Amber Lacey - Home Again

Alabama transfer happy to be at Cal

Jan. 14, 1998

by Garry Bowman

There's an old adage that claims 'you can never go home again'. Well, Cal senior forward Amber Lacey has returned home to Berkeley-and she couldn't be happier.

For Lacey, who transferred to Cal from Alabama following the 1995-96 season, returning to Northern California has brought her life full circle. And though it's been a long and winding road that has returned her to the location of some of her fondest personal memories and achievements, she is happy to be back in a place she has always thought of as "home."

"I'm ecstatic to be at Cal," said Lacey. "One of the main reasons I came here was because I wanted to come back home. I thought seriously about coming to Cal when I was a senior in high school and was being recruited by the staff here, but it just didn't work out at that time."

It's incredible that Lacey's even on a basketball scholarship, let alone one at Cal. Growing up in Altadena in Southern California, Lacey never aspired to become an athlete. Urged to cultivate her talents in the arts and modeling as a youth, she seemed destined to find stardom in nearby Hollywood rather than on the hardwood.

In fact, by the time she was an adolescent, Lacey had already appeared in numerous roles as an extra and appeared in several commercials. In addition to her Screen Actor's Guild credits, she also had Hollywood connections. Close friends like Lark Voorhies, who co-starred in the teen-age sitcom Saved by the Bell, and Jaleel White, better known as Urkel of the hit show Family Matters, were just starting their careers and it appeared that Lacey would soon follow the same path.

But just prior to starting high school, Lacey moved away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to Berkeley, where she began attending Berkeley High. It turned out to be a move that would dramatically alter the direction of her life.

Shortly after arriving at Berkeley High, she was asked to try out for the girl's basketball team. Although she had never played organized basketball before, she earned a spot on the nationally-ranked squad.

"I had just started playing basketball and to experience something like that when I was just beginning to explore new possibilities and learn about myself was great," recalled Lacey. "What made it so special is that it was something that was new to me and something I didn't know I was so good at."

Good might be an understatement. By the time Lacey graduated in 1993, she had helped lead Berkeley High to a 30-2 record and a state championship title in 1992 and was rated as the state's third-best post player coming out of high school.

Numerous scholarship offers ensued, and Lacey signed a letter of intent to attend New Mexico State during the early signing period. But Lacey came up just short of a qualifying mark on the SAT and instead of attending an NCAA Division I program out of high school, she was forced to enroll at a junior college.

"When I found out I was going to have to go to junior college, I almost gave up basketball," Lacey said. "It made me want to focus on my acting and just forget college. It became a big issue with my family because I was beginning to get a lot of extra roles and commercials. But my father said I needed to go and finish school first. Now that I look back on it he was right. I thought I had missed out on a great opportunity. But after I got to junior college, I felt like it was fate."

Instead of succumbing to frustration, Lacey used the circumstances to better herself-both on and off the court. Not only did she lead Howard County College (Big Spring, Texas) to the national junior college title game in each of her two years at the school, but she also hit the books and posted a 4.0 grade point average through her first year.

Having proven herself at the juco level, when the recruiting process started again, it was big-time programs like Alabama, Connecticut and Georgia that came calling. Lacey, whose family had ties to the south, selected Alabama. But by Christmas of her first year with the Crimson Tide, she knew it wasn't the right fit. And when Cal head coach Marianne Stanley, who was then coaching at Stanford but would eventually sign on with the Golden Bears, found out Lacey was looking to transfer, she offered the 6-0 power forward a chance to come home.

"My relationship with coach Stanley goes back to when I was a sophomore at Berkeley High School," said Lacey. "She was recruiting some of my teammates and she knew my high school coaches real well. When she offered me a chance to come home, it felt so right. I just had to jump at it."

Cal basketball fans are certainly glad she did. After redshirting last season, Lacey hit the floor the season ready to make an impact in her final year of eligibility. As the Bears leading rebounder (7.0 rpg) and the second-leading scorer (10.2 ppg), Lacey has made a significant contribution in the paint and provided crucial leadership to a young Cal team that figures to continue improving.

And it just goes to show, you can go home again.