Where the heart is
Cal's Joanne Boyle stayed despite a tempting offer
Posted: Friday December 7, 2007 1:36PM; Updated: Friday December 7, 2007 1:36PM
When Gail Goestenkors left Duke for Texas last spring, it was only natural that former assistant Joanne Boyle fill her spot. An East Coast kid and one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks, Boyle simply had to say yes when the AD offered her the gig.
Boyle, who had just completed her second season at Cal, wasn't ready to pick up and leave. She wasn't ready to abandon a team she led to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 12 years, even for a program that had made the Final Four a regular event. Even if it meant not going home to where she graduated from in 1985, where she learned the coaching ropes as an assistant, and where her mother still lives.
"For those four days, I prayed a lot about just what I should be doing," Boyle said. "I kept coming back to two years ago with this really young group, when I kept telling them, 'Trust me, trust me.' If I walk away now, what does that say to them? We hadn't done anything yet. We had some great years, but we were one and done in the tournament. We had more to do. How do I get on a plane and leave?'"
So she stayed.
That hasn't stopped the media from revisiting what might have been and what is. For instance, on Dec. 6, Boyle boarded a plane headed back east again -- this time with her Golden Bears along for the ride for a two-game road trip (at Princeton on Saturday and Rutgers on Monday).
It's the same Rutgers squad that Duke upset on Thursday, and the trip will mark the second time this season that Boyle's team has followed in Duke's scheduling footsteps. On Nov. 28, Duke lost to Vanderbilt, the second of three straight losses. Four days later, Cal beat Vanderbilt.
Boyle chooses not to think about it the ironies. She prefers to live in the moment. And at the moment, things are going pretty well.
The Golden Bears hold the No. 11 spot in the AP poll, winning seven of their first eight games without last season's Pac-10 player of the year, center Devanei Hampton, who underwent surgery last month to repair torn cartilage in her right knee.
"We've been able to fill our roles and fill them well," Boyle said. "We've been able to step outside of our comfort zone when we need to and get it done."
With Hampton out of the lineup, others are stepping up. Junior Ashley Walker, the team's top scorer a year ago, leads the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding. Alexis Gray-Lawson has returned from a torn ACL to give the Golden Bears a three-point threat. Rama N'diaye Rama has doubled her offensive production and done more than that in rebounding while filling in for Hampton.
"We're not one of those teams that, when someone goes down, we're thinking it's the end of our season," said Walker. "We're more optimistic. We know we're going to win anyway. We know who we are and how good we are."
Now with Hampton back at practice, they're about to get better. Boyle wants to make the transition as smooth as possible while keeping the chemistry her team has established.
"People think it's going to be easy," she said. "We tend to just give the ball to Dev and watch her. She's such a presence. Everybody has had to step up and contribute."
Walker is convinced her team will.
The core group has been together for some time now. They've grown older and wiser, and thanks to Boyle's decision, closer. While the rest of the world discussed Boyle's career options in blogs and chat rooms, she kept her players in the loop herself. She told them what was happening every step of the way.
"We have trust in her and she has trust in us. It makes her door more open. We knew it was Duke. It was her alma-mater," Walker said. "But she put so much in here. We put our hearts into her, and she put her heart into us. We didn't think she was really going to leave."