Sneed, a 6-0 forward from Fairfield, CA, has struggled with injuries and limited playing time. She has seen action in 14 games this year, mainly in the early season before Coach Boyle set her current seven-player rotation. Sneed is averaging 0.9 ppg and 1.5 rpg.
Walker has been a consistent contributor throughout the season. She leads Cal in rebounds (8.1 rpg) and is third on the team in scoring (13.1 ppg), all while playing over 32 minutes a game. Walker also leads the conference in blocked shots and is a candidate for the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
These two young Bears recently sat down for an exclusive interview with The Bear Insider. What was supposed to two separate Q&A sessions became a one-on-two free-for-all in which topics ranged from the expected (their transition to college) to the revealing (Sneed's childhood) and the unusual (Walker's long arms). Most of all, throughout the interview, Sneed and Walker gave us a glimpse into the dynamics of their enduring friendship.
Bear Insider: Shantrell, let's start by talking a little bit about your transition from high school to college ...
SS: It's been quite a bit of a learning experience for me. Coming from St. Mary's [High School in Berkeley], after the season was over, I had surgery, and I didn't play in the summer at all. The four other freshmen, as well as other players on the team, they played in the San Francisco ProAm, and I wasn't able to play, so coming in, I was a step behind - as to be expected - and so I'm still trying to work my way into the swing of things. It's definitely been a challenge for me, because I've had to work harder than I've ever had to before, but it keeps me on my toes, knowing that I have to prove myself. So it's motivating for me.
How's your shoulder now?
SS: It's still sore. I had a minor setback yesterday. I mean, the soreness is to be expected, since they told me that the soreness will never really go away. But all I can do is keep improving my strength.
The soreness comes when you just practice, or when you over-exert?
SS: Blocking shots, and rebounds. I tend to rebound with one hand; I reach all the way back behind my head ...
You also had a problem earlier with your knee.
SS: Yes, I sprained my MCL. That had me out about two weeks, but I came back earlier than they expected because I didn't want to get out of shape. I had worked so hard to come back from the other injury, and I didn't want to lose the conditioning. So I tried to come back as soon as possible.
Everyone hears about how strenuous the practices are. Are they still as intense as they were earlier in the year?
SS: Practices are shorter now, because as we approach the end of the season and the post-season, we don't want to tire ourselves out. But at the same time, let's say the coaches tell us that we're going for an hour, but that depends solely on the work we put in on the court. We'll have a shorter practice if we get everything right the first couple of times, but if we're lackadaisical, they'll keep us out there. We're not doing as much conditioning as we did earlier. Back then, there were days we did two hours of straight conditioning; we wouldn't even touch a ball. But hey, that's what got us to where we are now.
All those days of conditioning, is that when you came up with the quote where you called Coach Boyle "the stairway to heaven" because you thought you were about to die from all the conditioning?
SS: Yeah. That was when I would have to come in before practice to run. Then we would have a three-hour practice. Then I would have conditioning for thirty minutes, and then practice for another 3 hours, with no break in between. I really thought she was trying to kill me, no honestly, and I told her that. But I'm still here, so ...
Well, what doesn't kill you ...
SS: Yeah, it's a cliché, but it's true.
You were the first of the five freshmen to verbal to Cal.
SS: It was actually a spur of the moment thing. I was coming back from the dentist, and I said, "Let's go up to Cal." I just dropped by and told them that I wanted to verbal, today. There was no hype or anything, just the way I wanted it to be.
You weren't worried that it was the novocaine talking?
SS: Oh no, I knew what I was doing.
How has it been to have the five you come in together, but now to be a bit of the odd man out, with the other four freshmen starting and playing so well?
SS: We were all great players in high school, and coming in, I was expected to be right there with them. But with the surgery, you know ... And Coach Boyle, I knew nothing about her. And I was so, I wouldn't say attached, but I was so used to Coach Horstmeyer. And so coming in, and not being as much in the spotlight as the other four, it's hard, but I think, at this point, where I am, all I can do is put myself in the best position possible for next season. As you know, Renee [Wright] will be leaving, so I can be a possible '3' for next year. So it was hard at first, it really was, but you just have to stay positive. I don't get to play much now, so the best thing for me to do is just continue to encourage my teammates, to cheer, and if they win, then I win too, we all win. I just need to stay positive, continue to work hard in practice because that's like my "game."
Has anyone in been particularly helpful to you during this time?
