Previous WBB season preview installments: Part 1: Boyd and Gray, the best duo in the west. ; Part 2: Predicting the Pac-12 standings + previews with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude.
Before we get into the preview content, some important pieces news:
- Cal has found its point guard of the future with Sunday's commitment from Asha Thomas. She's the 4th commit for 2015-16. It's possible that Bre Cavanaugh, Gabby Green or Mercedes Jefflo might have been able to step in as the main point guard, but all three are more combo-guards/wings. Getting Thomas, a true point guard and a top 100 prospect, means that everybody can stay at their most natural positions. Welcome to Cal, Asha!
- It was reported less widely, but Cal also got a commitment about a month ago from Chinese prospect Chen Yue, who stands at a towering 6'6''. I have no idea what kind of impact she will have, but she was also recruited by UNC amongst other schools, so she was reasonably highly sought after. Welcome to Cal, Yue!
- Thisiscalbasketball.com premiered for the 2014-15 season, and is as reliably awesome as always. I still haven't had the chance to watch every video on the website, but you should check it out.
Now that you're all caught up, it's time to continue with our season preview series. We have already talked about Cal's stars, Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray. Next week we'll look at the freshmen. This week our focus is on the seniors and sophomores on the roster who will be key pieces to support the engine that is ‘cornflakes and milk.'
Courtney Range, 6'3'' sophomore wing
Last year, Courtney Range tantalized Cal fans with flashes of what a player with excellent guard skills can do with 6'3'' height and length. There were certainly the standard freshman struggles (particularly in the middle of conference play), but by the end of the year the game was slowing down and she started making the type of regular impact you would expect given her talent.
Range largely deferred to her more experienced teammates last year on offense but will surely be expected to take a larger role, if only to help alleviate the huge burden that will be placed upon Boyd and Gray. She finished last year shooting 9-21 from behind the arc over her final 9 games, and Cal fans are desperately hoping that is closer to her true shooting talent.
Justine Hartman, 6'2'' senior forward
Hartman has never quite regained the athleticism and mobility that she lost following a knee injury suffered late in her high school career, but she has managed to carve out a role. If Cal is truly dedicated to playing 4 guard lineups her court time could decrease from the 15 minutes/game she contributed last year.
Hartman is a solid player offensively - she generally knows where to be on the court, doesn't turn the ball over, and doesn't take bad shots. If she can improve her defense and rebounding from last year, Cal might be encouraged to play with 2 posts more often.
Mercedes Jefflo, 5'10'' sophomore guard
Cal's resident lock-down perimeter defender will be looking to make a sophomore leap of her own. I don't have any concerns about her defense, passing, or ability as a ball-handler. 50 turnovers in 563 minutes as a freshman with major ball-handling/passing responsibilities is impressive.
The big question for the 14-15 season is if she can add to her game as a scorer. The 32% she shot from the field last year puts her in Eliza Pierre range - i.e., a defensive specialist off the bench. But if she can add that element to the mix she could be a key cog this year.
Brittany Shine, 5'10'' senior guard
How much can Cal get out of Brittany Shine? She played very rare minutes off the bench until the end of the season, when a Brittany Boyd ankle injury thrust her into the rotation. And as it turns out, she looked pretty darn good. The coaching staff always praised her speed and fitness, and that seemed to translate into pretty solid defensive intensity, particularly when deployed for a few minutes at a time. She also looked to have a solid jump shot, although extreme small sample caveats apply.
If there are any injuries at all, Shine will immediately get playing time off the bench. But the reality with Cal this season is that two players will basically play 40 minutes per game against decent opposition. That leaves 3 spots and 120 minutes for 8 players. Some players are going to get fewer minutes than others. It's great to have a reserve off the bench with lots of injury and a high defensive motor, and that's probably the role Shine will have this year once the freshmen settle in.
K.C. Waters, 6'2'' sophomore forward
K.C. Waters basically took a redshirt year without actually redshirting, and registered only 21 minutes off the bench. The assumption is that Waters needed a year to adjust her body to the college game. If this year's preview videos are any indication, Waters put her work in, looking both stronger and leaner.
Will that translate into minutes on the court and production? The opportunity is certainly there, especially if Cal decides to continue play with two true post players. Even if Reshanda Gray plays 40 minutes a night there would be minutes available spelling Justine Hartman.
I suspect that Cal will mostly play 4 guard lineups, but even still there's space to carve out in the post rotation. I'm expecting Waters and freshman Penina Davidson to compete for the 10-15 minutes available off the bench as a 3rd post behind Hartman and Gray.