The Cal women’s basketball team has a fresh look this season, which was on full display during Monday’s 2019 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day in San Francisco.
Last season, post-game press conferences featured head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, regulars Kristine Anigwe, Asha Thomas and Receé Caldwell, as well as the occasional Kianna Smith and McKenzie Forbes. This year, all six women are gone, and the Bears were represented on the podium by their new head coach Charmin Smith and seniors Sara Anastasieska and CJ West.
In a season that will be defined by change, Smith is actually one of the few remaining pieces from the Cal team of the past four seasons. Smith served as Cal’s associate head coach for eight years and came back for the head coaching position after a few months with the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
As a result, the transition between coaches has been smooth. Not only does Smith have a similar mindset toward coaching, but she also has a strong relationship with the returning players.
“Lindsay and I coached together for seven years or so,” Smith said. “So there are a lot of similarities in how we feel about the game of basketball, how we feel about empowering young women and what our purpose is in this sport.”
“I think it’s been a really good transition,” Anastasieska said. “Charmin has always been that consistent coach that we’ve had. … and I think it was probably the best possible thing that could happen for us, because we know Charmin, we love Charmin.”
One of the reasons Smith has been able to connect with her team is on account of her own experience as a player — first at Stanford and then for four years in the WNBA. This message of empathy is one that Smith tries to send to her players, and they appreciate it.
“I hope that they trust in me, because I’ve done it as a player,” Smith said. “I want them to be able to hear me say ‘this is the way,’ and not just because I think so, but because I’ve actually experienced it.”
“I (think) the main reason why our relationship with Charmin is so strong is because she understands,” West said. “She’s been through every step that we’ve taken thus far.”
And the Bears are going to need that comfort, as the next step for Cal is going to be a difficult one. Four out of the five starters from last season are gone, which means that everyone is going to need to take on more responsibility. West is ready for that challenge.
“I think my transition from freshman to sophomore and sophomore to junior year have been physical,” West said. “This year, it’s probably going to be a lot more mental, especially with the big role I’m stepping into (and) all the change that we’ve gone through. I think that my mindset has to change to be more aggressive.”
“Everyone in this program is in a new role,” Smith said. “For me as a first-time head coach to every single player who’s trying to do something really that they haven’t done before. And what I think comes with that is an excitement, because now it’s your turn, and it’s your opportunity. … so we have a group that’s just fired up.”