. "That’s what comes with being a college athlete, you have people looking up to you."

To that end, Boyd will be particularly vital in helping to achieve Gottlieb’s vision for the Cal program. "I feel that in women’s basketball, we can be one of those transcendent programs where you get to an elite level, not only on the court but with fan support. I’ll say it to anyone that will listen, ‘I don’t want the best players from California and the west coast to feel like they need to go east in order to have a chance to get a great education and play in the final four. I think Cal can be that destination."

Cal’s season is over, but that season-ending loss to #1 seed Notre Dame on their home floor may turn out to be an investment (Notre Dame subsequently reached the Final Four). Boyd says the loss "fuels me a lot because I know I can be so much better. I’m only a freshman and I have a lot of time… it motivates me because I know how far we could go next season, because we just sniffed the sweet-16, so I know next year we can go even farther."

For Brittany Boyd, Lindsay Gottlieb, and the Cal women’s basketball program, the best seems yet to come. Cal fans must be glad that Lindsay Gottlieb made the call, and that Brittany Boyd answered it.

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