Lindsay Gottlieb, conductor of Cal's historic run to the Women's Final Four, had planned to make music on the basketball court a long time ago. Just ask her clarinet teacher from Scarsdale, N.Y., who spent much of their hourlong lessons listening to the girl talk about the New York Knicks.
It turns out Gottlieb already knew where she was headed.
The second-year Cal coach is one of the rising stars of college coaching, having brought the Golden Bears (32-3) to the verge of an NCAA championship. Second-seeded Cal plays fifth-seeded Louisville on Sunday in a national semifinal game starting at 3:30 p.m.
Gottlieb, 35, has found her calling among the hoopla of March Madness with a talented, personable group of players.
The Mama Bear has used a gentle touch to get her players to believe in each other like a family. It has helped the Cal women survive two overtime games to reach their first Final Four in history — and 53 years after the last appearance by the men's team.
"She's always been a people person," older sister Chris Gottlieb said. "Since she was a kid bouncing around with a ponytail, it was 'everybody loves Lindsay.'" Gottlieb has been preparing for this moment much of her life.
Hilary Heieck, now senior marketing manager at the Pac-12 network, remembers spending hours pretending she and Gottlieb were playing in the Final Four while shooting hoops in her driveway as teens. The best friends would design last-second plays to win the championship.
If they missed? "We would call a foul," said Heieck, who as Hilary Howard led Duke to the 1999 national championship game in San Jose. "So it always ended up working out." Gottlieb and Heieck even prepared for the media blitz by conducting fake news conferences with each other. At the time, Gottlieb wanted to be a lawyer or write for Sports Illustrated. Her genes, apparently, were inclined toward the law. Her father, Stephen Gottlieb, served almost two decades as a civil court judge in Queens County. He also was a New York assemblyman. Her sister, Chris, is a law professor at New York University while her brother, Peter, is a lawyer in New York. Another sister, Suzy, is a veterinarian.
As a child, Gottlieb often tagged along with her father to hear political speeches. At age 12, she was on the floor of the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden.
But the pull of sports proved too strong. Gottlieb got her first taste of coaching during her senior year at Scarsdale High after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Her coach, Paul Celentano, gave her a whistle and a shirt that said, "Coach." "She went with it," Celentano said. "In her mind, she was a co-coach. She never missed practice. She sat next me to me on the bench." Gottlieb played her freshman year at Brown while studying political science. The idea of coaching crystallized after her mother, Carol, died during Lindsay's sophomore year. Gottlieb took a year to study in Australia and then returned to Brown determined to become a coach.
Her mom, a stockbroker, had instilled a sense of doing something that mattered in all her children.
"This idea that I could affect women 18 to 22 years old in a significant way and get paid to do Xs and Os and talk about basketball? This is the perfect field for me," Gottlieb said.