Cal women’s basketball could consider its 2018-19 season as the final hurrah before the end of its golden era. Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb moved on to join the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers as an assistant coach after leading the Bears to the NCAA tournament in seven out of eight seasons as head coach.
The veteran roster is gone, losing four out of five starters from last season’s squad to graduation or transfer, including Kristine Anigwe, the team’s all-time leading scorer and perhaps the best player in program history. After a full-scale rebuild of the roster, this season will be defined by transition and opportunity.
It all starts with newly hired head coach Charmin Smith. Smith joins the Bears from a position with the WNBA’s New York Liberty, but this isn’t her first time at UC Berkeley. She had spent 12 seasons as an assistant with the team before joining the Liberty. She’s already made her mark on the recruiting front, and now it’s time to see if that same success can translate to the court.
Expectations for this team are low, however. After making it all the way to the round of 32 last season and getting bounced by NCAA tournament champions Baylor, the Bears are pegged to finish 11th out of the 12 teams this season in the Pac-12 coaches’ poll, ahead only of Colorado.
A lot of these low predictions have to do with the relative youth of the team, but with little pressure to succeed, Smith believes her team is ready to defy the doubters.
“We don’t have as much experience. But again, when you go back to people who are willing to dive in and do whatever the coach is asking them to do, whatever their teammate tells them to do, then I think we have the ability to surprise some people,” Smith said.
The few players with veteran experience will have to contribute in order for Cal to find success this season. CJ West and Jaelyn Brown are the two remaining players who played key minutes for last season’s team, and they each will need to progress into leadership roles.
“I think that my mindset has to change to be more aggressive. My goal is to have more of a scorer’s mentality and to realize that my role is a lot more impactful than maybe it was in the previous years, and also having a lot more confidence in myself,” West said.
With so few upperclassmen on the roster, the incoming freshmen will be expected to step up immediately into contributing roles. The incoming class is highlighted by players such as Evelien Lutje Schipholt, Jazlen Green, Cailyn Crocker and Leilani McIntosh. Through the team’s two exhibition games, victories against Beijing Normal University and Vanguard, the team has already made its presence known.
The 6’2” Lutje Schipholt is a player who should provide immediate help in the paint and on the boards. In the two exhibitions, she put up double digits in both games and 11 rebounds in the opening exhibition.
“I used to tell my teammates every missed shot is an assist for me, and that’s what I go by,” Lutje Schipholt said.
McIntosh and Crocker are a point guard tandem that can make a difference on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor and will be tasked with replacing the production of the departed Asha Thomas. These freshmen may not take the leap immediately, but as long as they are willing to put in the effort, Smith will be satisfied.
“We want to put forth our best effort every single day, and our best is good enough. Whatever the outcome is, if we’re putting forth our best effort then we’re going to be able to sleep well at night and know that we are giving it our all,” Smith said.
The Bears might not have the same success as previous years, but this is a fresh, young and exciting team with a great opportunity to instill a culture of success for years to come. Cal will travel to Cambridge, Mass. to face Harvard in its first game of the season — a necessary litmus test to see how far the Bears have come in the offseason. This will be great preparation for their matchup against powerhouse UConn on Sunday.
Harvard outlasted a menacing Northern Illinois comeback to win its first game of the season 59-53 Tuesday. The Crimson welcomes the Bears to Lavietes Pavilion on Friday in search of their second win of the year, while Cal looks to start its new-look season off on the right foot.
Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].