By Cameron Buford, Bakersfield News Observer via whatsgoodinsports.com

It’s been said many times, “a family that plays together stays together.” The McCall family is an example of the unity and joy any family can enjoy through the game of basketball and all that it has to offer. This article highlights the impact basketball has had on Erica McCall and her father Greg McCall: life lessons, skill development, father and daughter bonding, and travel and exposure to countries around the globe. 

Growing up as a coach’s daughter Erica was consistently around the game, and having an older sister that excelled in the game naturally inspired her to play. Once she decided this is what she wanted to do with her life, her father began to coach her and encourage her to be all she has become, both on and off the court. In my telephone interview with Erica, it was easy to tell from her voice inflection and excitement how proud she was when talking about the positive reinforcement she received from her father, Greg, who supported her every step of the way as she developed into the player, person, and leader she has become. 

Because I am a firm believer the world of sports can have such a powerful impact on society, I was curious to hear from Erica, what life lessons she learned from the game of basketball. Erica was quick to point out her faith in GOD has grown because she understands she couldn’t have accomplished all she has without “his support, strength, and guidance”. She then added, “leadership and teamwork” are also lessons she learned from years of playing basketball and credits these traits for aiding her ability to “communicate with many people from various backgrounds” in addition to making her a more “relatable” person. 

As a standout basketball player at Ridgeview High School in Bakersfield, CA. and the Stanford Cardinal, Erica’s hoop game has taken her all over the world; she’s played in Merida, Mexico in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), Americas U16 Championship for Women, she also played in FIBA Under-17 World Championship for Women in Amsterdam. She also represented Team USA U16 in FIBA Americas that was played as FIBA 3×3 U-18 World Championships which was played in Alcobendas, Spain, this was after playing Gwangju, South Korea for 2015 Summer Universiade competition where her teams won gold in each of the aforementioned tournaments. 

Erica, a 6-foot-3 center, was the Stanford Cardinal leading scorer and rebounder as they reached the 2017 NCAA Women’s Final Four in her senior season, before being knocked out by South Carolina. Later that year she was drafted with the #17 pick by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA draft where she’s played the past few seasons.  

With the combination of our country’s current unrest due to the George Floyd murder and the COVID 19 pandemic that has spread throughout this country, I wanted to know Erica’s thoughts on if she would welcome the opportunity to play out the WNBA season in Orlando or not. She responded by saying, “If everything was set up in a safe environment for the players, I would go in a heartbeat! People don’t like to recognize it as much, but the WNBA has been on the frontlines of Social Justice. We were one of the few leagues to have players take a knee during the anthem [in protest], we had people [players], wearing the ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts.”  She continued to say, “They [the WNBA] just announced that, there’s going to be a strong platform for social justice!” 

As Erica proudly spoke about being a Black woman in our country, I asked her to speak directly about the changes she would like to see in the U.S., here is what she shared with me, “It comes [starts] with police reform… It’s a shame that we have to be afraid for our lives every single day, walking down the street driving our cars, doing whatever… just being black! It’s a shame we have to be afraid of that, because of the police. I would love to see change in that! I would love to see [the] change in the way our white counterparts interact with us, the way they work with us, the way they live with us… seeing us as equal.” She continued, “I would like to see more equality and more diversity in the workplace.” 

I agree with so much of what Erica had to say on this issue! I also think it’s sad that she’s received the same message as my father in the fifties, which he later shared with me in the seventies: “We as black people, have to work twice as hard to get to the same point as them [white people]!” Unfortunately, this is a message most Black people, all across these United States, has received at some point in their life!

The country’s response to the recent murder of George Floyd and subsequent protest appear to be very different from our response to the senseless killings of Trevon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Ahmad Aubrey, Michael Brown Jr., and so many others. I was eager to hear Erica’s thoughts on the difference in the response; she mentioned: “Yes, this is a lot different from what I’ve seen in the past, from the Trevon Martin protest to now… You see a lot of evolution in who is doing the protest… I went to a Bakersfield protest and the majority of the people protesting were Hispanic and White. It was very interesting to see that there were so many other different races out there fighting for us. I think it’s great because other people, especially white, people are using their privilege!”

