Photo by Viet Nguyen

Bears at Pac-12 WBB Media Day

October 7, 2019
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San Francisco, CA--The California Golden Bears kicked off their season at the annual Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media day.

Under first year head coach Charmin Smith, California is expected to be in rebuilding mode, reflected in the fact that the Bears are selected to finish 11th in the Pac-12 by the league coaches.

Cal is coming off a season when the Bears finished 20-13 and bowed out in the NCAA 2nd round to eventual national champion Baylor. But Cal lost 3 starters off of that team, including the best player in Cal history, Kristine Anigwe.

There were of course many other transitions in the off-season, not the least of which is Charmin Smith taking over the program from Lindsay Gottlieb, who left to become an assitant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At the Media Day, much of the attention was on Smith’s transition into the top job.

Smith acknowledged that she’s likely to bring to her new position all of her experience working under different mentors, from Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer to NY Liberty’s Katie Smith.

“I've been fortunate enough to work for and learn from a number of phenomenal coaches,” said Smith. “Obviously Tara has known me the longest, being that she recruited me and I played for her. Spent some time with Cathy Inglese, just an extraordinary coach and person. And then Joanne Boyle and Lindsay Gottlieb, and finally in New York with Katie. I think I've taken something from each of them, and I see it come out in myself during different moments, depending on what I'm trying to accomplish, what I'm trying to instill in our team. And so I think it's just going to be a blend of everything in my past.”

Smith believes that her time coaching in the WNBA and the Liberty players this summer, while short-lived, helped “to reinforce that I do know how to coach this game; I’ve been doing it a really long time.”

Smith of course is looking to put her own stamp on both her coaching and on her team. She quickly realized that she needed her players to be “willing.”

“Like that's my word,” said Smith. “I want people who are willing. I want people who are willing to work for the program, work for their teammates. I want people who are willing to commit to being at Cal, being at the No. 1 public institution in the country, and people who are willing to compete.”

Senior post CJ West appreciates that Smith has brought consistency.

“Every day she has a goal for us,” said West. “And we trust in her, and she trusts in us to get done what we're supposed to get done.”

Redshirt senior Sara Anastasieska, when asked on how Smith was different than Gottlieb, first offered the general “they have different personalities.” But then the guard offered an additional glimpse: “So Charmin is very like tough on us but in a good way, and she's very like attention to detail. That's what she's really into.”

Mostly, Anastasieska is just happy to be healthy and playing again. After transferring to Cal, she sat out the 2016-2017 season, then missed most of the next two seasons due to back injuries. She was just recently cleared and is relishing her time playing with the team.

“I think that playing with the team right now, I've gelled really well,” said Anastasieska.  “And so have our freshmen. They have come in and given everything we've needed for them to give, so I'm really excited for our team and I'm ready to show everyone what I can do.”

She wants to show what she can do on the court. “I play without fear, and I think I have a very aggressive mindset, a scorer's mentality.”

West is also excited about the Cal newcomers, noting that as a senior leader, she’s been working to ensure that they have “the space to ask questions, but also to hold us returners accountable.” West relayed how a few days ago, when she was growing frustrated with herself for missing shots in practice, a freshman pulled her aside and reminded her, “You’re good. It’ll get better.”

West is also taking ownership of her new, larger role on the team. “I think my transition from freshman to sophomore and sophomore to junior year have been physical. And I think this year it's probably going to be a lot more mental, especially with the big role I'm stepping into, seeing as -- all the change that we've gone through. I think that my mindset has to change to be more aggressive. And 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, as well.”

With so many changes, it figures to be a difficult season on the court for the Bears. But their head coach prefers to view it as opportunity.

“I've mentioned to them is that everyone in this program is in a new role--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,” said Smith. “And what I think comes with that is an excitement, because now it's your turn, and it's your opportunity. And I think when people feel like they have opportunity, they're more willing to work. So we have a group that's just fired up.”

 

 

NOTEBOOK:

  • UCLA head coach Cori Close on Charmin Smith’s return to take over the Cal program: “We get to keep one of our own at home, somebody who has invested and sacrificed not only as a coach but also as a player in her time in the Pac-12. I have a lot of respect for Charmin, not only as a basketball coach, but as a human being that wants to invest and use sport as an opportunity to invest and progress the lives of women. And I think she has a great passion. I had the opportunity to serve on the WBCA board with her and to see her wisdom, to see her vision, even in our coaches' meeting this morning. I just think it's a tremendous asset to keep her home in the Pac-12 footprint, and I think she's going to do a great job.”
  • Arizona head coach Adia Barnes, who played with Charmin Smith in the WNBA (Seattle) is happy for her former teammate, but warns that everyone needed to be patient:  “When you're turning over a program, it's not easy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, and I think Charmin is really cut out to do it. She's extremely smart. She was a great player. She was a great teammate. I think she's a perfect fit for Cal. And I think she'll be very successful. But it takes time. It doesn't happen in one year, it doesn't happen in two years. There are growing pains when you turn around a program.”
  • Anastasieska was a last-minute replacement for Media Day.  Jaelyn Brown was originally scheduled to attend but was held out because of concussion-like symptoms.
  • There was some questions about the new Fair Play for Play act, which would allow athletes tin California o be paid for endorsements. Most coaches and players took the position of “I need to learn more about it,” or “We are of course are strong advocates for the well being of athletes.” But some also warned of unintended consequences, including how the lost revenues (to pay certain athletes) would impact programs’ ability to support women’s sports and Olympic sports. Oregon head coach Kelly Graves, while also in support of student athletes’ rights to share in the financial pie, reminded that they are already compensated: “I am one who believes that there is value in a scholarship. I mean, that is real money. I remember doing the math one time somewhere, I can't remember what it was, if you divide the amount of the scholarship -- and that doesn't include all the perks that you get as a studentathlete - and you divide that into the total number of hours we're allowed to work our student-athletes out, they're still making well over $100 an hour to be basketball players. That's real money, and that's the best part-time job they're ever going to have.”

 

 
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