Charlotte Smith returns to USA Basketball as an assistant coach for the U19 women’s national team after leading Elon University to its first-ever Division I conference title this winter. The Summitt caught up with the former UNC standout in a phone interview ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Italy.
The Phoenix defeated James Madison University 78-60 to earn the 2016 CAA title and the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. Given the steady progress of the team during Smith’s tenure, it stands to reason that Elon is not done winning. In fact, Smith has prepared her team in a way that almost guarantees they will return to the big dance.
In the last five years, Elon has played West Virginia three times, including in March for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Phoenix played the reigning NCAA Champions, the South Carolina Gamecocks, twice in the same span. Both teams defeated Elon by over thirty points in the first meeting. By the last matchup to-date, Elon narrowed the gap by 15 points and 13 points, respectively.
Smith has introduced a higher level of competition into the Phoenix schedule, and people have taken notice. In March, Elon was ranked 21st overall in the NCAA Division I RPI rankings. Smith credits her time with USA Basketball for her program’s success last season.
The USA Basketball factor
Smith has worked on her development as a coach, especially since being appointed an assistant coach for USA Basketball in 2016. “I got an opportunity to become an assistant, learn under Suzie McConnell-Serio and Cami Etheridge, their philosophies, [and] a lot of different things that they do,” said Smith.
Traveling abroad with the U18 team last summer provided access to the best young international talent, “I was able to watch film, evaluate, and live scout teams from all over the world and I felt that helped me be a better coach for this past season at Elon. I credit a lot of our success, and having won a championship and advance to the NCAA [Tournament] to USA Basketball.”
Building a team quickly is a skill Smith learned in the USA Basketball system. “The most important thing is trying to build chemistry amongst the team in the short amount of time that you have … I believe off the court chemistry is just as important as on the court chemistry,” said Smith. Therefore, teambuilding activities are key to supporting the on-court drills.
USA Basketball women’s national team director Carol Callan is the mastermind of the activities that prepare the team to compete in Italy while strengthening their bond.
Players and coaches alike benefit from the leadership development, “We all as a coaching staff have evolved at the leadership activities as well, so it hasn’t just been the team … We’ve talked about anything from the culture, the food, the language – that’s part of the preparation as well, not just the basketball.” said Smith. Such activities create shared experiences among players and staff that help in the mentoring aspect of the job. “We talk a lot about that … not just being coaches, but being mentors for them as well.”
Smith sees plenty of opportunities for herself and others to learn the business of coaching, “When people think about coaching all they think are X’s and O’s. But, that’s probably 10-20% of the job and the rest is people management and a lot of administrative stuff.” The NCAA and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) are some of the resources Smith utilizes. A resource Smith hopes more coaches will utilize are WNBA players. She wants more opportunities for players to coach in the offseason, much like she did.
Smith returned to her alma mater under head coach Sylvia Hatchell in 2002. Her professional playing and coaching careers overlapped for four years. In that span, UNC earned two regular season titles and two ACC Tournament titles (2005, 2006). Mistie Bass and Krystal Thomas are two recent WNBA players that have taken up the coaching ranks during their playing career.
WNBA players – now more than ever – have access to the most cutting-edge training, development, and technology. Smith wants that knowledge to make its way to the college game, “I think any head coach that is smart would hire current WNBA players because these are players that are exposed to a lot of things. The WNBA runs a lot of things that the NBA runs, so they’re exposed to the newest and latest philosophies in terms of the game.” Perhaps an active WNBA player will make her way to Elon and help Smith continue to reach new heights.
The U19 women’s basketball team returns to action today at 2:45 pm ET face the host country Italy. Catch the action live on YouTube.