The former Cardinal returns to lead the cross-Bay rival Golden Bears
Since 1993, Charmin Smith had only spent seven years either playing or coaching women’s basketball somewhere other than the Bay Area. So, it was a decided departure when, less than three months ago, the then-associate head coach of California women’s basketball pulled up stakes and moved across the country to become an assistant coach for the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
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Perhaps it is her destiny to be at Cal, though. Smith was tapped to take over as head coach of the Golden Bears late last week. She replaces Lindsay Gottlieb, who took an assistant coaching position with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Smith was introduced as the new head coach of California at a press conference in Berkeley on Tuesday.
Smith started her college career at Stanford, where she played for Tara VanDerveer from 1993 through 1997. After college, she stayed in the game despite earning a master’s degree in engineering.
The guard went on to play for the Portland Power of the short-lived American Basketball League, then spent four years in the WNBA before calling quits on her playing career. It was then that coaching came calling.
Smith started her coaching career as an assistant at Boston College before returning to the West Coast to serve as an assistant at her alma mater. After three years spent learning under VanDerveer, she found her way to the East Bay, taking an assistant coaching position at rival Cal under Joanne Boyle.
The Golden Bears started building something under Boyle, winning the 2010 Postseason WNIT. They really hit it big three years later. Then under the leadership of Gottlieb, Cal won the Pac-12 in 2013 and made their way to their first Final Four. Smith was a part of both staffs.
Smith will take over a very different program than the one that lost to eventual national champion Baylor in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Most importantly, she will not have the services of Kristine Anigwe, one of the best players to have ever worn a Cal uniform.
Anigwe is now in Connecticut, playing her first WNBA season for the Sun. Guard Asha Thomas has graduated. Grad transfer Recee’ Caldwell is gone, too.
It doesn’t stop with seniors, either. The Golden Bears may lose former McDonald’s All-American McKenzie Forbes, who announced her plans to transfer last week. Based on Forbes’ statement at the time, Smith may hope to convince her to stay; Forbes did not know at the time that Smith would be returning and would retain the remaining staff. As of now, though, Forbes is on her way out the door.
Rising junior Kianna Smith, another former McDonald’s honoree, announced that she would transfer back in April. She has since committed to Louisville. The transfer and graduations leave the program with Jaelyn Brown as the lone returning starter from a team that went 20-13 (9-9, Pac-12) last season.
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