Joanne Boyle looks around and it’s different.
Cal’s DeNesha Stallworth – Deb Gumbley file photo
The players that had been in Berkeley since she arrived are all gone now.
The young team she has in front of her now represents a new era for the program.
“It’s a new phase,” Boyle said Friday, a week before the Bears open the 2010-2011 season at home against Rutgers. “It’s really new, very new. The dynamics are different, the personalities are different, balance of scoring is different…Depth would still be nice to have. I think the balance is much different for us.”
Cal is one of the most youthful teams in the country. The roster includes two seniors in Rama N’Diaye and Rachelle Federico and nine freshmen and sophomores.
The class of sophomores who led the Bears to the WNIT title last season are now this team’s leaders. No more can any of them look on the floor at a teammate with 100 games of college basketball experience.
“It is a little different,” said sophomore point guard Layshia Clarendon. “But we have to take our year of experience and work with it. We can’t make excuses about being young. We are all young.”
The Bears will feature a pair of highly touted freshmen in guards Lindsay Sherbert and Afure Jemerigbe. Sherbert started Cal’s first exhibition game. Both are expected to get a lot of playing time in a lineup that will also likely feature Clarendon at the point, defensive specialist Eliza Pierra and forward DeNesha Stallworth, the team’s leading returning scorer.
Stallworth, who will likely be the go-to offensive player for Cal this season, said she found herself texting last year’s senior captain Alexis Gray-Lawson before Thursday night’s exhibition opener against Vanguard.
“I told her I miss her and she told me ‘You’ll be fine. Play hard and be a leader,” Stallworth said.
Stallworth said she returns with a great understanding about the importance of work ethic, about giving consistent effort.
“In high school, I didn’t do that. I never got yelled at. You don’t yell at your star player,” Stallworth said with a smile. “But when I got here, I was getting yelled to get up and down the floor. You have to work hard consistently.”
Clarendon said she’s a smarter player. She has spent more time watching film, more time learning to understand why she calls the plays she calls on the floor.
“I feel like I’ve improved by basketball I.Q. That’s the biggest thing,” Clarendon said.
Cal begins the season without forward Gennifer Brandon, who has been hobbled since May with a stress fracture in her shin.
Boyle said she had no timetable for her return.
And freshman Avigiel Cohen is out for the year with an ACL injury – or reinjury. She had surgery a little less than a month ago.
The Bears are down to nine scholarship players
“Aren’t we here every year?” Boyle said.
The return of Rama N’diaye, who hasn’t played since she tore her ACL in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, will make Cal deeper in the post. It will make life easier for Stallworth at the four, who can get out of the paint more often and take defenders with her. N’diaye played more than half the game in Cal’s exhibition, finishing with a double-double with 11 point and 11 rebounds.
And they will be a better shooting team, at least when it comes to the quantity of shooters on the floor, Boyle said.
“We have more people willing to shoot,” Boyle said.
Boyle said her team has lofty goals. But they are going to approach the season with cautious optimism.
“Last year, they said ‘We want a Pac-10 championship’. You say the things you are supposed to say and you don’t understand what it really takes to get there. I think they are a little more reserved this year in saying, ‘OK, we want certain things. But we’ve got to figure out our identity and our rotations with a bunch of sophomores and freshman, to then be able to say midseason, ‘We’re capable of doing this or that.’ Right now, that is where we are. Let’s not put a lot of stuff out there.”