SS: I would say that the most helpful person has been Ashley Walker. I think that if you're in the spotlight, you can lose sight of the people who were once with you, or of the ones who don't have the same opportunities that you have; you get caught up in the hype. But Ashley is the most humble person. We talk all the time, and she tells me that I'm still a great player, that I haven't lost anything since high school. She makes me feel better about the fact that I'm really not in the mix, that even though we came in as the five freshmen, it's been reduced to the four starters.
There must also be special pressures to being a local player ...
SS: It's It's difficult, because one of the main reasons to stay local is to play in front of your home crowd, and you want to be close to your family. disappointing at times when I'm sitting in front of a lot of people I know and wishing that I could play. But at the same time, I just need to stay positive and put myself in the best possible position for next year.
OK, then, looking forward to next year, what do you need to work on to make that transition to playing the "3"?
SS: Definitely ball-handling. Putting myself in game situations by playing one-on-one against guys, which is something I've started doing, going to the RSF. And continue to run on my own, even on off days. Because I realized that the starters are staying in shape because they play, but as I'm not getting that opportunity, I have to find ways to do it myself, to commit myself to getting in shape now and during the off-season.
You're already in much better shape since you came to Cal ...
SS: I lost 20 pounds. I'm in the best shape that I've ever been in. And it's weird, because I can now eat 5 meals and still stay at 179, 180. I was 199 when I got here. I feel a lot more confident. I feel great. I feel a lot healthier, more mobile, and a lot more versatile.
Let's move beyond basketball. How has the academic transition been for you?
SS: You know, the academic part of the transition has actually been the easiest thing for me to deal with. I actually find that the school part is going better than the basketball, and I do realize that's what I'm here for, you know. So I'm carrying four classes this semester: Rhetoric 1A, Psych 1A, Molecular Cell Biology, and Astro 12, and I love the classes that I'm talking. I really get excited about school. I'm kind of a nerd, but that's OK.
Do you have an idea of what you want to study?
SS: Psych. I want to be a psych major.
What interests you about that?
SS: A lot of my friends come to me with problems, and I find that I'm able to give them good advice. And even if they don't end up taking it, they tell me that it's good advice. I have no problem sharing my past experiences with people and trying to help them. I'm like a problem-solver. I'm looking more at the clinical side, maybe even child psychology. I like that one-on-one type, trying to help people find out what they're thinking and why they're feeling the way they're feeling.
Why child psychology in particular?
SS: I'd have to say it's mostly because I had a rough childhood, and that caused me to be a little bit sheltered at times. And I went to a lot of counselors who were really bad, who made you not want to say anything at all. Maybe it's one of those classic cases where you want to right the previous wrongs, to make things better for other people. So that's probably why I'd want to focus on child psychology.
Anything about your "rough childhood" you'd want to share?
SS: Well, my parents, they split up when I was fairly young. I mean, the official divorce process didn't take place until much later, but I could kind of see the space developing between them at a very young age ... and it was hard. I ended up staying with my grandmother. It was hard at times not knowing who wanted you, who loved you, like you were just being pushed off to someone else because there was no one who wanted to be responsible for you. But the best thing that ever happened to me was my grandmother.
Even hearing you talk about it, I can see how you can put yourself right back in the space of being that child again. I think that will serve you well in your career. [Ashley Walker, who was supposed to be interviewed next, entered the room] Hi Ashley, do you want to join us?
AW: I was just going to wait my turn. But I can sit down.
OK, to a lighter topic. [Back to Sneed]: What do
you like to do for fun?
SS: For fun? I like to bother Ashley.
Well, everyone on the team likes to do that! [Then to Walker] That's what I hear!
AW: But you're not supposed to encourage it!
SS: I don't really bother her, but I do spend most of my time with her, because she's the one I'm most comfortable around. But other than that, if I'm not with her, then I'm probably writing poetry, or shopping, or spending time with my grandma.
Ashley, why is Trell the funniest person on the team?
AW: She's got a very smart mouth. She always has something to say. And she's very quick-witted. For someone with such a mellow demeanor, she's very quick-witted. She says a lot of things that people don't catch, but when you catch them, you can't help but laugh.
And then you're the one who's in trouble ...
AW: Because I'm the one who bust up, yeah.
SS: Ashley has an infectious laugh. That's why she's my target.
Right. You have to know your target. You have to pick on the weak ones.
