You could say that Joanne Boyle took ownership of Cal women’s basketball on November 12, 2008, the day she signed the highest-rated recruiting class in the program’s history. Mind you, Boyle already had built Cal into a national contender, a team that has beaten Pac-10 kingpin Stanford twice in the past two seasons and even climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings. However, she achieved that with the highly rated recruits that her predecessor, Caren Horstmeyer, had signed in 2004. Those five gifted freshmen were part of what lured Boyle to Cal from the University of Richmond, in Virginia, in the first place. Now, except for fifth-year senior Alexis Gray-Lawson, the players from the 2005 freshman class are gone, and Boyle is virtually starting over. And she is starting over in style.
Seven of the twelve players on Cal’s roster are freshmen, and all seven newcomers—Gennifer Brandon, Eliza Pierre, Tierra Rogers, DeNesha Stallworth, Talia Caldwell, Layshia Clarendon, and Brenna Heater—were ranked among the top 100 recruits in the country by ESPN.com. Four of them—Brandon, Pierre, Rogers, and Stallworth—were McDonald’s All-Americans. No other college signed more than two. With the influx of such remarkable talent, Cal now hopes to continue its success despite the departure of veteran players.
Of course, anything can happen—a fact underscored by the collapse of Tierra Rogers following a conditioning drill in September. The young athlete, who was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, underwent surgery to have a defibrillator implanted. Her Cal basketball career ended even before it started.
This kind of circumstance is why Boyle asks potential recruits if they would still want to be at Cal even if basketball were taken away. It’s that forthright approach that has won over many of the current freshmen. "The big difference in the recruiting was that Coach Boyle was very honest," Stallworth said. "She wouldn’t tell you what you wanted to hear. Others would say, ‘Oh, you’ll start.’ She didn’t say that."
"She was really straightforward about how you fit in," said Clarendon, a member of the USA Under-19 team that won the world championship this summer. "No promises. Other coaches didn’t break it down like her."
Depth of talent in the lineup is often difficult for a program to maintain. No one wants to warm the bench, after all, and three players transferred from Cal in the off-season, presumably to get more playing time. Fortunately, Boyle continues to attract top high school seniors. Afure Jemerigbe and Lindsay Sherbert, the nation’s No. 15– and No. 29–ranked high school senior players according to ESPN.com, have already signed to Cal for next year.
That’s a good sign, but Boyle knows that talent alone doesn’t equal success on the court; a seamless mix of personalities and experience is also key. Boyle thinks the current Cal lineup has it. "There’s no overbearing personalities in this group," she said. "You wouldn’t know who are the seniors and who are the freshmen."