Take The Wheel"Mooch" Federico and "Rama Mama" Lead a Young Hoops Team with Smiles and Laughter
Monday, January 31, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Basketball (Women's)
It's been at least 15 minutes since the Cal women's basketball team finished its practice, but senior Rachelle Federico hasn't left the court yet. She remains on the court practicing 3-pointers and seems content to stay.
Usually this is the sort of scenario that would appear on a Gatorade commercial: an athlete dripping in sweat, standing in a dark, empty gym, refusing to quit until she's made all her shots.
That could be Federico's goal but she looks nothing like a sports drink poster child. Her posture is relaxed as she sinks a shot, and her grin barely fades. A passing trainer gives "Mooch" a fist bump as congratulations.Federico seems, quite simply, at home.
"You just take every moment for what it is," she says of her final season. "You play harder than ever 'cause it's like, 'Well, it's the last time I get to do it.' It's been very captivating."
Federico and Rama N'Diaye are the Bears' only two upperclassmen; the rest of the roster consists entirely of freshmen and sophomores. The squad is not the same one that Federico and N'Diaye joined their freshman year or played for during the years that followed.
Yet the pair loves the team as if it hasn't changed at all.
"I remember the first game (this season), it was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is going to be a long year,'" says N'Diaye, who is in her fifth year with the squad. "Now it's like, 'This is almost over.' It's not fun to think about it."
Federico and N'Diaye recall their early years as if they were yesterday.
N'Diaye was coming to Berkeley literally from the other side of the world. At least she was used to drastic culture shocks. The Senegal native spent three years of high school in Japan.
Like Federico, N'Diaye seems comfortable in Haas. A wide smile escapes her just when she mentions anything about the team. She has the type of grin that seems impossible to contain, and N'Diaye's calm disposition never fights it.
While Federico will happily chat with you about what Cal basketball means to her for as long as you're interested, N'Diaye doesn't say much. Her smile speaks volumes.
What she'll miss about Cal basketball? "Everything."
N'diaye says it was sad to watch her freshman class graduate while she redshirted last year with a knee injury. Nevertheless, she hasn't let the numerous changes she's had to see the team through over the years in any way reduce her attachment to it.
"Every single year it's different, you have new teammates, a new personality," N'Diaye says. She describes the changes a little more, as if she's struggling to articulate it - English is her fourth language - but then finds the right words: "It's always fun."
N'Diaye may not speak much, but when she does, her teammates listen.
"She's like a mom in a way. We call her 'Rama Mama,'" freshman Afure Jemerigbe says.
"She is the silent one that knows what to say at the right time and when to say it," Federico says.
In contrast to N'Diaye, it's the many things Federico says that makes her a valuable leader. In spite of her nickname "Mooch," which she has had since her freshman year of high school, Federico is generous in supporting her teammates.
"Mooch is a good person to talk to," Jemerigbe says. "She gives us great advice. If we need her for anything, if we're going through any situation, she's great to talk to."
It's important to Federico to give her younger teammates the same resources she had early in her career, on a team with just one other freshman.
"It was fun because we had so many upperclassmen. It was just easy for us to mesh in with the personalities and get pulled along," she says. That was one of the best years I had here, just being with a bunch of experienced, talented players that said 'Follow me.'"
She says that in those early years, with so many experienced players, successes like the Sweet 16 came naturally.
Both Federico and N'Diaye immediately jump to the team's Sweet 16 qualification in 2009 as a definitive favorite memory.
"The spotlight's on you, the crowd is there, it was a packed house, national television, just feeling what it's like to play with the best teams in the country," Federico recalls.
Now, it is N'Diaye and Federico's responsibility to pull the younger players along the same way their predecessors did in those years.
The latter hesitates a bit when describing what being the older player is like, the same way N'Diaye does when she's searching for the words to describe what the team means to her. Federico wants to make sure her words don't discredit the immense talent in the Bears' underclassmen - with or without veteran leadership.
"Before you're just kind of the person who comes in and everybody's showing you what to do," she adds. "You just kind of hop on the boat and take the ride, and now it's like you're steering the boat, and having a bunch of young kids jump on it, and hopefully they trust you."
Federico is so careful to credit her teammates because she so strongly believes in the future of the program.
The players she is counting on to transform the program share a mutual respect for her and N'Diaye's role as leaders.
"The two seniors would just be kind of, the kind of screw that keeps everything together," freshman Mikayla Lyles says.
The fact that there's only two players in that role indicates just how well N'Diaye and Federico have filled it.
Alex Matthews covers women's basketball. Contact her at [email protected]
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