Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cal's Brittany Boyd Made 2013 Full of Memorable Moments for Golden Bears and Herself

By Rob Knox

Not many people enjoyed a better year than California junior guard Brittany Boyd.

She got an opportunity to share her basketball gifts with the world from the comforts of home while simultaneously helping lift the 21st-ranked California women’s program into the national spotlight.

In the past 12 months, Boyd helped Cal end Stanford’s 81-game conference winning streak by scoring 19 points, advance to its first Final Four in school history, earned all Pac-12 team honors and made two trips across the country to Washington, D.C. and New York City. Not bad for somebody, who at one point thought about playing college basketball on the East Coast.

The Berkeley native and her teammates got a chance to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and other attractions in the nation’s capital last month. Then, the Golden Bears, who got into town late Friday night because of final exams, experienced the city that never sleeps by visiting the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, seeing the Christmas Musical spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, meeting rapper 50 Cent, shopping in Times Square and eating some great food.

For Boyd, the best moment may have been taking a picture while wearing pink headphones with a Cappie Pondexter lifesize poster at Madison Square Garden.

Pondexter, the former Rutgers all-American and WNBA All-Star who plays for the New York Liberty, is Boyd’s favorite basketball player.

Boyd’s hoop dreams have become reality.

“I never imagined in a million years that I’d be playing in Madison Square Garden or in the Final Four,” Boyd said. “It was a blessing to play here and to support Maggie Dixon. It was a good feeling and come to New York around the Christmas holidays. To be able to spend this time with my team was truly amazing, so I am really thankful for the experience.”

Not even a tough performance in her Madison Square Garden debut against top-ranked Connecticut during an 80-47 loss Sunday afternoon in the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic was enough to wipe the smile off of the face of the affable Boyd, who finished with nine points. Just having the opportunity to play in the same arena as her favorite basketball player against the reigning national champions was an experience to cherish.

Boyd, who perfectly blends California cool with East Coast grit and toughness, should have future opportunities to enjoy better performances on Broadway if she is fortunate enough to reach the WNBA as her game continues to evolve.

As she exited Madison Square Garden Sunday and headed out into an unusually warm New York December afternoon wearing a pair of gray sweatpants, a gray and gold Cal basketball hoodie and black flip flops, Boyd must have felt like she was back home in Berkeley instead of in the shadow of the Empire State Building. She signed basketballs, photos and game programs for a gaggle of excited girls and then hugged family members and supporters. Boyd then crossed 33rd street as the Cal team bus headed for the airport with friends to enjoy some more time in Gotham.

For the Berkley born and bred Boyd, there truly isn’t any place in the world like home.

A satisfying package of electricity, excitement and elusiveness, Boyd is delighted that she made the decision to attend Cal with its beautiful Berkeley campus. She has her own cheering section at Haas Pavilion and No. 15 jerseys are as common in Northern California as fog and traffic. Fans, teammates and supporters of women’s basketball are thrilled Boyd took her talents across town.

Although Boyd is still dynamic and capable of breaking ankles at any given moment, she has tempered those parts of her game this season while adjusting to the new challenge of leading a young and talented team. She is still one of the nation’s best players as evidenced by her season averages of 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the 7-3 Golden Bears.

During last year’s run to the Final Four, Boyd didn’t have a worry in the world. She had the luxury of thrilling crowds while playing alongside Laysia Claredon, who did it all for the Golden Bears and was drafted by the Indiana Fever.

“This year has been a challenge for me to be that leader on the floor,” Boyd said. “It’s been two things this year. I have to produce on the floor and communicate to my team. Last year, it wasn’t so much of that because I had Laysia by my side and she was the talker and produced. All I had to do was come to play and give 110 percent. Now the roles are switched where I am that person. I knew coming into the season, that there were going to be some big shoes to fill. I believe I am capable of feeling those shoes. Right now, things haven’t been going in my favor, but I’m not doubting myself.”

Boyd is probably being a little hard on herself because she expects perfection each time she sleeps, practices, watches film, lifts weights, andshoots in the gym by herself and during games.

That intensity is contagious and it has rubbed off on her Cal teammates, who have followed Boyd’s lead.

Her hard work and dedication to her craft has helped Boyd become a household name and one of the most exciting players in the country. She is must-watch television whenever Cal is on the tube.

While Boyd’s pleasant personality endears herself to people, it’s her refreshing honesty and willingness to accept responsibility when things go wrong that have made her a special individual.

As an example, Boyd responded after being held scoreless for the first time in her career against Northwestern on Nov. 25.

Since that game Boyd has been on fire for the Golden Bears. She bounced back by posting near-double-doubles against Idaho (15 points,8 rebounds and 8 assists) and Pacific (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals) along with a 12-assist outing against Bakersfield.

Though she did plenty of good things against the Huskies like collect six steals, Boyd took accountability and promised to be better following her 3-for-23 shooting performance by saying: “I have to be better than that.” Boyd fearlessly attacked the basket and showed no fear of consistently driving the ball into Connecticut’s tall front line. Shots Boyd normally makes in her sleep rolled off the rim or spun out of the basket.

“She’s a pleasure to coach and have around,” Cal coach Lindsey Gotleib said. “The kid is dynamic. She’s continuing to get better and learn. She’s fun to be around and fun to watch, which is good for women’s basketball. This year, she’s taken on a major leadership role. Even though she started on a Final 4 team, she has had to think about everything that goes into leading a team this year. Even though the numbers don’t show it, I think her shot is better.”

Boyd is quickly establishing her legacy at Cal. Already with 900 career points, Boyd is seventh in program history with 379 assists and sixth with 213 steals. During last year’s NCAA tournament experience, Boyd was at her best by averaging 13.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists, She grabbed a career high 13 rebounds in Cal’s first round game against Fresno State.

Although Boyd had visions of playing college basketball on the East Coast coming out of high school, she still accomplished her goal of shining on the opposite coast.

It’s funny how things have a way of working out. Boyd is not a messiah or anything like that, but she has enjoyed showcasing Cal to the masses east of the Mississippi River used to consistently watching, reading and talking about the likes of Notre Dame, Tennessee, UConn and Duke.

Thanks to Boyd’s electric style of play, Cal women’s basketball is part of the discussion.

“I am honored to be here at Cal playing,” Boyd said. “It’s been cool to bring west coast basketball to the east coast and get people here familiar with our program. This year has been fun because we’ve gotten a chance to play different teams and share many great experiences, especially being able to play here in Madison Square Garden where legends have played.”

Even with a bright future and potentially more magical moments ahead of her, Boyd may not be all the excited to see the calendar turn to 2014 next week. Fortunately thanks to social media, Boyd has many of the highlights from this year saved on her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

“My experience in the Final 4 was my best memory of 2013,” Boyd said. “That whole season last year with that team was so amazing. We had fun and stayed humbled during the entire ride. I feel like at times when I think about everything that happened this year; that it’s too good to be true. This year has been a blessing and I don’t take anything for granted.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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