Reviewing Cal women’s basketball’s deep 2020 recruiting class

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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Cal women’s basketball put the finishing touches on their 2020 recruiting class with the addition of Swedish standout Alma Elsnitz last week. Next year will feature one of the largest and best classes in Cal women’s basketball history, as six new Bears combine to form the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN.

In Charmin Smith’s first year as head coach, it would have been understandable and perhaps even expected to have a quiet year on the recruiting front, considering the staff turnover and a disappointing 2019-20 season which saw Cal finish last in the Pac-12. Instead, Smith capitalized on opportunities presented by her predecessor, Lindsay Gottlieb, to bring in a deep class that will set Cal up for the future.

One key way this class was formed was through taking advantage of international markets. Gottlieb was the first Cal coach who fully embraced international recruiting, using Cal’s academic reputation and aggressive scouting to build an international pipeline. The steady stream of international recruits has paid dividends for the Bears. International recruits often need development, but hold lots of potential.

Last year’s squad saw redshirt seniors Chen Yue from China and Sara Anastasieska from Australia blossom into contributing role players after years of development, while Dutch freshman Evelien Lutje Schipholt showed signs of elite defensive potential. Perhaps the Bears’ greatest international success story was Kristine Anigwe from Britain, who graduated to the WNBA in 2019 and will go down as one of the greatest Cal players ever.

Smith is already following in Gottlieb’s footsteps, focusing on international recruiting in hopes of finding another Kristine Anigwe in two new foreign commits.

“(She is) an explosive guard with deep range. She is a slasher who can find her way to the paint and make plays,” Smith said of recruit Ornela Muca in a press release. Muca is 5’ 10” and from Athens, Greece and also plays for the Albanian U-18 national team.

Joining her in Berkeley will be the newest member of the 2020 recruiting class, Alma Elsnitz. The 5’11” combo guard might connect with Muca to form a European backcourt of the future for the Bears.

Still, with guards Leilani Mcintosh, Cailyn Crocker and Jazlen Green each returning for their sophomore season, do not expect Muca and Elsnitz to be thrust into the spotlight immediately. Instead, they’ll have time to develop and will be allowed the opportunity to ease their way into the American game, which often requires adjustments.

Although she isn’t an international recruit, fellow commit Sela Heide will also likely spend next season focused on development. The 4-star post stands at a towering 6’8” but still needs to develop physically and has dealt with injury, including a recent knee surgery. Still, she’s shown flashes of dominance and could become a force for the Bears in the paint.

The recruits most likely to step up for the Bears are the trio of 5-star forwards being brought in, who are likely the future of this team. First up is Fatou Samb out of Texas, a physical 6’4” post who is surprisingly mobile for her size. Next is Michelle Onyiah, a 6’3” California native who can grab rebounds and control the defensive end.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting class, however, is Dalayah Daniels, a 6’4” forward out of Washington who’s the second ranked forward in her class and 13th ranked prospect overall. Daniels has all the makings of a future Pac-12 star.

“I truly believe (Dalayah) is just scratching the surface when it comes to her potential,” Smith said in a statement. “She’s a high-motor, athletic forward, who can make you pay from the perimeter or in the paint. She’s going to be well-prepared to come in and compete in this challenging Pac-12 conference.”

A key factor for bringing the three 5-star recruits in the door was immediate opportunities to contribute. The Bears have only two returning frontcourt players — Schipholt and senior Alaysia Styles — so members of this talented trio should be playing big minutes and potentially starting. Cal is also an incredibly young team, with only one upperclassmen on scholarship in Styles, so each of the six recruits will be thrust into bigger roles than they would have been with other division one squads.

With a team so young, the Bears may experience growing pains without immediate success, but watching this team develop in light of its high ceiling is an exciting prospect for any Cal fan.

The six new additions making up the 2020 recruiting class mean that the future is bright for the Bears. Now all that’s left to do is watch and see if they can lead Cal to the promised land.

Benjamin Coleman covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].