AW: Hey ...
SS: HE said it!
Give me an example of something Trell has done to you or to anyone else recently.
AW: She'll sing a song, and she'll change the words to make it about you. Only you won't know it ...
SS: "Hey, is that the remix?" No, it's YOUR remix!
AW: How did that song go?
SS: I don't remember, but she was having trouble catching the ball, so I switched up the words to let her know that she needs to learn how to catch ...
Oh, so you were just trying to help. Not just to make fun, but also to teach!
AW: And it did help me, because I knew I needed to start catching the ball or else she won't get off my back ...
She'll start making it into an extended remix.
SS: Yeah. But Ashley makes it fun. See, some people get offended, but Ashley
never gets offended.
AW: But then they'll make fun of me for not saying anything back. I'll be like, "Yeah, that's funny, guys," and they'll tell me, "That all you've got. That's weak."
SS: But I always take your side.
AW: That's true. When they gang up on me, she takes my side.
Now why do they gang up on you, Ashley?
AW: [sheepishly] Because ... I'm ... the ...weak one.
Is it because you're the youngest ...
AW: I'm the oldest. And still they gang up on me. How does that work?
But you're the baby in your family, right?
AW: Yeah. But I'm the oldest of the five freshmen. So, hey, respect your elders!
SS: I respect you Ashley. I probably respect you most of all.
Aww, that's so sweet. But I can't use the sweet stuff - not my style. So cut it out, you two. Now, Shantrell, tell me more about Ashley.
SS: Ashley is a very kind-hearted person. She always has my back. She's the one I'm most connected with here. Ashley is also a person whose shot I love to swat everyday in practice, at least once or twice...
AW: She runs across the court to swat my shot.
SS: Cause it's so fun! Every time we practice, I make sure I'm guarding her, because it's good-natured competition. But off the court, I think Ashley's one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. She actually reminds me of my grandma. I was sick the other night, and Ashley came to my room to take care of me. And she brought her medical kit, too.
AW: I want to be a nurse.
You have a medical kit?
AW: With all kinds of medicine, a thermometer ...
SS: Which she couldn't find ...
AW: I found it!
Where was it?
AW: On my desk. My desk is pretty junky ... I'm not the cleanest person.
Then I'm not sure you'd want that thermometer anywhere near you, Trell.
AW: No, it has a little case. Its own little case!
All right, enough of the medical triage talk. Let's go back to you blocking Ashley's shots in practice. I suppose turnabout is fair play, right, since it's Ash who's been blocking everyone else's shots, leading the Pac-10 and all that.
SS: And rarely does she get her shot swatted, because I prepare her in practice and it doesn't happen in a game.
AW: [knocks on the desk three times]
A little superstitious, are we?
AW: Just a little.
In terms of blocked shots, Ashley, I always feel that they're undercounted. What do you think about that?
AW: Yeah, blocking shots is weird. I tip a lot of stuff. My thing is I tend to get my hands on a lot of things; I want to get my hands on it. And like ... [she notices Sneed laughing] You're so ... that was so wrong! [Laughing] You are just soooo wrong! See, that's just like her!
No, you said it. She didn't say anything ... just reacting to your words ...
AW: She makes it worse ... ugh! OK, the way my Dad taught me to block shots was to use both hands. A lot of people just block shots with just their dominant hand. And with volleyball, I learned to set with both hands. People don't expect me to go up with my left hand and block their shots. Like I blocked someone in the Oregon game, completely with my left hand ...
That was pretty good ...
AW: That was just how I was taught. I used to get a lot of fouls in high school reaching across my body to block shots on my left side, when I could just have used my left hand. So I started doing that, and that's how I got good at it.
SS: Long arms.
Really long arms.
SS: She can almost scratch her kneecaps while standing up.
AW: No I can't! That is such a Lexi rumor!
SS: [to BI] See, you thought about it - it's funny! He's picturing it ...
AW: [Laughs] You cannot print that!
Great, now that "Bear Necessities" scene from the Jungle Book
is in my head ... Ashley as Mowgli!
AW: [Laughing] Oh my gosh!
OK, OK. Let's be nice. Trell, talk about Ashley and the impact she's made on this team.
SS: Ashley has made the biggest and most unrecognized impact on the team. When Jessica [Lawson] went down, everyone was like, "Oh no ..." Then here comes Ashley. What, you're leading the Pac-10 in double-doubles? I think she came as a shock - well, not to me, because I played with her and I knew what she could do - but I think she was a surprise to other people. To them, I think she was an underdog. She's the most consistent scorer we have, in my opinion.
