Women's basketball: Cal coaches bring motherhood to the court
BERKELEY, Calif. — Baby Jordan's tiny fingers clung tightly to the hand of his mother, and Lindsay Gottlieb held her little guy — missing one sock as so often happens — close while leading a coaches meeting for the California women's basketball staff. Just to her right sat assistant Kai Felton, who nestled her sleeping son in her left arm.
Everybody, babies included, wearing Cal gear.
The coaches discussed a theme that would later be shared with the players: "Clock in. Lock in. Buy in."
Jordan pushed up with strong legs, tongue out.
The Golden Bears players suddenly have two adorable little teammates on board for this season, and they're bound to be best buddies. Gottlieb's Jordan was born May 7, and less than a month later Felton welcomed Weston to the world on June 5.
Whenever possible, the baby boys will be around for the ride.
"The job to me is like a family, a lifestyle job, and I've always meant that and believed it," Gottlieb said. "But now being able to integrate Jordan kind of for me brings a new dimension to it. Obviously I feel fortunate to have worked to be in a position to be the boss, where I can do it this way. And also to be able to have supportive administration and financially be able to do the nanny so I can do it the way that I want to and not really sacrifice. He won't be here every day forever but with the feeding now it makes it easier. At some point it might be he comes by two days a week or three days a week, or maybe he comes by and pops into practice and then goes to watch an Olympian in the pool or goes to a class in Berkeley, a kiddie class. It's so cool the opportunities for him."
The babies have already gone recruiting out of town and Jordan met some big-name coaches and players — from UConn's Geno Auriemma to two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the champion Golden State Warriors. At USA Basketball camp, coach Dawn Staley of champion South Carolina said, "where's little man?"
"The kid is connected," said Gottlieb, who announced her pregnancy in surprise fashion during a team meeting last November.
Do the small things well pic.twitter.com/1YIso2Fw5r— Cal Basketball (@CalWBBall) October 3, 2017
Gottlieb even took her first baby on Cal's recent foreign tour through Australia and New Zealand, with fiance Patrick Martin along to help. Felton stayed home with her son, who was strategically planned for the offseason and after the May recruiting crunch.
"It's hard not to compare Jordan and Weston, they're so close in age," Felton said during a summer visit at her home in the Oakland Hills. "It shows how different babies are. Jordan is so strong and sleeps through the night. We're not there yet. It's going to be fun to watch them grow up together on so many levels."
Weston is multiracial and already lifting his fist for "black power" as his mothers like to say. He is the first child for Felton and partner Takiyah Jackson, a former UCLA basketball star.
Jackson regularly handles the late-night bottle feed, anywhere from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
She often visits Haas Pavilion at lunch and dances her baby boy to sleep as needed. He has a miniature crib in Felton's office.
"We dance to smooth jazz and eventually we drift into serenity, right Weston?" Jackson said, the swaddled baby resting on her left shoulder as she moved gently through the room. "This is our daily routine, and this is how I burn calories."
Felton keeps track of everything through an app: feedings, diaper changes, sleep patterns. Gottlieb is more go-with-the-flow.
"We like data," said Jackson, who relocated from Seattle and now works at Cal as equity inclusion director of African-American student development. "It takes a team. I like to highlight the family unit."
Jill Culbertson, Gottlieb's director of basketball operations and dear friend, had no idea the new job requirements she would have: from making sure the car seat was installed, to urging Martin along to leave for the hospital when Gottlieb was in labor, to baby whisperer and product researcher. She checks on Jordan in a bouncy seat nearby his mom's office chair.
Whenever there's a question, they all say aloud, "What would Jill do?"
"They're being great mothers and great coaches, too, spending time with their kids, with us," senior Mikayla Cowling said. "It's a good dynamic going on. It's crazy having all of them in the office all the time, but it's a joy to have."
On July 25, each new mom happened to visit Cal and Haas Pavilion to say their hellos to the staff and other coaches.
"So amazing to see them together!" Gottlieb said. "First of many, many play dates."
"Jordan and Weston will be the best of buds," Felton said. "The funniest thing is that I had to take a nap with Weston when we got home. I'm not a napper but needed one."
Gottlieb, who turned 40 this week, only hopes the example she and Felton are setting as new moms with pressure-packed careers helps the young women they coach realize life can be about balance.
"It was really important to me that the players see that I'm not going to be any different as a coach," Gottlieb said. "I'm going to be accessible to them still. I'm going to be hard working and dedicated, I'm just going to do it while also being a mom. Whether or not they're conscious of that message I think it's important for them to see it and maybe 10 years down the road when one of them is thinking about children they feel like, 'OK, I can do this.'"
The mothers study game film and scour for guidance on baby milestones. They chronicle tummy time, capture the coos and smiles and many other feats then share them on their various social media accounts.
Weston is not only learning proper lay-up form but is a remarkably early talker, already giving Jackson a great answer she captured on her phone.
At seven weeks, Jackson asked him, "How's your morning?"
Weston's response: "Cool!"
True story — and like any proud new parent, she has video on her phone to prove it.