Rising Erica McCall ready to finish strong for Stanford

Erica McCall battles to put the shot in. Photo by Bob Drebin/isiphotos.com.
Erica McCall battles to put the shot in. Photo by Bob Drebin/isiphotos.com.

Senior forward Erica McCall has grown a lot in her time at Stanford University.

She came in 2013, as the eleventh-ranked prospect in her high school class. McCall was a reserve player on a team that went to the Final Four that year, lead by All-American senior Chiney Ogwumike. McCall maintained a steady presence during her sophomore season.

In July of 2015, McCall played on USA Basketball’s World University Games team, where she played an integral part in bringing home a sixth gold medal for the United States. The series was hard-fought, and included a two-overtime semifinal win.

McCall returned to the Cardinal for her junior season rejuvenated, and lead the team in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.4 rebounds per game) for the year. Stanford overcame a disappointing Pac-12 Tournament showing to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

So far this season, McCall is again leading the team in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (8.4). She ranks fifth in the Pac-12 Conference in scoring and seventh in rebounds. Currently, the Cardinal are ranked tenth in the AP top 25 poll.

A Bakersfield, Calif. native, McCall is the daughter of Cal State Bakersfield coach Greg McCall, and is the sister of Phoenix Mercury guard DeWanna Bonner. A few weeks ago, Stanford and CSUB played the second in a two-year series that saw Stanford go 2-0. Bonner surprised her sister by showing up, as she sported a CSUB shirt and a Stanford hat.

McCall is known to teammates and coaches by the nickname “Bird.” She said Ogwumike and fellow teammate Mikaela Ruef felt the need to give her a handle when she was a freshman, because there was already another Erica on the team, in junior Erica Payne. They chose “Bird” because McCall’s last name resembled a bird call.

Besides the Final Four, another highlight of McCall’s freshman year was playing a starring role in Stanford Athletics’ N-E-R-D-S video.

Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said she has loved working with McCall.

“Bird has had a fabulous career at Stanford and is an absolute joy to coach,” VanDerveer said. “She’s a great basketball player and a wonderful person, works hard and is very coachable. She’s continued to improve each and every year. You can see that with the confidence she has in her game and the confidence her teammates have in her as well.”

Your junior season was a break out year for you, statistically, and you’re still playing at that high level. What factors contributed to the surge in your performance?

My confidence has definitely grown since the beginning of my junior year, and it’s carried over to this year. I’ve had a different mind set these years, and that’s why I play at the level I can, and continue to work hard.

A lot of it came from playing on the World University Games team, which was a confidence-booster for me. Going out there and playing well made me super-excited for the coming season.

What do you do on your own time to make yourself a better player?

Tara and I sat down and wrote down my goals for the year, including what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to do that. I’m one of the first on the court before practice, and I’m one of the last to leave. I’m really focused on my goals for the season, and on getting drafted into the WNBA and playing overseas after that. I think my hard work has shown results, and will continue to do so.

You were mentored by Chiney Ogwumike your freshman year. What did you learn playing with her?

Chiney never gave up. She balled out day in and day out, and made me excited to play. Seeing how aggressive she played really inspired me, and she was a great leader, too. I hope I’m making her proud right now, because I’m trying to be as good as a leader to our team now as she was when she was a senior.

What was it like going to the Final Four in your freshman year?

It’s crazy to think we were able to do that. It gave me a little taste of the success I was going to have. I was a freshman and not getting the minutes I wanted in that Final four game, but getting a little taste of it made me hungry to go back again. And I think we can get there. We have a great, solid team with a good mix of under- and upperclassmen.

What are your goals for this year, your last at Stanford?

We want to get back to the Final Four and win a National Championship.

What has the scholastic experience at Stanford been like for you? How do you balance being a student with being an athlete?

My freshman year was a tough adjustment from high school, and I struggled to adjust. I learned how to balance studying and playing basketball, and I got the hang of it. Of course, Stanford is a tough school, but mastering that balance has helped me learn how to manage my time well.

How does discipline play a role?

Stanford creates a certain kind of student, which is why so many successful people have graduated from this school. They challenge you, push you and make you a better person.

What has been your most memorable “Stanford moment”?

Making the “Nerd Nation” video with Chiney. They still play it in the library here.

What age did you begin playing basketball, and who put the ball in your hand?

I started playing around age four, and of course it was my dad who put the ball in my hand. I started playing organized ball around nine, and that’s when we had the conversation as to whether or not I wanted to take it seriously and get invested. From that point, my dad started training me.

When you talk to your sister, do you talk about basketball, or not?

We talk about basketball, because that’s a lot of what my whole family’s bond is built on, is the game. We also talk about life; DeWanna and I have a good balance.

Was the two-year Stanford vs. Cal State Bakersfield series fun for you and your dad?

It was an amazing experience. Obviously we both love each other a lot, but we both wanted to win, and we both have very competitive natures. So when the ball went up, it was a battle. My sister showed up, so that was amazing and it surprised me and got me super-hyped to want to play even better. It was such a fun experience.

Did you always see yourself playing college ball? 

In about eighth grade, I realized I could have a future in this.

What are your career aspirations after basketball?

I’m ultimately thinking of going to business school and learning about the non-profit sector. I want to re-open the Bakersfield YMCA that closed down years ago. That really helped me develop when I was young, as it helped many others. I want to help the youth of Bakersfield, because there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for some of them there.

What has basketball taught you about life?

The game of basketball has taught me that as basketball is a game of ups and downs, so is life. In both cases, it’s about how you choose to react to those ups and down that determines how successful you’ll be.

What’s on your music playlist?

A lot of old school – Mariah, Whitney, Toni Braxton – that kind of music.

The New Jack swing era? That’s my favorite period of music.

Yes, me too.

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