What drives Kristine Anigwe?

Already written into Cal’s record books, when will the sophomore center be satisfied? 

Anigwe has reached 1,000 points faster than any Cal player in history (photo courtesy of pac-12.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Seated next to her coach in the bowels of Key Arena, Kristine Anigwe couldn’t take it anymore. Like a winter downpour in Seattle, the tears were inevitable at this point, it was only a matter of how long they would last. All anyone could do was pass her a towel.

The 10th seeded Bears had just bowed out in the semifinals of the 2016 PAC-12 tournament, a six point loss at the hands of 3rd seeded UCLA. Anigwe had an outstanding game in defeat, 26 points and 15 rebounds to be exact, both numbers eclipsing her already gaudy season averages of 20 and 9. Numbers unheard of for a freshman. Especially one who didn’t pick up the game of basketball until the 8th grade.

Tasked with the near impossible chore of summing up a season in one post game press conference, fifth year head coach Lindsay Gottlieb chose to sing the praises of her freshman center and the otherworldly year she had. 43-points in a game, national freshman of the year, averaging almost double digit rebounds, scoring more than any frosh in Cal basketball history, the list of accomplishments goes on seemingly forever. But if you learn anything about Kristine Anigwe, all those accomplishments are thrown to the side after a loss. And maybe even forgotten. “Failing is very hard for me,” she says simply on a recent evening in Berkeley. “I dread it. I hate losing. I hate not doing something that I know I could do.”

Losing is something the Cal women did a lot of last season. A fact Anigwe willing shoulders the blame for. Despite her record year, Anigwe is haunted by the fact that it was her beloved coach’s first losing campaign in her Berkeley career. In Gottlieb’s first season as Cal’s coach, she took an NIT team to the NCAA’s. The next year, Gottlieb had the Bears in the Final Four. Now, Gottlieb was at the podium following her first sub .500 season that included a dismal 4-14 mark in the PAC-12. Even so, all the protective coach could do was praise her team’s effort, particularly an emotional Anigwe, who proved incapable of talking. The pain of falling short on Gottlieb’s expectations was too much to bear.

Anigwe fights her emotions following the end of the PAC-12 Tournament in Seattle in 2016 (photo courtesy of Pac-12.com)


Sitting down with Anigwe behind the scorers table at Haas Pavilion, two things quickly become noticeable. One is that Anigwe isn’t particularly comfortable talking about herself. Another is that she requires some extra room for her legs that power her 6’4” frame up and down the court and even to the rim for dunks (we’ll get to that later.)

She is eating a post workout meal of soft tacos, in the kind of way you’d expect an Olympic Triathlete to eat, with the nutritional value being the most important aspect of the act. The gym is quiet now, except for the welcome squeaks, dribbles and swishes being made by Ivan Rabb. The future NBA first round pick is taking advantage of the vacant floor space, fine tuning his game in the middle of conference play.

The presence of NBA-bound Rabb, along with Anigwe’s upbringing in Phoenix inevitably brings up the topic of the Suns. Steve Nash? Amare Stoudemire? Was she a fan? “No,” she says matter-of-factly, “I grew up watching the Phoenix Mercury. I loved Diana Taurasi. She was a huge inspiration for me.”

Despite having the luxury of a WNBA team in her backyard to look up to and always being the tallest girl in her class, it wasn’t until just before high school that Anigwe found her way onto a basketball court. Fortunately, her area volleyball team was good enough to push her into her calling. “To be honest, back then I tried out for the volleyball team and I didn’t make it. So I went ahead and tried basketball. It’s worked out from there.”

Her two parents, Annette and Christopher, ran a strict household focused primarily on academics and the fruits that books could bear for their four children. Basketball was secondary to Anigwe, up until the time her talent was spotted and she was sent to Colorado Springs to try out for Team USA’s youth program. By the time Anigwe was selected to Team USA and began jett-setting to international tournaments, she started to realize basketball could really take her places. “Don’t get me wrong, I made the team, but the tryouts were really nerve wracking. It seemed like so many great players were getting cut everyday. But after I made that team, I really began to take my basketball career seriously.”  

By her junior year at Desert Vista High School, Anigwe was morphing into a star. In addition to her duties with Team USA’s program, Anigwe was competing on the women’s AAU circuit with the “Arizona Elite” and her trusted coach Kenny Drake. Not only was she playing for his team, but also dedicating herself to attending his private workouts on the side, even if she hated it. “Yes, I often really hated those workouts,” she explains. “Sometimes I would have to sit down in the corner of the gym and take off my shoes, but Kenny would refuse to let me leave the gym until we finished our workouts. He really made me so much better at basketball.”

