SPOKANE, Wash. -- For the second week in a row, Cal's women's basketball program spent a NCAA Tournament press conference answering a lot of questions that didn't have much to do with basketball.
The Bears wouldn't want it any other way.
Not only does Cal embrace its personality and its culture off the court, it helps fuel its performance on the court. The Bears are a collection of unique and compelling personalities; not separate but intertwined in a way that produces an exemplary model of a team.
After last week discussing President Barack Obama's bracket that had Cal advancing to the Final Four, the Bears spent much of their news conference Thursday talking about a music video the team produced and released on Wednesday. Using a song called "Started From The Bottom" that was written primarily by backup point guard Eliza Pierre with conceptual help from guard Mikayla Lyles, video coordinator Erik Williams produced the video which included players and the program's support staff as well.
"My philosophy in general is that college athletics should be an enjoyable experience for the people that are involved in it," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "That doesn't mean they love every second. I'm pretty sure they don't love sprints and drills and every type of off-season workout. But I do think that you have to embrace their nature of being fun-loving. I think you have to empower them to enjoy the experience. And I think I can do that because I'm so confident in their focus level. I'm so confident that the basketball is serious to them."
The formula has obviously worked. Cal won a share of its first-ever Pac-12 championship this season, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and is in its second-ever Sweet Sixteen, where it will meet sixth-seeded LSU here Saturday night. At 30-3, the Bears have amassed their most wins in a single season in school history.
And they have done so balancing those personalities, ones that have a lot in common but that can also be strong at times. And ones that have never caused players to lose sight of the responsibility, commitment and affection they have for one another.
"I think it speaks to Lindsay's coaching mentality and style, how she really relates to the players," Cal guard Layshia Clarendon said. "'I don't know if a lot of head coaches around the country would let their players make this kind of video going into the tournament. It really speaks to her supporting us and all we want to do - our dreams, our hopes, our goals, our just wanting to have fun. We're really thankful to be in a program like this where they do support us."
While Pierre admitted this is now a serious time - the stakes keep getting higher as the Bears advance further into the tournament - it doesn't seem to have affected Cal's attitude. The Bears were a loose bunch before taking the floor at Spokane Arena for practice today. The team was singing and dancing in the locker room before practice, even engaging in a pseudo flash mob with a loosely choreographed dance.
As the team warmed up before practice, the Bears took part in their usual ritual of tossing a football around. And point guard Brittany Boyd borrowed a photographer's camera and took Gottlieb's picture from across the court.
"Our team is really loose and we like to have fun," Pierre said. "It was about to get real serious so we wanted to have fun and make the music video. Just to have the coaches approve that and say that they want us to have fun, that they want the world to see us as a team, I think that we were really appreciative of that."