AW: Thank you.
And all at six foot ... I'll give it to you ... six-foot-one.
AW: Thank you. Thank you.
SS: She's undersized. But it's the arms ...
... and the hops.
SS: Don't know about the hops, it's the arms.
AW: If I'm pulling down fifteen rebounds, it's got something to do with the hops.
SS: The arms.
Well, maybe you have such great hops because you can use those long arms to push off the ground while standing straight up ... So I guess it's both the arms and the hops, can we agree on that?
SS: Ah ha!
AW: See what you started!
SS: He's finishing it. Get on him!
AW: I know I'm the weak one, but dang!
SS: Everybody's going to be on you now, Ash.
AW: [sighs] I know.
I also hear that you're a bit of a girly girl, Ashley.
AW: I am.
SS: That's why I pick on her.
AW: Out of the five freshmen, I'm definitely the most girly. I wear a lot of pink ...
SS: I hate pink.
AW: She hates pink. Hates it. And everything I own ...
SS: She wears the color pink, with the word pink written on it ...
SS: Yes. Redundant.
AW: It's a sweat suit. The pants are pink, and then in dark pink, it says "pink." It's cute. I like it. [Sneed rolls her eyes]
Moving on. What's going on with you and academics, Ash?
AW: It's not that bad. I have a really good tutor. My high school was pretty academically sound, so I didn't get lost, like a lot of people when they first come in. Summer Bridge was not fun at all, but it wasn't that bad a transition to college. In high school, I took notes the same way I take them here. I was pretty prepared to come here. I still tell my parents, "That Berkeley education is killing me!" But it's really the homework load, I guess, more than anything else.
But balancing academics with basketball ...
AW: Yeah, if I was a regular student, I'd be fine. Well, I'd just procrastinate instead.
When I was here as an undergrad, years and years ... and years ago ... [AW and SS exchange glances] No, you heard me! Anyway, I was a writing tutor, and I found that college writing was a really tough transition for a lot of people.
AW: She's a really really good writer. She has no problem. She passed out of the writing. I, unfortunately, did not.
SS: Tell him why ...
AW: Because I didn't try.
Your parents are going to love hearing about that.
AW: My problem with the writing is with the academic words. I use a lot of slang. My tutor has helped me by having me keep a list of academic words. After I finish a paper, I'd go to that list and put those words in, and after a while, you just get used to using more academic words.
SS: I'm looking at you like, "I ain't ever heard you use no big words!"
AW: I don't say them ...
Ashley, let's get back to basketball. How has it been - your introduction to Pac-10 play?
AW: I think when we first started playing, when we played out of conference, we pulled down a lot of rebounds. Between Dev [Hampton] and me, we were bringing down a lot. But then we got into Pac-10, and then, it was like, "Crap!"
SS: Look who we were playing in the pre-season ...
AW: Don't say that ...
SS: South ...
SS: I didn't know there was a South Carolina State!
AW: But in the Pac-10, you have to box out; you have do the little things. So that was eye opening, I guess.
Then there came a point in the season when it seemed that you suddenly decided to focus on rebounding, and then it was just a string of double-doubles ...
AW: I went on a six-game streak. I think I was just tired of not rebounding. In high school, I was pulling 18 or 19 a game. I mean, I didn't play against anybody, but I was still pulling down a lot. It was my signature thing, rebounding, and blocking shots. I think rebounding is not just instinct; you have to want to be the only one who's going to get the ball. Before the shot even goes up, I'm thinking, "Where is the ball going to come off at?" Like if they're shooting from the left side, and it looks long, then I'll go to the right ... Whereas most people are just trying to go get the ball, I try to think ahead.
Anything else you'd like to talk about? This is just a free-wheeling kind of interview, since I wasn't planning to interview both of you at once. What about anything that surprises you about Cal? You're both local, so you probably knew the University pretty well already.
AW: Oh, all the birds. I don't like all the birds.
You know, I just saw the Tyra Banks show where she brought people on and helped them with their fear of birds. She brought out birdcages and everything.
AW: Oh, me and Tyra can become friends.
You can do a little walk down the runway in your all-pink outfit.
AW: And then she can help me with my bird issue.