By the spring of her junior year, Anigwe lead her high school team to an Arizona State Championship. Anigwe was the star that brought the school the glory of a state crown, but true to her personality, she has trouble recalling all the details of the triumph. “I can’t remember if we played in the Suns’ arena or not to be honest, now that you ask. I just remember it being a really fancy place.”

What Anigwe remembers most about her high school career is failing to win back-to-back titles, falling to Goodyear Millennium High in the the Division 1 semifinals. Anigwe took the loss hard, almost completely shutting her down. “It was tough. I remember I didn’t really talk to anyone for like a week. I spent a lot of time in my room just writing in my room. Sleeping, talking to my mom, writing some more. But eventually I realized I had to grow up and move on.”

Anigwe in her final high school game with the Desert Vista Thunder. A semifinal loss in the Arizona state championships. (photo by Nick Cote)

Moving on meant turning her sights to a bright future in the college ranks. By now, she had been named the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, to go along with her eye-popping stats with her AAU club team and gold medals on Team USA’s junior teams. No one could have blamed her if visions of UCONN, Tennessee, or Stanford began to pop into her head. After all, the late-bloomer was now a nationally recognized blue chip recruit. But even with her rising stock shooting through the roof, Anigwe never wavered on her verbal commitment to Berkeley and coach Gottlieb. “In the end, Cal showed interest in me when no one else did. I trusted them at an early age. For me to get super good and decommit is not a part of my character. At the end of the day, you know where your roots are, where your heart is and who has your back.”

With her commitment to Cal solidified, Anigwe overcame the anguish of her senior year defeat by attending the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago, an event reserved for the best 48 men and women high school basketball has to offer. When ESPN personnel realized Anigwe could dunk, they pushed her on the idea of being the lone female in the annual dunk contest, one that has produced a long list of NBA superstars. Anigwe, shy by nature, took a leap of faith and gave it a shot. But with the cameras on and her legs jet-lagged, Anigwe came up empty in her turn to dunk. Naturally, the internet’s reaction was polarizing. From basement bloggers ripping her, to 13-year-old girls congratulating her for rising above the rim with the nation’s best male athletes. Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon ended up beating Anigwe and the rest of the field with a monster dunk, leaping over the head of a standing Jalen Rose.

Nowadays, a google search of Anigwe will no longer lead you straight to her famed dunk attempts at the McDonald’s contest. Instead, you’ll be hit with stories of her 50-point night on December 8th, 2016 versus Sacramento State. Of course, Anigwe doesn’t like to talk about it, but it was a night that put the spotlight back on Cal women’s hoops for the first time in a while here in the Bay Area. In what was a incredible display of efficiency, Anigwe managed to score all 50 points in just 24 minutes of play. Moreover, her 19 buckets were converted on just 23 shots. Virtually every time Anigwe caught the ball, she finished with a basket. With her right hand or her left, midrange or under the basket, Anigwe’s deft touch and uncanny ability to finish around the basket was put on full display for the nation to see. No player, even in the higher scoring men’s game has reached the 50 point plateau. Ed Gray’s 48 against Washington State in 1997 is the closest any Cal player has come. That is until Anigwe did it, using only 24 minutes to do so.

Even with all the attention the 50-point night brought to the program, Anigwe does her best to avoid the topic. “I honestly don’t like talking about the 50 point game. I don’t want my legacy at Cal to be all about one 50 point game. I want it to be, ‘Kristine helped take a team to the Final Four.’ Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun game. But I want to help change the program and be a part of an incredible team at Cal.”

Despite being apprehensive to talk about her personal accomplishments, Anigwe is never at a loss for words when speaking about those around her. After all, the Media Studies major has visions of a career in broadcast journalism after she hangs up her sneakers. “Kristine’s Korner” is already a broadcast platform she has dabbled with in the past, and hopes to do more of.

If she had it her way, she’d do some features of some of her favorite people in Berkeley including her trusted coach Gottlieb, who Anigwe describes as “Incredibly caring. Caring about her players, caring about the program.” Anigwe also is quick to deflect praise on her trusted point guard Asha Thomas. A sophomore from Oakland’s Bishop O’ Dowd High School, Thomas is responsible for keeping the Bears calm and confident, even in the hairiest of situations. “Even when there is fire all around her, she always leads us in a calm way,” explains Anigwe. Thomas’ love for her home city of Oakland and its deep rooted culture is also something Anigwe enjoys being exposed to. “She just loves Oakland and repping the Bay Area. Always trying to teach me new Oakland lingo. She tries to keep me hip that way.”

