Charmin Smith provided support and confidence to familiar faces and rookies, which helped New York’s roster and staff blossom
After the Liberty’s home win against the Wings late last month, Charmin Smith was given an opportunity for a curtain call. She stole the show.
Charmin addressed the media along with Head Coach and longtime friend Katie Smith following her last game serving as an assistant coach for New York. Before heading back to California to assume her position as Head Coach of the Cal Bears, she was asked about her final message for the Liberty and she responded that she kept it brief and didn’t want to take away from the team.
“I requested a picture with them and that’s it,” she said.
“It’s a memory, it happened,” Katie Smith replied with a laugh.
Charmin Smith nurtured and built relationships that mattered
With a little over two minutes left in regulation in Atlanta a couple of days later, Brittany Boyd drove the ball down to center court and lobbed a long pass inside the arc to Reshanda Gray. The ball ricocheted off the glass, landing in the hoop on a bounce and short pass from Gray to rookie Asia Durr. The drive off the transition was quick and crisp.
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Hired to join New York’s coaching staff in the beginning of April, Charmin Smith moved cross-country after 12 years of serving Cal’s program as an assistant. To say this was a reunion of sorts was an understatement. For Katie Smith, it was only a matter of time before she’d be working with her former Minnesota Lynx teammate. According to Smith, Charmin was looking for a change of pace from the grind of the college circuit. But her arrival in New York wasn’t without constant reminders of her California coaching days.
Reuniting with point guard Boyd, power forward Gray and former teammate Smith was mutually beneficial. After the win against Dallas on Friday, Tina Charles reminisced and mentioned that Charmin’s relationship with Head Coach Smith reminded her of the bond she witnessed a few years ago between former head Bill Laimbeer and his apprentice Katie Smith.
Tina Charles has noticed that both Boyd and Gray have come into their own. Boyd is second in the league in assists per game. Gray is back in the league in the right place at the right time, hauling down a total of 24 boards in three games.
“She knows her players,” Gray said of Charmin. “She takes the time out to get to know her players. It’s more than just basketball for her. That’s special.”
According to Gray, the former New York assistant is a “family person”, building profound relationships wherever she goes. Gray remembers endearing moments from her college days such as Smith correcting her grammar and arguing with Gray on what color her Jordans were—Gray thought they were purple while Smith thought they were blue.
While Boyd didn’t relive any best of Charmin Smith moments with me on Friday night, it is no secret that these two have an unbreakable bond as well.
“She’s going to get on their nerves,” Boyd said about Smith’s new opportunity at her alma mater. “They have to know it’s going to come from love. She wants you to be great.”
In addition to the care Smith provides to her players, Katie Smith knew Charmin would take on a pedagogical role. “She’s also a teacher,” Katie said. “She’s able to run drills. We brought some of her drills. A breath of fresh air. You are always trying to steal things.”
In New York, her most willing and diligent student was Asia Durr. The rookie continues to show why she was the right call at number two in the draft. Enter any New York game early, and you’d find Asia Durr sitting next to Assistant Coach Smith, going through the rookie’s film from earlier performances. Transitioning to the league from college is no walk in the park and having been through that now twice, Charmin was a well-fitted mentor for the dynamic but reserved Durr. Smith’s perspective and interest in her process slowed the game down for the rookie.
“She sees things in the game differently,” Durr said on Smith. “If you have a shot in the corner and your post has the seal underneath the basket, look for that. Most people would say take the three. But she’s very detailed and I respect that about her. When I’m out there, the game seems so fast because it’s my first year. I just stay with her, learning from her helps me out. It helps the game slow down.”
Fifth-year assistant Herb Williams broke down their bond, explaining what they would focus on during their pre-game lessons. “Both of them are just out of college and she was just showing her some mistakes,” Williams said. “Where [Durr] can be more aggressive. She can assert herself more. We need her to be more aggressive. And [Charmin Smith] was just constantly giving her that reinforcement, you know putting her arm around her and showing her what she was doing wrong, showing her what she was doing right.”
