In early fall 2011, coach Lindsay Gottlieb peered out her office window into the court of Haas Pavilion. Her team had finished its preseason conditioning program, and today the basketballs were finally coming out. On the court 30 minutes before practice was scheduled to start was Brittany Boyd. The freshman had not arrived early to a single weightlifting or conditioning session all preseason, but here she was on the first day of practice, uniform draped over her body and arm sleeves on, putting up extra shots.
“That was it for me — that was when I got it,” Gottlieb says. “This girl just loved basketball.”
Boyd, a Bay Area native, arrived at UC Berkeley in 2011. She had spent her teenage years just down the street at Berkeley High School, where she had earned All-State honors as a point guard for the Yellowjackets. But adjusting to the rigors of the college game was a process.
“Brittany came in with tremendous talent from day one,” Gottlieb says. “But she had to learn the process of college basketball; the scouting reports, the preparation, how hard you have to go in practice, all the mental aspects.”
Boyd struggled with the notion of practicing at game speed, and Gottlieb came down hard on her for it. Boyd had no problem playing at a lightning pace during games, but the defiant freshman just could not believe the reps in practice would really translate to the game. For the past 18 years, all that had mattered to her was her performance during gametime.
A few days before her first game, Boyd walked into a team meeting at the women’s basketball offices inside Haas Pavilion. The players filed into their seats, and the coaches handed out individual scouting reports. Boyd was shocked by the volume of what she had just been handed. There were pages beyond pages of diagrams, statistics and player profiles. She raised her hand and innocuously asked if she would be receiving one of these scouting reports for every game. The coaches nodded their heads in affirmation, and Boyd’s older teammates chuckled at the naivety of her question.
But for a gamer like Boyd who had been handed the reigns to the team and told “go” from her very first day on campus, the unanticipated burdens of pregame preparation would not be enough to slow her down.
About two months into her freshman season in a matchup against Colorado, Boyd showed she was beginning to commit to the preparation expected of her. On two of Colorado’s early possessions, she read the Buffs’ offense exactly as had been outlined in the scouting report, and she nabbed two steals for easy layups.
Boyd would wind up finishing her first season averaging 10.2 points and 4.8 assists per game, a statline that earned her a place on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
She continued to make important strides in year two as her audacious pace and high basketball IQ helped propel her team to a first-ever trip to the Final Four. It was during this run amid the heightened intensity of postseason play that Boyd began to fully grasp what it meant to practice at game speed. When the stakes were high and the entire country was watching, there was simply no room for error. Preparation had to be perfect.
Boyd’s maturation was further accelerated this offseason when she stepped into her new role as an upperclassman. Layshia Clarendon — a senior whom Boyd had looked up to for the better part of the past two years — had graduated, and Boyd was now expected to fill the void as a team leader.
“Layshia went hard on every single play, and I gradually picked up on that,” Boyd says. “But when she graduated and the new freshmen came in, that’s when I realized that I really had to step up. I knew the freshmen needed to see that work ethic and energy in front of them.”
As Boyd has matured, her relationship with Gottlieb has grown immensely. The two meet on a near-daily basis to watch film, bounce ideas off each other, and discuss areas for improvement. At the same time, Boyd’s commitment to weightlifting and conditioning and her overall intensity in practice have reached new heights.
“Brittany has so many qualities that you can’t teach,” Gottlieb says. “But what she began to realize was that to truly be elite, the preparation for the big moments is just as important as the moments themselves.”
Boyd’s dedication on and off the court this year has earned her national recognition. She is currently on the shortlist for the Dawn Staley Award, the Wade Trophy, and the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the top point guard in the country. The junior has embraced her role as Cal’s go-to player and is averaging 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Throughout Boyd’s progression as a college basketball player, one constant has been her confidence — a humble but resolute mentality of being the best. It was this mindset that earned Boyd a starting spot only two games into her college career, and it’s also this swagger that stirred up a somewhat unusual conversation with her coach in November.
It was early in the season, and Boyd and Gottlieb had just landed in Washington, D.C., for a pair of matchups against George Washington and Georgetown. The Bears were coming off a double-digit loss to then-No. 2 Duke, a game in which Boyd had been held to only 4-of-12 shooting.
Upon arriving in the nation’s capital, Boyd hit her coach with an unexpected request. She wanted to meet the president of the United States.
“Please, can you please call President Obama? I just want to meet him. Arrange a meeting with me and President Obama.”
Gottlieb laughed, and playfully reminded her point guard that the president does not just spontaneously hold meetings with regular people.
Without thinking twice, Boyd retorted, “Coach, let me tell you something about regular people. That’s never been me.”
Josh Netter covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].