In the span of two days last April, Lindsay Gottlieb became the head coach of the Cal women’s basketball team, drove up to Berkeley and addressed the media for her inaugural press conference in Haas Pavilion.
Somewhere in those two days, Gottlieb made her first call as head coach.
It wasn’t to an administrator in the athletic department or a member of her new staff.
She called Brittany Boyd.
Last April, Boyd was a senior at Berkeley High, less than a mile from Haas Pavilion. The No. 8 guard prospect in the country verbally committed to Cal in June 2010, when Joanne Boyle was still head coach.
But after an underwhelming 2011 season, Boyle jumped ship for Virginia.
The determined Boyd knew she should play for a top-notch program. But with its coaching staff in limbo, Cal now seemed like a risk. She didn’t know if the program was going to flounder. She didn’t know if the school she picked would turn her into a champion.
“My mom was just like, ‘See who they get first. Take your time, let them make their decision,’” Boyd says.
Gottlieb’s pursuit of Boyd was simple and two-fold: 1) Boyd’s impressive performance at point guard made her the most crucial of 2011’s recruits; and 2) she would generate a hometown crowd. That first phone call assuaged any lingering doubts Boyd had.
“You create a buzz when a local star stays home,” Gottlieb says. “I’ll go to high school games to recruit and people will ask me about Brittany before they even ask about Cal.”
Boyd is the face of the team. Her name elicits the loudest applause in Haas Pavilion when the announcer calls the starting lineup. Young fans at games will ask her for photos and autographs.
Her family sits in the same place at every home game: right above a courtside exit to the side of a basket.
She doesn’t wave, but she knows exactly where they are.
“I haven’t missed a game,” says DeShawn Boyd, Brittany’s father. “I get butterflies, kind of jumped up every time. Watching her jump out, hearing them call her name. I’m proud of her.”
Her father is now a coach for California Ballaz, the same AAU club team Brittany was a member of from fifth through 12th grade.
Boyd never spent much time learning the ropes of the game. She possessed a raw talent that blew her coach away.
“Brittany was the type of kid that it was real simple for,” says Ballaz head coach Leroy Hurt. “We’d go against a team and I’d say, ‘Brit, this girl’s No. 4 in the country. Let’s see how you are today.’ And she became a name after that.’”
The court is Boyd’s stage. She explodes on fast breaks and has overhauled Cal’s tempo – Gottlieb admits as much. Boyd drives relentlessly to the basket in a routine that resembles a flip book, repeated over and over at will.
In the course of one week, Boyd notched a career-high 19 points in two different games. In the second contest, she also nabbed an astounding 10 steals, tying a school record for the most in a single game.
But she is only a freshman. For the first time since picking it up, she has to learn about the game.
“You think you know everything in high school,” she says. “And then you get to college and there’s just a lot of stuff you don’t know, a lot of stuff you need to know. When I get to the next level, I’m going to think
I learned everything in college. But there’s a lot to the game.”
Boyd’s emotion on the court is undeniable. She rides visceral highs and lows in the course of 40 minutes.
She proudly delivers a salute to the crowd after triumphant and-one calls; she dives wildly toward opposing passes and comes up with a steal and a layup; if she’s feeling secure about her team’s performance she’ll go for flashy plays.
But there are also times when Boyd is not in control. Then, the frustration bubbles over. She rips off her headband or sits on the sidelines, where the coaches will calm her down.
“It’s definitely a struggle with a lot of young players,” says assistant coach Charmin Smith, “how to channel emotion and energy. You’ve got to display confidence whether you have two turnovers or 10.”
That struggle came to a head in the home tilt with UCLA. The Bears clawed their way to a nine-point win despite tallying a soaring 25 turnovers.
Eleven of those were Boyd’s.
In the postgame press conference, Boyd was stone-faced as she stared down at the stat sheet.
“Deep down inside I was really happy that we got the win,” she says. “But in the other side of me, it was killing me.
“Everybody makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect. But sometimes I feel like I have to be perfect.”
There’s a duality to Boyd. On one glance, she’s the star of the show. But that’s not the way she sees it.
She leads the team in assists, with 156. In fact, Boyd is second in the conference in assists, with an average of 4.73 per game. She is the only freshman on the leaderboard.
“I’m a very unselfish player,” Boyd says. “My job is to make my teammates better. And my way of making my teammates better is giving them the ball where they’re most comfortable.”
It’s a cocky thing for a freshman to say, yet she makes it look simple.
She hasn’t forgotten her roots – then again, it would be hard to, considering how she never ventured very far from them. She is still the introvert who hangs on the peripherals until someone gains her trust.
She is still the headstrong player who sees her future in the pros as a matter of “when” over “if.”
Before the start of her freshman season at Cal, she returned to the Cal Ballaz program to give a motivational talk. Young fans at games will ask her for photos and autographs.
The inspiration branches out. Boyd has three younger brothers, all of whom look up to her.
When Boyd visits home these days, she goes into five-year-old Machi’s room. He has her poster on his wall.
“I asked him who was his favorite basketball player,” Boyd says. “And he was like, ‘Oh, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James,’ and then he said my name. My brothers are looking up to me and I’m being a good example.”
Hers is the face of a revamped and promising program. But as far as her brother is concerned, it’s just the face of another player worth his recognition.