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Forney finally thriving as young Bears struggle

By Dean Caparaz, Daily Planet Correspondent
Friday December 28, 2001

Ami Forney is the brightest light in what has been an up-and-down season for the California women’s basketball team. 

The Golden Bears quiet co-captain led her team to a strong 4-0 start with fine individual play. But they have lost all five games since then, including losses to Arizona and Arizona State last weekend in the Bears’ opening Pac-10 trip. Forney scored 23 against the Wildcats and had her ninth career double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds against the Sun Devils.  

After producing a strong junior season – in which she scored 10 points per game, grabbed 7.9 rebounds per game – the 6-foot-2 post player is following up with a pretty good senior one. So far, the Newark product leads the Golden Bears in scoring, with 15.3 points per game, and rebounding, with 6.2 boards per game.  

“Her season is going very well,” Cal head coach Caren Horstmeyer says. “She has really stepped up her offensive output and offensive intensity. Maybe the most beneficial thing to our team this year is she wants the ball. When she gets it, she’s going to score it. She’s been very tough to stop.  

Normally a leader by example, Forney has had to be a bit more vocal now that she’s a co-captain and a senior.  

“Ami was very, very quiet when she first got here,” teammate and fellow senior Janet Franey says. “She’s had to work on speaking with us. She has to motivate and encourage us, tell us things the coaches want us to know, which is hard sometimes. This year she’s much better at letting us know what we should be doing and pumping us up at halftime. I’m impressed she’s come out of her own shell.”  

“Because a lot of people in my class aren’t here, that really forced me to step up a little bit more,” Forney says. “As far as my scoring goes, I’ve done a lot better. Freshman year, I was timid and always looked to pass. Scoring goes more with being more aggressive.”  

One reason Forney gets most of the shots in the post is that Shavaki Jackson is no longer with the team. Jackson, a skilled center who came to Cal in the same recruiting class as Forney during the Marianne Stanley era, left the program when Caren Horstmeyer took over as head coach before last season. Forney and Franey are the only players left from their freshman class and are the only seniors on the current squad. Cal has nine newcomers, including freshman starters Kristin Iwanaga and Leigh Gregory, and the growing pains have been evident in the team’s recent play. 

Forney hasn’t been discouraged by her team’s struggles of late, which have come in part because all the players are still getting used to each other.  

“I’m real proud of our freshman, who’ve played big minutes and practice hard,” she says. “Some teams come to Cal thinking it’ll be an easy victory because we have lots of young people. Even though we’ve lost [five] in a row, the baskets will start falling and we’ll win, because of their hard work. They’re all willing to learn and all learning very quickly.”  

“We’re encouraged by her leadership and play on the court,” Horstmeyer says of Forney. “Teams more talented than we are but don’t necessarily play as well as a team as we do.”  

Cal has proven to be a strong rebounding and defensive team – the Bears have outrebounded six of nine opponents this year – but has to improve offensively, scoring just 59.9 ppg as a team so far. Of their five losses, the first four were by six points or less. Cal could have won each of those four but didn’t, partly because few players outside of Forney wanted the ball in crunch time. Gregory is Cal’s second-leading scorer with 10.9 ppg, but she missed the Arizona games with an injury sustained last week.  

When Forney does get the ball late in games, opposing teams often double-team her, which raises the need for better outside shooting. Cal hopes freshman guard Jackie Lord, a good shooter who played in the Arizona games after sitting out the previous seven with an injury, should help alleviate defensive pressure on Forney. 

“We need the guards to start hitting from outside,” says Franey, herself a 3-point specialist. “We feel bad people do that [double-team Forney] now. They know we’re going to her. We can’t just rely on her to do all our scoring.”  

When she wants to get away from hoops, Forney turns to her other passion – photography. The sociology major is an aspiring portrait photographer who has taken photos of her teammates and of other Cal athletes. Forney put together a calendar of Cal men’s athletes for a project in a visual studies class. The calendar, of Cal ‘hot bodies,’ features bare-chested athletes including Brian Wethers, Charon Arnold, Dennis Gates and former Bear Sean Lampley. Forney received an A for the project.  

“It’s a talent she has,” Horstmeyer says. “She knows how to get people to pose in the right position, to ultimately be a great picture.”  

Of the calendar Horstmeyer says, “All I can tell you is it’s pretty good.” Horstmeyer is prouder of Forney’s play on the court. Cal’s second-year coach feels that Forney is proving that she can play professionally in the WNBA next year.  

“I think that’s going to be whether Ami wants to do that or doesn’t want to do that,” Horstmeyer says. “That’s probably going to be Ami’s choice. I think she is [a pro prospect] because of her athleticism, her size. She’s a late developer in terms of the college game. The last couple years she’s been strong.”