Feb. 8, 2000
BERKELEY - By Patrick J. Merrill
California has long been thought of as a superior academic university, which offers the best public education in the nation. It is just this reputation that has led to Cal's competitive and highly respected athletic programs. Just ask women's basketball junior college transfers Becky Staubes, Genevieve Swedor, and Nicole Ybarra.
All three displayed superior athleticism and leadership skills on their respective junior college basketball teams, quickly making themselves standouts and prized recruits for the California women's basketball program. But in the end, as all three will attest, being offered a chance to play for the Golden Bears is more than just playing ball, it's about earning a degree.
"I know I'll do well in the future with a degree from Cal," said Staubes, a 5-10 junior guard out of San Diego Mesa College.
Coming off an outstanding sophomore season, the San Diego native was selected as the Pacific Coast Conference MVP after leading her team to a 23-7 record, averaging a team-best 15.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 3.6 steals per game. In her two seasons running the floor, Mesa College posted a combined 50-11 record and won two conference championships.
"Cal was an excellent basketball and academic decision," said Staubes, a dramatic arts major interested in pursuing a career as a veterinarian. "The professors are great motivators, and I'm learning a lot of new things in my drama classes."
And that's the truth of the matter. Just ask any coach at Cal, from women's basketball to men's water polo, and they'll agree, it's not hard to sell a Berkeley degree to a smart student-athlete.
Junior 6-3 center Genevieve Swedor takes it a step further. Hailing from Auvernier, Switzerland, Swedor explained that a Cal degree carries a lot of weight back in Europe, not just stateside.
"I had no idea about the recruiting process, and I didn't even know if I would be staying in the country," said Swedor. "I was really happy when I heard Cal was interested in me because the school has such a good reputation in Europe."
Recognized by many recruiting services as one of the top 10 post players in last year's junior college class, Swedor averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds per game in her final season. She also has played for the Switzerland National Team since 1998. Not bad for someone who didn't even play ball in high school.
But when it comes down to it, Swedor, a sociology major, is just happy to have the opportunity to be a part of Cal, not just as an athlete, but as a student. For her, it's the degree and the future it brings with it that is most important.
That brings the story to our final junior college transfer this season, 5-8 junior guard Nicole Ybarra. In her two seasons at Sacramento City College, Ybarra led her team to the state playoffs and captured all-conference honors twice. Last season, she was named 1999 Player of the Year for the Valley Division of the Bay Valley Conference, averaging 13 points, five assists, three steals, and three rebounds per game. Ybarra and Staubes both were selected to last year's California junior college all-star game.
A sociology major, Ybarra would like to go on to coach college basketball at some point in the future and lists a desire to organize free basketball camps for the youth in her hometown of Sacramento as a long-term community goal. Not a bad set of aspirations, and certainly not a bad addition to the Cal family.
"I chose California because it was close to home and my family and friends could come watch me play," said Ybarra, who also considered USC and Arizona State before settling into Berkeley.
For all three of these student-athletes, coming to California was more than just a basketball decision. It was a lifetime decision. A decision to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to earn a Cal degree and to set their own destiny in whichever direction they choose.
Perhaps Swedor put it best when she described what a California education means to her.
"I had heard about Cal before I even left Switzerland," said Swedor. "When I tell people back home where I go to school, they're really impressed."
And that's the way it should be.