Pac-10 preview: the University of California Berkeley

Prior to the commencement of the 2009-2010 college basketball season, Hoopism will profile various NCAA teams. Today, the final installment of the Pac-10 previews: the University of Califorina, Berkeley Bears.

by Daniel Uribe

The Cal Bears have a strange roster this year: there is only one junior on the team, and no sophomores. There are four seniors, and six freshmen. It’s not often that there is such an example of extremes, but such is life in transition for an up-and-coming program.

Coach Joanne Boyle and her staff last year had what many deemed the number one recruiting class in the nation, with seven heralded freshmen: DeNesha Stallworth, a 6’3″ forward/center from Richmond, CA; McDonald’s All-Americans Gennifer Brandon, a 6’2″ forward from Chatsworth, CA, and Eliza Pierre, a 5’7″ guard from Pasadena, CA; 6’3″ centers Talia Caldwell, from Los Angeles, CA and Brenna Heater, from Ashland, OR; and WBCA All-American Layshia Clarendon, a 5’9″ guard from San Bernardino, CA. Tierra Rogers, the seventh freshman recruited by Boyle, will no longer play after being diagnosed with a heart defect and undergoing surgery last month. However, Rogers is still on scholarship and is part of the basketball program.

The last vestige of the heralded 2009 class, Alexis Gray-Lawson, is still here to usher in the next generation of freshmen and pass the torch, so to speak. With that new generation comes the hope of many California hoop fans that their state will remain strong national player producers and grow into a power that will also challenge Stanford for West Coast supremacy.

While the freshman now outnumber the returning players, the Golden Bears will rely heavily on Gray-Lawson (12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and senior guards Natasha Vital (8.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Lauren Greif (6.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg) to pick up the slack after the departure of program stalwarths Ashley Walker and Devanei Hampton. Arguably, the most experienced backcourt in the Pac-10, Cal will most likely look to open up the floor to allow the guards to attack more while the group of freshmen posts adjusts to the college level. Increased production will be expected from Gray-Lawson, who had a 37-point performance in the first game versus Stanford, and must pick up the slack offensively if the Bears are to have success.

The only veteran experience left in the post is senior forward/center Rama N’Diaye (2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg) who missed most of last season after a knee injury suffered at the end of her sophomore year. N’Diaye is coming off surgery in the offseason to repair her meniscus and is still rehabing but is expected to play during the nonconference season. After the loss of Kelsey Adrian, Casey Morris and Angelei Aguirre last year due to transfers, the only other returning member is junior guard Rachelle Federico (1.3 ppg, 0.5 rpg), which will leave the Bears with only 11 activer players, but the teams roster has never been very large considering it has gone through transfers and players decommitting in the past.

California will open the season at home versus Idaho State on Nov. 15.

(Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native, former reporter and Pac-10 expert).