October 29, 1998
Riding a wave of late-season improvements from a year ago and bolstered by the arrival of a talented recruiting class, the California women's basketball team heads into the 1998-99 season with renewed optimism.
"I'm optimistic that we will be a much more competitive team this year, not just in keeping games close, but winning more games," predicted head coach Marianne Stanley, who enters her third season at the helm of the Golden Bear program. "We are doing all the things necessary to give us the best possible chance to win more games and move up in the Pac-10.
"Over the last six games of last season, we had our confidence restored and the effort was clearly better. Our late season progress set the stage for spring workouts to be more competitive and intense. As a result, we developed both individually and as a team."
The Golden Bears return 10 letterwinners, including four starters, and approach the new campaign with the energy and dedication necessary to improve on a disappointing 6-22 record. Last season's team was largely a young and inexperienced squad, featuring eight freshmen and sophomores, who had to battle through injuries, setbacks and inevitable growing pains. The returning group also includes all of the team's statistical leaders from a year ago.
"In the past two years, we've been a little impatient and expected things to move quicker than they have," explained Stanley. "This spring, we spent more time nurturing people along, and we are starting to see the difference. The team is finally taking shape, players' roles are more defined, and I think everyone will play better within that framework."
Stanley welcomes back a quartet of starters in last season's co-MVPs and Top 2 scorers - Paige Bowie and Masa Radovic - along with three-year starting center Jennie Leander and two-year starting point guard Sherrise Smith.
Bowie, a 6-0 junior from Fresno, led the team in scoring last season with 11.0 ppg starting every game at small forward. She went on a late scoring binge over the final month of the season that saw her average nearly 19 points per game. After only two seasons, Bowie ranks eighth on the Bears career chart for three-pointers made (45) and attempted (160). In addition to her on court exploits, Bowie, along with Leander, were named to the 1998 Pac-10 All-Academic team. The duo were also selected co-captains of this year's squad.
Radovic, a 6-1 forward/guard from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was the surprise of last season, stepping in as a true freshman to play point guard for the first time in her career. After finishing second in scoring (10.9 ppg) for the Bears and leading them in assists (2.9 apg), Radovic earned a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, joining Leander as the only Bears to earn that distinction in the 90s. Radovic started the last 16 games at her natural shooting guard position and is expected to see the majority of her minutes there in 1998-99.
Leander, a 6-3 senior center hailing from Tigard, Ore., has ranked among the Pac-10's top rebounders during her three seasons at Cal and poses a solid inside scoring threat. The three-year captain led Cal in boards for the second-straight season in 1997-98, corralling 7.1 per contest, while posting 8.5 points per game. The Bears 10th-leading career rebounder with 633, Leander is on pace to finish in the Top 5 in that category.
Despite battling several different injuries, Smith has been the primary starter at point guard the past two seasons and is finally healthy entering her senior campaign. The 5-5 guard from Los Angeles averaged 4.8 points and 2.7 apg and was named Cal's best defensive player as a junior.
"All of our players worked hard this summer to refine their skills, especially in the offensive aspects of the game," said Stanley. "Our most experienced players, especially Leander, Smith and Bowie, will be expected to produce more offensively and defensively this year."
Stanley boasts a solid contingent of young and improving players, including the 5-8 sophomore backcourt tandem of Kenya Corley and Courtney Johnson. In the frontcourt, the Bears return senior forwards 6-0 Kobi Kennon and 6-1 Jamilla Churchill, both three-year letterwinners, along with 6-2 sophomore forward Lauren Ashbaugh and 6-5 junior center Geneva McDaniel.
Johnson and Corley, natives of Antioch and Lancaster, Calif., respectively, showed their versatility as freshmen last season seeing double digit per game minutes at either the point or off-guard positions. Corley was named the team's most improved player, while Johnson started 11 games and led the team in steals with 1.7 per contest.
Ashbaugh, a native of Redmond, Wash., is the Bears top-returning field goal shooter, drilling 60 percent of her shots last season. She contributed 4.7 points and 4.2 rebound per game while averaging 15.3 minutes as a freshman.
Kennon and Churchill (East Palo Alto and Oakland, respectively) along with McDaniel (San Francisco) are defensive specialists. Churchill, a high jumper for the Cal track & field team, and Corley are the Bears most explosive leapers.
"Our sophomores had a huge burden on them last year since they were expected to play immediately." Stanley said. "The game experience they received gives them confidence and poise as they enter the 1998-99 season."
One commodity the Bears have added is size as Stanley welcomes three freshmen who stand 6-4, 6-4 and 6-2, along with a quick point guard. The Bears should hold a huge rebounding edge over their opponents this season as a shorter Bears team last season already ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in rebounding margin at +2.1 and second in offensive rebounds per game at 16.7.
"We have an excellent class of freshmen, and I'm thrilled to have them coming into the program," said Stanley. "In addition to a talented point guard, we've added significant size, so for the first time in several years, we will have plenty of depth in the post."
Headlining the group of newcomers is 6-4 forward/center Shavaki Jackson, a fourth team Parade All-American who led Berkeley High School to a state title in 1997. Jackson averaged 21.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game as a senior and has an excellent shot of starting for Cal as a freshman.
Jackson is joined in the frontcourt by fellow Berkeley High graduate Latifa Lewis, a 6-4 center who adds a strong presence to the Bears inside game. Lewis earned numerous honors as a prep including All-City and All-Metro as a senior.
Ami Forney, a 6-2 forward from Newark Memorial High School, offers a combination of explosive scoring and tenacious rebounding to the Bears game plan. Forney averaged 21.6 points and 15.0 rebounds per game as a senior and led her team to the Division II state championship game as a junior.
Rounding out the incoming class is 5-8 guard LaShanthi Rhodes from Nimitz High School in Houston, Texas. She brings to Cal averages of 20.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game.
"All of our freshmen will have the opportunity to contribute to the success of this team from day one," Stanley said. "It will be a battle in practice every day. When you have a group of extremely competitive players working hard every day, you can't help but improve."
For the second-consecutive season, Cal will play its home schedule at Kaiser Arena in Oakland as they await the renovation of their on-campus facility - 64-year old Harmon Gym. The Bears will open the 1999-2000 season in their new facility, which will be re-named the Walter A. Haas Jr. Pavilion. The $40 million Haas Pavilion will nearly double the former seating capacity to 12,300.
In addition to the traditionally competitive Pac-10 Conference schedule, the Bears play a solid non-conference slate that includes many challenging opponents. After opening the season at home versus Pacific Nov. 17, the Bears head east, traveling to nationally-regarded Virginia and Ohio State over Thanksgiving weekend. The Bears host a trio of exciting teams - Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Colorado State - in the Oakland Tribune Classic, Dec. 20-21 before travelling to Gainesville, Fla., for the State Farm Classic, Dec. 28-29.