BERKELEY – The California women’s basketball team began preparations Saturday for its 10-day goodwill tour in China that will take place Aug. 17-26.
The Bears held the first of 10 team practices Saturday afternoon at Haas Pavilion to prepare for the three-game trip that is sponsored by the Pac-12 Globalization Initiative. Although many of the players have worked out or played pick-up with each other since the summer began, Saturday marked the first time that all 13 Golden Bears suited up and met at the gym with the coaching staff, an experience that usually happens in October rather than the first week of August.
“It feels really exciting to be out here,” senior Mikayla Lyles said following the practice. “It’s the first time we’ve been on the court as a team since the Final Four. We have some fresh new faces and a different vibe going on here. We’re excited to see what it would look like, and it turned out great. Everyone bought in and everyone was ready to go. It was a good first practice.”
The Bears return three starters and seven letterwinners from last season’s Pac-12 regular season champion and NCAA Final Four participant team that went 32-4 overall and 17-1 in conference play. Although players like WNBA selection Layshia Clarendon and 1,000-1,000 club member Talia Caldwell are no longer wearing the blue and gold, key returnees for the Golden Bears include All-American Gennifer Brandon, All-Pac-12 selection Brittany Boyd, Afure Jemerigbe and Reshanda Gray who recently returned from Russia while competing for the United States at the World Junior Championships.
Additionally, head coach Lindsay Gottlieb welcomes four newcomers in a recruiting class that was ranked in the Top 25 by every major recruiting service. Joining the Bears are Hind Ben Abdelkader, Mercedes Jefflo, Courtney Range and KC Waters.
“They’re doing really well,” Lyles said of the freshmen. “They’ve all pretty much came in extremely coachable and willing to work hard. It’s been a pretty easy transition for the team and coaches.”
CATCHING UP WITH MIKAYLA LYLES
Bay Area native Lyles cemented her spot in California women’s basketball lore on Sunday, January 13 when – in front of a nationally-televised ESPN2 audience – she led Cal to a 67-55 win at No. 5 Stanford. Lyles scored a career-high 14 points after blowing the game open over the final 6:12 of the first half when she went 4-for-5 from the 3-point line and 5-for-6 overall to put the Bears ahead for good.
So what has Lyles been up to since Cal’s Final Four run last spring?
“All summer I’ve been here taking summer school classes and working out,” Lyles said. “I did a little bit of travel, but mostly I stayed in Berkeley.”
Taking summer school classes is no surprise as Lyles has been a model student and a Pac-12 All-Academic Team selection in her career. But as the Bears prepare to travel to China, it turns out that her early summer trips will be prepare her well for Cal’s impending visit.
“I went to the Philippines and Thailand right when school ended,” Lyles said of her trip. “I was there for 10 days. Southeast Asia is an incredible place. It’s very different and a culture shock to say the least, but it was pretty cool.”
With her early Southeast Asia fix, Lyles is looking forward to heading slightly north for Cal’s visit to China. The Bears will start with Beijing before visiting Shanghai and finishing the 10-day trip in Hong Kong. For her part, Lyles is ready to take on the experience head first and take on everything that the country has to offer.
“I’m ready to go!,” Lyles said. “I don’t know if too many people are looking to get into the cuisine and the life of what China is like, but I’m down. I’m ready to try some new things, see some new faces, people and places. I’m ready to go. It’s going to be my little Asia summer!”