SAN FRANCISCO - Cal women’s basketball Associate Head Coach Charmin Smith provided some breaking news at Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday at the Pac-12 Networks studios in San Francisco.
It turns out the Bears, who went to their first Final Four in school history last season, are indeed still the Bears.
“It’s still Cal basketball,” said Smith, who filled in for head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose father Stephen passed away on Sunday. “We still want to grind, be tough, be athletic. Nothing’s going to change about our style or our character.”
There’s no question that the Bears wonderful run to New Orleans last year reshaped how the program is perceived around the country. But really Cal is still in the same position it was last year at this time – chasing Stanford for Pac-12 supremacy.
The Cardinal was picked to win the conference championship for a whopping 13th time in a row in the preseason coaches poll that was released at media day. In fact, Stanford received all 11 first-place votes it possibly could. Coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their own team. Cal received the other first-place vote, meaning Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer casted her top vote for the Bears.
“At the end of the day, who knows what could possibly happen,” said Cal junior point guard Brittany Boyd, who was the Bears’ player representative at the media festivities. “I don’t really take the polls too much into consideration. When the ball goes up, it’s a 50-50 chance of who’s going to win. At the end, it really doesn’t faze our team at all.”
While the Cardinal was the overwhelming pick to win the conference, you still got the feeling there was a little more interest in the Bears for what they accomplished last season. Yes, Cal lost star guard Layshia Clarendon as well as key contributors Talia Caldwell and Eliza Pierre, but with Boyd, Gennifer Brandon, Afure Jemerigbe, Reshanda Gray returning – along with a talented infusion of freshmen and transfers – big things are once again expected from this group of Bears.
“We’ve had weapons for quite some time and people are ready to step up,” Smith said. “I think with the additions we’ve had with freshmen and transfers, we have more depth than we’ve used in the past. I think we’re more athletic than we’ve been.”
While the message was clear that the Final Four experience won’t change how the Bears do business, there’s no denying the team’s run to women’s basketball’s biggest stage not only changed the external perception of the program, but how the Bears view themselves as well.
“I think right off the bat our standards are a lot higher,” Smith said. “That’s a good thing. We expect more from everyone. I think we are a lot more confident as a program. Obviously, when you get that type of experience, it’s very helpful in terms of confidence level. I think the level of national experience we received is a positive or the program.”
Smith and Boyd met with the assembled media in a conference room at the Pac-12 Networks and then headed downstairs to be interviewed on the networks’ live telecast of the proceedings. Other than that, they did an array of promotional spots and posed for pictures.
“Our standards, we want them to be higher,” Smith said. “We have the regional trophy and Final Four ring in the conference room and the players see it all the time. They say to people, ‘We want another one of those.’ They tell recruits to come here so we can get another one of those. But it doesn’t happen overnight. We’re a long way from Nashville, from cutting down Pac-12 championship nets. Do we think we have the potential to do that? Yes. But we understand this process and we’re excited about being on another journey to accomplish those things.”