Nov. 2, 2006
BERKELEY, Calif. - The 21st-ranked California women's basketball team hosted a media lunch Thursday in the Haas Pavilion Club Room. Cal assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb, sophomores Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson and freshman Lauren Greif were in attendance.
Gottlieb spoke on behalf of head coach Joanne Boyle who is temporarily away from the team due to a death in her family. Boyle is expected to return to the Bears' sidelines for Sunday's final exhibition game against Love and Basketball.
Here is a sampling of what the members of the nationally ranked Cal program had to say.
Gottlieb's opening thoughts
"It's really exciting for this program to see a lot of increased interest in us this year. We came in last year with a brand new staff, with a largely brand-new team, and we talked a lot about establishing excellence and carrying ourselves like champions all of the time.
"Those are the little things we focused on, and the wins came. We didn't talk a lot about number of wins or specific games prior to the season. We just talked about doing things the right way and playing a brand of Cal basketball that would make us successful, and it obviously reaped benefits for us.
"We're extremely excited about this year, partly because the freshmen are now sophomores, but also because we have increased versatility, maybe not the increased depth that we had wanted. I think we're able to do some more complex things on offense, having kids back for a second year with us. Our staple remains defense. Last year, we established ourselves as one of the top defensive teams in the Pac-10. We want to continue to have that be our identity."
Gottlieb on the players
"I want to talk about our players, and I'll start with the sophomores first as they remain a focal point. I can't say enough about them. They've matured so much on and off the court. They had an unbelievable year, and they've shown a lot of growth.
"Alexis (Gray-Lawson) has emerged as a true leader on the court. She is our do-everything kind of kid. We might try to move her off the ball a bit this year, but you will also see the ball in her hands a lot. She has an increased and renewed passion for defense. We need her to do that for us. She has really stepped up so far.
"Ashley Walker is playing with a lot more confidence. Ashley is anchoring our post play right now while Devanei is injured, and I think she takes that on as a real challenge.
"Shantrell Sneed is coming back from various injuries. She's just getting back into the swing of things. I know she is looking to contribute.
"Devanei (Hampton) had an unbelievable summer with USA Basketball before she got hurt. She is now in the final stages of her rehab. She is doing a lot of 5-on-0 stuff and some contact. We hope for her to get some minutes in the opening game against Saint Mary's and be ready to go against Florida the following week.
"Krista Foster is the steady staple she has always been. She has picked up the slack with Devanei being out.
"Kelly O'Connell is still battling injuries. We hope to have her back in the next couple of days.
"Our freshmen class is maybe not as heralded as the year before, but they are no less amazing in a lot of ways. They've stepped in and already made their presence felt. Lauren Greif, who is from Oregon, is the type of player who makes everyone else better. The fans already love her from the one exhibition game. She'll bring a lot to this team in the stat line and being a connector kid on the floor.
"Natasha Vital is a point guard from Stockton. We felt like she was a little under recruited. We are happy to have her here. We think she'll be able to give Lexi (Gray-Lawson) some minutes off of the ball. We hope to utilize her as an athletic defender and put some pressure on the ball, as well.
"Last but not least, Rama N'diaye. Here's a kid who is from Africa but went to high school in Japan. She hasn't seen her family in three years. English is her fourth language. She has had to adjust. We're playing her on the perimeter, as well as inside. That's kind of new for her. She has handled it all in stride with a smile on her face. She has amazing talent, and her potential is limitless."
Alexis Gray-Lawson, sophomore guard
"We're getting closer as a team and focusing on the things we know we want to do. Last year, we went out there and did the best that we could. Now, we want to build from that. To build from that, we have to say that we got to the (NCAA) Tournament. Now it's time to stay in the Tournament. That's been a focal point in practice and making sure that we take one game at a time and not think about all of the things that are going on in the future."
On whether the doubters have gone away now that Cal is ranked to start the season
"There are always going to be doubters. You take that as inspiration. A lot of people don't believe we're 12th or 21st or even in the top 25. You go and you move on from there. One thing our coaches do is that they emphasize that it's not about rankings. It's not about going into the gym and scoring 90 points. It's about how you carry yourself. If you carry yourself like the 12th-ranked team, people will start to respect you like the 12th-ranked team. That's one thing that we're learning right now."
Devanei Hampton, sophomore forward/center
On dealing with expectations
"We don't try to live up to other people's expectations. We have our own expectations and our own goals that we set. We don't want to just be good. In our eyes, we want to be better than that."
Lauren Greif, freshman guard
On the team's expectations for 2006-07
"As a team, we want to do very well in the Pac-10 and get to the NCAA Tournament. We're not going to say that we're going to win a national title right now, but we see that in our sights. We're working towards that. It's going to take a lot of work, and we're willing."
On whether she was nervous before the first exhibition game
"Throughout the day, people kept asking me if I was nervous. As it was getting closer, I kept thinking, `I'm not really that nervous. When is this going to come?' I imagined being very frightened. I don't know if it was because we were at home, but it just felt like we had done this before for whatever reason. Once I start playing basketball, it's just basketball again."
On whether the team will be defined by defense this year
"You've always got to play great defense. This team is very capable of doing that. We didn't show it as much as we wanted to in our exhibition game, but we're going to get back to that being our defining factor. Offensively, we have more options this year."