Anigwe rises for a dunk attempt at the McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest in 2015. (Photo courtesy of bearinsider.com)


Now over halfway through her sophomore campaign, with the dust settled from her 50-point barrage, Anigwe is focused on navigating her team back into the NCAA tournament, a place Coach Gottlieb is so used to being, but where Anigwe has yet to find. This season started as good as ever. Ignited by Anigwe’s nightly double-doubles, Cal started the year 13-0, the best start in program history by a wide margin. Unfortunately, this has given way to a 3-7 start in league play. A disappointing result that has eaten away at Anigwe thus far.

As a player and as a person, Anigwe is often times more driven by the fear of failure that the feeling of success. She admits this can be a gift and a curse. Her coach recently told the Mercury News, “Kristine is the most self-motivated player we’ve ever had here. It’s not close.” But this self-motivation has its costs, as it can put blinders on the ability to see and appreciate success as its unfolding in the moment. Explains Anigwe, “People think I’m just running through life without appreciating things or digesting accomplishments, and yes, it can be lonely. But to me it is scary to fail, so I’m always looking for ways to get better and avoid that failure.”

Even if Anigwe were to give her coach the gift of another Final Four trip at Cal, there is a good chance Anigwe will be wrapped up in her obsession to improve her game indefinitely. Beyond her Cal career looms the light of more basketball in the WNBA, not to mention the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, or her post playing career endeavors into the media business, or even a crusade to close the wage gap in women’s sports like basketball, soccer and the like.

Whether or not Kristine Anigwe will successfully overcome her dread of failure still remains to seen. But rest assured, she’ll leave a wake of her defeated opponents on the way to defining her own definition of success.   

"A Team From Berkeley Bound by Tragedy" - The Cal Bears Reach The Women's Final Four

Three of Cal’s players have had family members slain by gunfire (McClureImages.com)

Three of Cal’s players have had family members slain by gunfire (McClureImages.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

For as long as Barack Obama has been the President of the United States, he has stayed true to an annual tradition come every March. He takes the time to fill out a bracket.

Not only does Barack spend hours navigating through the Men’s field of 68, but he also makes sure to pencil in his predictions for the women as well. And of course, as with anything the president decides to do, he catches some flack from an opposing side.

Shouldn’t Mr. Obama be spending his afternoon on foreign policy rather than bracketology? Isn’t this just a publicity stunt to win over the 18-34 ESPN demographic? If it weren’t for Title IX, would Obama ever fill out a women’s bracket?

Regardless of where you find yourself in the petty debate, there is no argument when it comes to Obama’s passion and knowledge for the game of basketball. The man knows his hoops. So when he sat down with ESPN to walk America through his Women’s Final Four predictions, it meant something when he chose the California Golden Bears to be one of the last four standing. In retrospect, when one understands the story behind the 2013 Bears, Obama’s upset pick begins to start making sense.

We’ve all heard the rhetoric a million times. Turn on any press conference after an important athletic event and the word “adversity” will start to bounce around like a ping-pong ball. Every team has adversity and every good team ends up overcoming it. But what the Cal Women’s basketball team has experienced goes far beyond adversity. The Cal women have overcome tragedy.

If there was a cover girl for the Bears’ excruciating hardship, that girl would be Tierra Rogers. Now in her Senior year as a scholarship athlete at Cal, Rogers has never stepped foot on the Haas Pavillion floor.

Growing up in the Hunter’s Point district of San Francisco, Rogers was a basketball prodigy from the moment she was old enough to dribble a ball. On the playgrounds near Candlestick Park, Rogers was known affectionately as “The Lady Iverson”. There was nothing Tierra couldn’t do on a basketball court. She was so good, her father, Terray “Tat” Rogers, used to take her to the park and bet other grown men that her daughter could make more than 7 out of 10 shots from the free throw line. It wasn’t that Terray had to do it, but the money was too easy. Tierra was virtually automatic.

By high school, Tierra found herself as the best player on the best team in the nation, the Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep Irish of San Francisco. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, the Lady Irish won the State championship. For two straight seasons in ‘07-’08, Tierra’s team never lost a game. She was a can’t miss star in every sense of the word, but on Jan 12, 2008, things would never be the same for Tierra. This is when two men in hooded sweatshirts rushed at Terray Rogers in the parking lot of a basketball gym. As the gunshots sounded outside, Tierra was in the gym getting ready to play the second half of a regular season game. Terray was pronounced dead at the scene.

In many ways, Tierra was the reason her dad was doing well at the time of the shooting. If it wasn’t for her inspiring potential on the basketball court, her dad might have already been gone well before she reached high school.

Adam Rogers, Tierra’s grandpa and Terray’s dad, was murdered in San Francisco back in 1977. He had been in and out of jail and heavily involved with drugs and gangs. In his later years, Adam had rehabilitated himself to the point where he became a community activist. “Adam Rogers Playground” still stands in Hunter’s Point today for the good things he did, but he ultimately fell short of outrunning his demons.