Charmin Smith wasn’t afraid to impose her own will on New York’s system
Katie Smith chuckled when I first asked her about how exactly Charmin impacted her staff. She called her a “confidant” who isn’t afraid to speak up and express her own ideas. “That type of banter is healthy,” the Head Coach said. “We all have it and it helps us see all sides and really see what’s happening and so it’s just been really helpful.”
Charmin Smith graduated from Stanford with two engineering degrees, earning a bachelors and masters in civil and environmental engineering. Both Herb Williams and Katie Smith have experienced that engineering mind at work, especially when Head Coach Smith would roll out a new play or drill, and Charmin would pepper her with questions always asking “how are you going to explain it?”
“She was very very persistent,” Williams said. “Explain to me why you do this. Break this down. Show me why these parts work together. Show me why we are going to do this. Show me why we are going to do that. And then she’ll be like okay, I got that, I understand.”
Williams joked about Charmin’s immediate desire to purchase a bike upon arriving in New York. He said that was a part of the “California” in her personality. But he also made it a point to mention her consistency and keen eye. And for New York, consistency is a quality that the Liberty desperately needed after last season.
Video coordinator and former Liberty Assistant Coach Barbara Farris acknowledged another one of Smith’s many strengths. During practice last Thursday, Farris wished Smith could be there to witness her sincere praise for the rookie Cal Head Coach.
“She would just step in and say what she’d need to and find those moments on the side, and understand the language of how she could connect and bond with each individual,” she said. “And so that’s something that I think all of us can learn from and get better at. And find out ways that we can share ourselves without being too much. And that’s something that I definitely took away from Charmin.”
How does New York continue to rebound from all of the Ch-ch-changes?
And another one gone. And Another one gone. How long can the Liberty stand the heat?
Sure, the Eurobasket quartet and Rebecca Allen’s hand fracture don’t make Smith’s departure any easier. But what changes for Katie Smith and her personnel? Apparently, not that much. According to Smith, each person, including Director of Player & Franchise Development, Teresa Weatherspoon, and Farris included will take just a bit more of a workload.
“So basically all of us are kind of in it,” Smith said. We sit down…We start to talk about what offense do they run, what type of stuff could we run in practice that mimics some of the things that we are going to see. It’s always just free banter and obviously, the person that is their scout has the most intel, but we’ve also watched as well.”
Farris is confident that New York will adjust as she values winning ball games and her team’s comfort. “Obviously [Charmin] had a number of opponent scouts that she was personally responsible for,” she said. “So we’ll just kind of absorb that as a staff. And it will make it work. In any team setting it’s all about making sure you’re doing what’s best for the team. Making sure that the players have everything that they need.”
Smith didn’t seem overwhelmed by this new reality. If anything she appeared somber to be losing her friend. She reflected on what the main focus will be moving forward.
“Our job, especially as a head coach, is to poke holes in what you see,” she said. “I’m doing a scout on us. All right, what worked and what didn’t. What things do we take away from them that we need to do. That’s our job every time we are doing a scout. That’s how we do everything and that’s not going to change.”
Change has a stigma. It’s either met with great promise or unpredictable negatives. In light of all the change that her team has experienced in the last two seasons, Smith desires for her players and personnel to “show up every day,” focusing on the factors that can be controlled. She will live with the wins and losses.
“You could share and tell them ‘hey this is an opportunity’,” Smith said. “It’s not a negative. This is an opportunity for someone here to now have more minutes. To then make an impact.”
And I could argue that’s exactly what’s happened for New York. Boyd, Durr and Gray have all stepped up in their own ways.
So far New York has responded to the stimuli caused by Eurobasket. No other team in the WNBA has been affected by the tournament in the way the Liberty has. We’ll have to see how the New York continue to progress without Charmin Smith on the sidelines or in the gym, but I think Reshanda Gray was correct. The new Cal head coach doesn’t just vanish. While Smith is almost 3,000 miles away, I don’t think she’ll ever leave Gray or New York’s ear for that matter.
“If [Smith] could probably have it in her ideal way, she’d like to finish the season and then coach at Cal,” Katie Smith said. “I know she’ll keep an eye on us.”
Katie realizes something else as well. Her friend is just one call away.
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