Although I believe conversations about racism, among various nationalities, will aid America to impact change, I am also curious if other black people feel obligated to have this type of conversation with white people who do not have the same experiences and outlook on things in America that we do. I asked Erica to share her thoughts on this as well: “I feel it’s a two-way street… I feel like as a Black person, I’m willing to share my experiences and share what I believe are the answers they need to hear, but I also need them to do their research, because knowledge is power. Ignorance is not bliss, at this moment; absolutely not.” 

Erica remained gracious with her time while answering my questions on this sensitive subject, she then reflected on a conversation she had recently, “I was having a conversation with my Stanford friends, talking about implicit bias… Things my white friends did not know, they just experience it… They are never going to know if they go out to research for it, so it’s up to black people to tell them this isn’t good; we don’t like when people touch our hair; we don’t like when people tell us, ‘oh my gosh, you talk so well, you are so articulate.’ These are some of the things they don’t know and I think it’s our job to educate them.”   

Once the serious part of our interview was complete, I hit Erica with a host of fun random questions that you can hear by clicking on this YouTube link. My last question for Erica was, “What’s the best advice you’ve received?” She wasted no time telling me about the advice she received from her father years ago, “My dad told me… to always keep these things top of mind, God, Family, School, Basketball; keep those in order.” The fifth piece of advice was… “also listen to me [Greg McCall]. If you keep these things in order…, if you keep these as a foundation of your life, you will be successful!”  

I was able to connect with one of Erica’s Team USA teammates who was delighted to share her thoughts about playing alongside Erica, she shared, “Erica and I meet up when we played together on the USA team that won gold in South Korea. She’s somebody that I have tons of respect for. Erica’s game definitely will always speak for itself because obviously, she’s an amazing player, but she’s intellectual as well. She has strong beliefs and views of the world we are living in. She’s an African American woman like myself that wants to see a change in the world we are living in. I have more respect for her for being a spokesperson and doing interviews like this one. She’s a role model that younger girls can look up to. Oh yeah, did I mention she’s a pretty good dancer too! She’s a woman of many talents for sure.” These are the words of Big 12’s 2015 Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, Nina Davis, and new Assistant Coach at Middle Tennessee State University. 

Erica didn’t want to end the interview without telling our listeners to “GO OUT THERE AND VOTE!” Additionally, she will be starting a voter drive in Bakersfield soon; you can find out more about this through her social media platforms @birdtheword_24 on IG, @EricaMcCall24 on Twitter, and Erica McCall on Facebook. Though we did cover a lot of topics, Erica’s candor was inviting and I sure hope it was eye-opening for you guys to learn about her and the world as she sees it. I look forward to seeing her progress on the social justice front as well as in her WNBA career.

After interviewing Erica, I spoke to her father Cal State Bakersfield’s Head Coach Greg McCall. After seven seasons as the Roadrunners Head Coach, McCall has led them to two straight seasons of 10-4 in conference play and has made its third postseason in five years. I asked him about how he relates to his student-athletes and he proudly restated the same message he gave to his children which Erica recited earlier. “I won’t tell them anything I haven’t told my [own] kids.” When asked about the best lesson he’s learned from basketball he told me it simply “play hard!” He elaborated by saying, “there are great coaches and teachers out there, but if you don’t play hard, what you’ve learned doesn’t matter.” His passion for the game and teaching is evident in his success he’s had with his family and the trajectory the CSUB Women’s Basketball team is on. 

Kindly share your thoughts on Erica’s words and the change that she talks about seeing in the future or you whatever you may think about the development of Greg’s CSB Roadrunners by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or forward your thoughts to info@whatsgoodinsports.com. Lastly be sure to subscribe to our weekly “Voice of the Fans Podcast” which is available for you on most podcasting platforms; Apple and Google Podcasts including SpotifyTuneIn, and iHeart Radio. As always, Thank You for making our voice, your choice!