Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Cal's Recee Caldwell using her limited time wisely

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Imagine the double-dutch jump ropes, each twirling in opposite directions, revealing fleeting opportunities to jump through the opening and enter the game.

That’s pretty close to what it was like for California senior guard Recee’ Caldwell, coming into the Bears program as a fifth-year graduate transfer. Caldwell, however, found just the right moment to enter the game.

“She has brought us things we didn’t know we needed,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “From a personality standpoint, a skill standpoint, I knew we were getting something great. And she has exceeded my expectations. We only have her for one year, but she will leave a lasting mark on this team.”

Caldwell was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week this week for a stellar set of games against Arizona State and Arizona that resulted in a pair of critical victories for the Bears as the season barrels toward the postseason.

“She was a force of nature in those two games,” Gottlieb said.

Caldwell averaged 22.5 points in those wins, going 8-for-13 beyond the 3-point arc, willing the Bears to a comeback win on Senior Day with a career-high 24 points to lead her team back from a 20-point deficit. Caldwell is averaging 9.7 points a game, with a team-leading 113 assists for the season.

Caldwell, the first graduate transfer in program history, wasn't a stranger when she arrived on campus. She has known Gottlieb since she was 14 years old. She’s known many of the other Cal players through the club circuit.

Her younger sister, Desiree, plays at USC. Some of her Cal teammates are her sister’s friends.

“Coming in here, it wasn’t like I was the new kid. It was like I was with family the whole time,” Caldwell said. “I am very invested in this team. When you love people, you are willing to go to war with them.”

Caldwell said the toughest part was integrating with her new teammates on the floor.

“Learning how to play with two other point guards, because I’ve been so ball dominant for most of my career, that was hard,” Caldwell said. “It took me a little longer than I wanted to, knowing where my teammates want the ball, when and where they want it. But I feel like we are peaking at the right time.”

Gottlieb said that Caldwell is a mix of “moxie and confidence, draped in this grace and pleasantness with a voice that’s solidly powerful and positive.”

“I’ve never heard so many ‘Yes, maam's and ‘No maam's in my life,” Gottlieb said. “The kid is polite, but it’s the way she handles coaching. It impacts everyone else, the way she looks you in the eye and shakes her head. She has this real sense of buy-in.”

The kind of buy-in that happens when you are playing with limited time.

Caldwell began her college career at UCLA, an injury cutting short her freshman season. She transferred to Texas Tech, where she played for most of three seasons, though her 2017-18 season for the Raider Raiders was also cut short by injury. In 2016-17 she led Texas Tech in scoring at 14.5 points a game and has twice played with USA Basketball on the Under-16 and Under-18 national teams.

The only thing she’s never done, Caldwell has never played in a postseason game. She was injured when UCLA made its run to the WNIT title in 2015. A big part of the reason that she came to Cal was a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“I told her, you are too good a player never to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Gottlieb said. “When we were heading into the final stretch of the Arizona game, it was an emotional moment. Part of what I told the team was ‘We owe it to this kid, and to our seniors to finish this’. I’m excited to finish strong and have this kid play on the biggest stage, because that’s where she belongs.”

What’s the one thing that this 22-year-old graduate student, taking a full load of classes to earn her Masters in Public Health, knows that her younger teammates do not?

“The one thing I always harp on with the younger players is that your process takes time,” Caldwell said. “There are special people out there like Kristine, who score 50 points as a freshman and are national freshman of the year. But those are like once in a generation players,” Caldwell said. “But other people’s processes take time. You need to stick to your path and stop looking at everyone else.

“I know what that’s like. I felt myself looking at my best friends Jordin (Canada) and Mo (Billings). They were lottery picks and they are already in the WNBA. I could have looked at them and been discouraged, because here I am, still in college, honestly. For me, I had to understand that’s not my path and everyone is different and things work out for a reason. Just stay focused and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page. She was just named winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball.

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