A Coach's Job Begins Off the Court 

Coach Joanne Boyle has built the Cal women's basketball program by treating team members as people as well as players.

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"If you're going to be a coach and invest this much time in young adult's lives, you have to be about who they are," Boyle said. "I just don't think, the way this business presents itself today, you can walk into the gym and be with them for a couple of hours and walk out. That's not who I am, that's not why I got into the business."


A critical moment occurred in April 2007, following Boyle's second year in Berkeley. Gail Goestenkors, Boyle's mentor at Duke University, resigned and took the head coaching job at the University of Texas. Boyle was an assistant under Goestenkors for nine years prior to going to Richmond, a period during which Duke was wildly successful, becoming known along with Tennessee, Connecticut, and Stanford as one of the signature programs of the sport. Everyone in the sport assumed Boyle would leave Cal and take the opening at Duke, her alma mater.

After all, Boyle was from the East, growing up a few hundred miles away in Philadelphia and suburban Pittsburgh. Her extended family remained in pockets on the East Coast. And Boyle's mom was living alone, one year after Boyle's father had passed away in 2006. If she took the Duke position, her mother could attend Boyle's games, helping her through the grieving process.

For two weeks, Boyle weighed the factors. Her mom encouraged her to follow her heart. And Boyle did, deciding to stay at Cal and fulfill her original promise to her players: "I know how to do this. We can do it together."

Boyle's team had assumed she was going to Duke. When she didn't, they knew she had stayed for them. Her forthrightness was unblemished. The team returned the favor, winning 27 games and earning a top-10 national ranking for the first time in school history. The team faltered in the NCAA tournament, losing to George Washington in the second round, as it still lacked the depth needed to make a deep run.

But with her decision to stay, Boyle could hit the recruiting trail with enormous power. No longer could other Pac-10 coaches recruit against her by saying she's got one foot out the door. And with two winning campaigns in the bank, incoming players could envision themselves as the missing piece.

No longer was Cal just a good team. Now it was a good program.

This year, after a pair of second-place finishes in the conference, Cal is picked to finish second again. UC Berkeley's three revenue sports — football and men's and women's basketball — have never captured an outright Pac-10 conference title, dating back to 1978, when the original eight schools welcomed Arizona and Arizona State.

This lack of recent success is one disadvantage the programs face. High admission standards are also both a source of pride and a challenge in recruiting. Finally, African-American student athletes visit the campus and don't see that many similar faces. Currently, black students comprise just 4 percent of the student population.

And those are just the internal obstacles. Across the bay, Stanford has dominated women's basketball on the West Coast, capturing nine consecutive Pac-10 championships beginning in 2001. It's not a stretch to say that every aspiring female prep athlete in the country is familiar with Stanford because of Tara VanDerveer and her successful teams. This year, with superstar center Jayne Appel of Pleasant Hill, Stanford could field its best team ever. "She's got 25 years of history over there," Boyle said. "She's done it year after year after year. And we're still new"

In the last two years, 10,000 fans have packed Haas Pavilion for the Stanford game in hopes that Cal could bring about a changing of the guard. In January, with Gray-Lawson scoring a career-best 37 points, the Bears managed a narrow three-point win. The crowd roared with approval, while the Bears rushed the court to congratulate each other. The scene didn't go unnoticed by VanDerveer.

"It was as loud as I've ever heard it over here," she said. "It was a great crowd. People were into it."

Still it was just a bump in the road for the Cardinal. After the narrow loss, Stanford ripped off 18 wins in a row and went to the NCAA Final Four for the second straight season. Cal went on to win 27 games, but had to settle for second place.

"Competing for a Pac-10 title is a monster of a challenge," Barbour said. "You're not talking about an easy feat."

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