Back In Camp: Women's Basketball
The Cal women's basketball team held its first official practice on Tuesday, and there was a mix of familiar faces along with some new ones as the Bears welcome back three full-time starters and five newcomers. The team returns reigning Pac-12 Media Freshman of the Year Jayda Curry and brings on Utah transfer Kemery Martin, who was twice named a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention while playing for the Utes.
Curry wasted no time making a name for herself in the Pac-12 last season, becoming the first player in conference history to earn three consecutive Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors to open a season. She also became the first freshman in Pac-12 history to lead the conference in scoring (18.6 ppg) and finished the season ranked second in the country in scoring among all freshman. In what would be her most dominant performance last season, Curry scored a career-high 30 points against Stanford to become the first Cal player to score 30 or more in a game since Jaelyn Brown had 30 against Arkansas on Nov. 24, 2019.
Head Coach Charmin Smith expects even bigger things out of Curry this season.
"This is the second time around and she is getting more comfortable with our program," Smith said. "We've added some more weapons that will take the pressure off of her and allow her to do more. I don't think teams will be able to just lock in on Jayda."
Smith is excited about the additions the team has made, along with the talent from last year that is returning to the team. Incoming freshman Amaya Bonner was a four-star prospect (according to ESPN) who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game her senior year in high school. Senior guard Leilani McIntosh led the team in steals last season (2.1spg) which ranked third in the Pac-12 and has twice earned Pac-12 All-Defensive Honorable Mention honors. Junior forward Michelle Onyiah showed her durability last season as she was only one of three players to appear in all 24 games. Senior forward Evelien Lutje Schipholt started all 24 games last season and led the team in rebounding (6.8rpg) which ranked in the top 10 in the conference.
"We expect Amaya coming in as a freshman to contribute a lot," Smith said. "We're also seeing a lot of improvement in our returners in Leilani, Michelle and Eef. I just think this is a much better team which will make things easier for Jayda to do even more."
A Desert News Ms. Basketball award winner and five-star recruit (according to ESPN.com) out of high school, Martin appeared in 52 career games with 26 starts at Utah.
"I just remember how successful she had been in Pac-12 play," Smith said. "When she came out for her official visit, she enjoyed the team and thought this would be a great fit for her. I think she can help us a lot."
Smith believes Martin is ready to be an immediate offensive threat for the team. "She's a baller and extremely skilled offensively," Smith added. "She has an aggressive mindset and wants to get to the basket. She can shoot it from the perimeter, is a really dynamic offensive player with good size and length and is a pretty powerful weapon that we're adding to our arsenal."
Before the team took the court Tuesday, the players and coaches embarked on a preseason European tour over the summer that took them around Spain and Croatia. The trip was a great opportunity for the team to come together and participate in several team-building activities.
"From a team bonding and culture standpoint, anytime you travel 1,000 miles away and are away from your comfort and get into a completely different element it challenges you," Smith said. "Doing that as a group brings you closer together."
The trip was especially meaningful as the Bears feature four European players who were able to play in front of friends and family. Of note, sophomore Claudia Langarita is from Barcelona and got to serve as a tour guide for the Spain portion of the trip.
The tour also gave many of the players a chance to get some extra run in as the Bears played three exhibition games in 10 days.
"From a basketball perspective I was really looking forward to see what other people could do not named Jayda or Leilani," Smith said. "It was really great to give other people some more minutes and opportunities and incorporate the transfers and the newcomers."
Giving back was also a theme for the Bears in Europe as the team put on a basketball clinic for children on the beach in Croatia as well as one in Spain that was led completely by the players.
"There were about 60 kids that were involved in the basketball clinic [in Spain]," Smith added. "It was really special and Michelle got in a dunk for the kids towards the end. It was just really good to be involved and have people be aware of Cal and be able to give back to those communities."
Bears fans will hear a lot about Curry and Martin this season but Smith believes this is a deep team that will see contributions from a lot of different areas. Transfer Peanut Tuitele is a strong leader as evidenced by the fact she received the Ceal Barry Pride Award her last year at Colorado which goes to a player who shows in the team through leadership and a strong work ethic. Senior guard Jazlen Green played a significant role last season with a career-best 11 starts and led the team in 3-point field goals made which was good for a top 10 ranking in the Pac-12.
"It's going to be the other pieces that are going to the be the key to us getting to postseason play," Smith said. "Peanut is a phenomenal addition and we're seeing continuous improvement from players like Eef, Leilani and Jazz. We have some players that are hungry to take this program to the next level."
KEY UPCOMING DATES
The Bears tip off the season with an exhibition game at home against Vanguard on Nov. 3 and play a nonconference schedule that includes a nationally televised (NBC) game against Notre Dame on Nov. 12 in the inaugural Citi Shamrock Classic, a Thanksgiving Tournament (Nov. 25-26) at Loyola Marymount and the annual Raising the B.A.R. Invitational (Dec. 3-4) at Haas Pavilion. Cal begins the conference slate with a road matchup against Stanford on Dec. 23.
For ticket information on the 2022-23 season, visit CalBears.com/tickets or call (800) GO BEARS (462-3277) and press option 3.
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