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June 14, 2013

Farm Defender

Shot blocking is arguably the rudest act in basketball, yet for 2013 Stanford women's basketball signee Erica McCall, who has never even cursed within earshot of her coach, it is her favorite thing to do.

"It's an amazing feeling," McCall said. "It's the opposite for the other player. I am giving a boost to our team and giving them a chance to score. It's not just that they missed it, it's my energy put in to block a shot. I go pretty wild out there. I channel that energy into offense."

Does she have a favorite shot blocker?

"Dwight Howard is my personal favorite," Erica said. "He has so much power. It's a thrill to watch."

On video, it's easy to see McCall's own energy and power in her long strides covering the court as she does a good impersonation of a guard on a fast break. Her willingness to run is a strength, ironic considering she lost her desire to play soccer because it was too much running.

"I am long and athletic and I love to run the floor," Erica said. "I want to work on my ball handling because I know I'll be playing more on the wing in college."

She doesn't have to search far for advice and willing practice players in her family. Her father, Greg McCall, is the head coach of the women's program at CSU Bakersfield and her sister, DeWanna Bonner, was a standout at Auburn University and the fifth overall pick in the 2009 WNBA draft.

"Erica is a hard-working, hard-nosed kid that loves to play the game," Greg McCall said. "She will outwork you. She can change the whole game. She's trying to get better on offense. She's more comfortable with her back to basket. She's stepping out more and more to attack from three point line in."

In the beginning of her playing career, after her short-lived goal to emulate soccer star Mia Hamm, Erica was given the simple instruction to see ball, get ball.

"She didn't know how to shoot or dribble," Greg McCall said. "She just ran and tried to grab the rebound. Once I saw how hard she was doing that, I said I can teach you the rest. I started with the basics."

Her father was not her only teacher. Mike Martin, her coach since the fifth grade and at one time her neighbor, watched Erica grow into a player who earned Gatorade State Player of the Year, McDonald's All America honors, set a state record for blocks and averaged 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8.5 blocks per game.

"She's a great person and such a hard worker," Martin said. "That was evident at a young age. Her work ethic is outrageous. That's what I always appreciated. I had an idea what direction she was heading in basketball, but she took off faster than I was expecting. She's a remarkable student athlete."

Stanford was the natural landing spot for McCall.

"It's a perfect fit," her father said. "She fits right in socially and athletically. She has the academic tools to fit right in and on the basketball side. You can't beat Stanford. You know that every time they get another student athlete there it's another perfect fit for the program because it's so hard to get in."

McCall is already playing the part of a member of Nerd Nation.

"She wears nerd glasses," Martin said. "I said 'You're a Stanford kid'. The way kids are at Stanford, she's a Stanford kid. I am proud she became a student that Stanford admitted. At Connecticut we were amazed by the winning. At Stanford academics says more about your character. I've been so proud of this girl since day one."

Of the two accomplishments - being admitted to Stanford as a student and becoming a good enough athlete to be recruited by a highly successful program - Erica has a clear winner.

"Definitely admissions," Erica said. "You feel comfortable playing basketball and you know you can play well. But knowing I can get in as a student at one of the best schools in the world was an amazing feeling."

Erica's character is not just defined by her academic and basketball success.

Martin relayed two stories about McCall's character. In the first, Erica's Ridgeview High School team in Bakersfield routed a local opponent, but Erica was so gracious that players on the other team asked for autographs. Martin said they even followed her on Twitter.

Another story relates to McCall's aforementioned aversion to cursing. Martin said that McCall abstains from using profanity, but in one tournament game she was given a technical foul when the official claimed that she said a bad word.

"She did not let the game continue until everyone knew she did not curse," Martin said.

As is the case with every incoming high school recruit, there is still room for improvement in McCall's skillset. The No. 11 high school player in the nation in the class of 2013 (per ESPN.com), McCall is in the process of trying to add to her offensive repertoire.

"I've been doing a lot of different drills to work on my shooting," Erica said. "I've been moving out to the college three [point line]. I am definitely nervous and excited. I am nervous about the transition but not about the basketball. It will be a struggle to balance it in the beginning."

Martin said Erica is working to improve her shooting to get on the court more, but her raw offensive game won't prevent her from receiving early playing time. McCall's defense and rebounding could allow the All American to make an instant impact on The Farm.

"She loves the defensive end," Martin said. "The offense is there, but Erica is putting rebounding and defense first. She's a more complete player now. She's improved her three-point shot. You have a kid who is capable of scoring but prefers defense."

Greg McCall said if Erica is around the action, she will contribute.

"If you keep her around the basket, she changes the guard's approach," Greg McCall said. "She challenges players from behind in transition. She blocks it off the backboard; I've seen it get stuck against the rim."

Erica, who said she primarily plays the "four" position but wants to be able to play the wing, said she hopes to learn from Chiney Ogwumike. It could be interesting to see who wins rebounding battles in the box score.

"It's my goal to get all the rebounds," Erica McCall said. "That's where a lot of my points came from."

One battle on the court that won't happen any time soon is an all family affair between father and daughters.

"We have some competitive games," said Greg McCall, who is 6-foot-6. "I still can beat them. I'm not as fast, so I either back them down or hit the jumper. I push them around a bit but no hard fouls, until I'm older and can't move around and then I'll just grab and hold."

Erica McCall has a different take.

"He claims he can still beat us but I haven't played him in a while," Erica said. "He plays a lot of mind games and he gets us frustrated, but we'd be fine."

One thing is for sure: Erica won't curse as she blocks his shot.

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