Remembering the Seniors: Talia Caldwell

USA TODAY Sports

A fond farewell to one of the most consistent post players in Cal history.

I’ve been beating on the ‘Talia Caldwell is underrated’ drum for some time now, so maybe if I’ve been doing it often enough and loudly enough, you’ll just read this post and nod your head in agreement, as if I’m stating the obvious. But part of me wonders if Talia Caldwell won’t be just as hard for the Bears to replace as WNBA first round pick Layshia Clarendon.

OK, OK, maybe not. For one thing, Reshanda Gray is pretty awesome, and totally ready to step into the starting lineup vacated by Talia, whereas Layshia’s replacement isn’t quite so obvious. And it’s always tough to replace your leading scorer. But Talia Caldwell was so quietly good at so many things, I can’t help but feel that her absence will be just as glaring.

Why is Talia underrated? Maybe because she typically played alongside Gennifer Brandon and her pogo stick legs. Maybe because she rarely had those amazing games – you know, a 28 point outburst, or a near triple double. Maybe because everything she did was about fundamental, intelligent basketball.

What Talia always had was a strong, big body that wasn’t easy to push around. But that’s only an advantage if you know where to be on the court. Talia was a great player because she was almost always in the right spot. Maybe that meant being in the perfect position for a weakside rebound. Maybe that meant keeping an opponent’s best post player away from a scoring position in the paint. Maybe that meant sucking in the defense with the threat of her post game (or offensive rebounds) to give the guards space to operate. Maybe it meant setting a great screen. Either way, she excelled at all of those things.

See, when you have scorers like Brittany Boyd, Layshia Clarendon and Gennifer Brandon on the court, you need players who know what to do when they don’t have the ball in their hand. Even worse, teams have been packing the paint for constantly for three years against the Bears. And so Talia likely had no choice but to learn how to make an impact without getting the ball on every trip down the court. She learned that skill quickly, and it made for a critical element for the Bears this year.

Add up all of her skills, and you get the most efficient player on the team. Talia didn’t take a ton of shots, but when she did it was probably going in. She finished her Cal career with a 54% shooting percentage, 57% her senior year. I wish that advanced analytics were available for women’s basketball, because I’d badly like to know how many of those misses turned into offensive rebounds.

And like every other Bear, we got to know Talia in part by her off-court achievements. If you’re interested in reading more, check out this nifty student interview/profile about her experience balancing basketball and business school:

What has been the Haas Defining principle that has resonated most with you?

Mine would definitely be ‘beyond yourself.’ Sometimes we all get tunnel vision you know? People look at themselves as just athletes, or students, or employees, and we need to be more than that. A lot of times at the college level people try to be great at one thing, which can come at the expense of giving back, being a good friend, and thinking about others. In that case you are not really helping anyone, you are just moving yourself forward.

You didn’t have any reason to doubt the sincerity of those words, but watching Talia play basketball hammers it home: she played ‘beyond herself.'

Talia will be continuing her basketball career in Europe, but first she'll get a visit China in a USA jersey, which is pretty darn cool. Like Ashley Walker and Alexis Gray-Lawson, I expect her to contend for a roster spot in the notoriously hard-to-crack WNBA over the next few years. I know I'll miss the comforting site of #33, holding things down in the paint.

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