Of course, Miss Tyra herself had a fear of dolphins. No, I'm serious. So she goes to Seaworld and learns to kiss dolphins to overcome her fear.
AW: Mmmm ...
SS: Uh huh ... dolphins. OK.
But I digress. We're talking about you two. How did you become such good friends?
AW: We've known each other since the fifth grade. Other than Devanei and Lex, we have the most history together. We used to be on the same travel team. We have inside jokes since we were kids, like "The Fifth Element" ...
SS: You know in that movie, there's an opera singer and she does a little dance? Ash did that one day.
AW: It was funny.
SS: It was terrible.
AW: So once in a while, I'll ask her if she wants to watch The Fifth Element ...
SS: Then she'd do the dance. Then I'd have to tell her, "No thanks. I just watched the movie recently."
AW: We're probably the most mellow people of all the freshmen and Jess. We'd rather kick back and be lazy, whereas they're much more outgoing.
SS: "Do you want to go to see a movie?" "No, I'd rather go hang out with Ash." But seriously, we spend the majority of our days together.
AW: Because we don't have anyone else to hang out with. Really, it's because we don't have any friends.
Did Shantrell have an impact on your decision to come to Cal, Ashley? You were the last one to verbal last year.
AW: Well, that whole junior year we were together with our travel team, and I still couldn't decide where I wanted to go. Trell had already verballed to Cal way early, and everyday, after every game, she would tell me, "Have you found a home yet Ashley? You should come to Cal." And I would say, "No, Trell, I'm not going to Cal!"
Why were you so against the idea?
AW: I think [the coaches] were more interested in the [Paris] Twins at first. And I felt like I wanted to be recruited; I wanted someone who wanted me. And I didn't know at first if they wanted me.
SS: Oh, [Horstmeyer] wanted you.
AW: Yeah, but she wanted the Twins first, and I didn't want to be third on the list, because there are two of them. And I would have been way down on the bench. So through the whole recruiting process, I put Cal way on the back burner. I actually cancelled their visit to my house. I rescheduled it because [another school] was coming instead, and I wanted to see them.
And I was really adamant that I was going to Georgia Tech. My heart was really with them, because their coach really did a lot to show me that she wanted me. I went on my visit there, fell in love, and I was on the verge of verballing. But Trell kept calling me and bugging me. Cal was my last visit, and I was like, "Let's go. Let's get this last visit over with so I can head to Georgia." Then I got here, and Jessica was my host, and we had this bond and just so much fun on my visit. I completely forgot about Georgia Tech. All of a sudden, it was, "Hey, Cal is just around the corner. Mom and Dad can come watch me play all the time." All these things started to click, so then I decided on Cal. And I called and told Trell even before I verballed to the coaches. That's how I ended up at Cal. On the wings of Trell.
Good job, Trell. What are you guys looking forward to the rest of the year?
AW: I'm glad we're over the little slump we had, our two-game slump. I'm just looking forward to a good end of the season. I think we can finish this thing out really well. I just want to have more fun with my teammates on the court. We kind of got away from that during those two games that we had trouble with. I just want us to get back to how we were playing during the ProAm and practicing better. I'm really looking forward to the playoffs. We've never been there, never done that kind of thing. All the girls talk about the Pac-10 gift, and what we might get this year. I'm looking forward to that kind of stuff, to experience it for the first time.
Finally, what have been the highlight and lowlight of the season so far? Trell?
SS: Highlight of my season was probably getting in for the game at Stanford, because that was our big game of the season. Lowlight of the season? Discovering that my playing time was pretty much gone, and that I'll be on the bench for the rest of the season.
AW: I think my lowlight would be seeing Jessica go down. Jess is my roommate, actually, so that was hard for me. And she's one of the biggest parts of the team, even now, on the bench. So that was a lowlight. A highlight? I'm trying to think of something outstanding. Oh, I've got one. When I blocked Sophia Young twice in a row. I was like, "I swatted the Player of the Year! Not once ... but twice!" Even though we lost, that's all I talked about with my Dad. "I swatted her!" And he was cheering me on, "I saw, I saw!" I think I glow when I block shots. So I think that's my biggest highlight.
Thank you both so much for your time. Good luck the rest of the season.
AW and SS: Thank you!
The Bears' final home-stand will be against Washington State (February 23, 7pm) and Washington (February 25, 3pm). The match-ups against the Sun Devils and the Huskies will be carried on Fox Sports Net.
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