The same story could be told of Tierra’s dad Terray. Shortly after Tierra was born, her dad was locked up in jail for his involvement with drugs and gangs. When he got out, he followed his father’s footsteps of reinventing himself as someone with a job and a positive presence in the community. Perhaps what truly kept him on track was his daughter and the athletics gifts she had that made everyone in the Rogers family so optimistic about the future.

Just months after her father was murdered outside the gym of one of her games, Tierra found herself inside Arco Arena in Sacramento. Another State Championship would be won for SHC Prep. Another undefeated season in the books. Of course, this time it didn’t feel right. Tierra wanted to quit basketball entirely. The basketball court didn’t serve as a sanctuary for her to remove herself from Tat’s death, it only made the memories more vivid.

A year later, now as a McDonald’s All American, Rogers choose to stay close to home and take her game across the Bay to play for the Bears. Tierra forged a fast bond with the Cal coach that recruited her, Joanne Boyle. Boyle promised her a fresh start. A new school, a new campus, a new home gym to play in.

In late September of 2009, just weeks before Rogers would put on a Cal uniform for the first time, she collapsed during a routine workout and nearly died. Rushed to the hospital, doctors were able to keep the freshman guard alive, but her college basketball career would be over. At the hospital, Rogers would be diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. A defibrillator was implanted and rigorous exercise was deemed out of the question. Overnight, Rogers went from a world class athlete, to someone who wasn’t allowed to run a mile in under nine minutes.

Fast forward four years and Tierra can still be found on the Cal bench, supporting her teammates. Joanne Boyle, the coach that brought Tierra to Berkeley, has since left Cal to coach at Virginia. Somehow, Tierra has stuck it out. Showing up at practices and games week after week, year after year. The University has honored her scholarship all the way through and rightfully so, as Rogers has found a way to make an indelible mark on the Cal program, even without a uniform on.

Rogers starred in high school for the Irish of Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco (photo by Glenn Nelson/ESPN)

Rogers starred in high school for the Irish of Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco (photo by Glenn Nelson/ESPN)


As the Cal Bears sit in their hotel rooms in New Orleans on the eve of the Final Four, there is no doubt some reflection being paid to the greatest season in Cal basketball history. Cal has never appeared in the Women’s Final Four and outside of Stanford, it has been 25 years since a Pac 10 team has made it this deep into the tournament. And while Tierra Rogers wasn’t able to contribute in the box score to help this team accomplish so much, her intangible contribution as an unofficial trauma counselor can’t be measured. Two of Tierra’s current Cal teammates have also lost family members to gunfire.

Gennifer Brandon, Cal’s Junior interior scorer and rebounder, was a young girl living near LA when her dad was shot and killed after being mistaken for an armed robbery suspect. Greg Brandon had recently retired from the NBA, where he played for the Seattle Supersonics. The shooting sent shockwaves through the family and Gennifer’s mother began fighting a battle with alcoholism. Sooner than later Gennifer wound up in foster care. Fortunately, Brandon found her way to Berkeley where she has slowly blossomed into one of the most dynamic players in the nation. If the Bears expect to be the last team standing in New Orleans, much will be due to Brandon’s ability to change the game with her athleticism.

Perhaps the Bears’ fiercest defender also happens to be the team’s shortest player. Senior Eliza Pierre, who with feisty energy, cornrows and a pair of her signature glasses, comes off the bench for Cal and seems to wreak havoc on opposing teams’ point guards.

Sadly, Pierre has been the latest Bear to lose a loved one to murder. In the summer of 2011, Eliza received a call only to learn that her older brother Wilson had been killed in a gang-related shooting at a party in North Hollywood.

Fortunately for Brandon and Pierre, they have not needed to look far for advice on how to get through a basketball season with the unfathomable weight of murder on one’s mind. Tierra Rogers has done it. She has done it as a starting guard for one of the best  Bay Area high school basketball teams ever, and she has done it from the sidelines for one of the most inspiring college basketball teams ever. She has done it and lived to tell about it.

When the Lady Bears take the floor in New Orleans on Sunday evening, it will be a far cry from a half full Haas Pavillion. Instead, it will be under the bright lights of New Orleans arena where the NBA’s Hornets call home. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to believe President Obama will be tuning in via Air Force One to check in on his underdog pick that proved him right. As they pronounce in a recent viral youtube video, a team that has been to the darkest of bottoms, is now here. “The whole Cal team is here”, at least for 40 more minutes.

Cal will battle Louisville on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN for a trip to the National Championship (McClureImages.com)

Cal will battle Louisville on Sunday at 3:30 on ESPN for a trip to the National Championship (McClureImages.com)