Courtesy Cal/Mollie McCure
Where Are They Now? Charmin Smith
Then: Backup PG, 2000-01
Now: Assistant Coach, California
Stay tuned throughout the 10th Anniversary season as we check in with your favorite Storm players to see what they have been up to since the conclusion of their playing careers. We start today with inaugural Storm player Charmin Smith.
As a part of the first two Seattle Storm rosters, Charmin Smith became a fan favorite because of her energetic style and pressure defense. The Storm was Smith's second expansion franchise after she was part of the inaugural Minnesota Lynx team in 1999. Storm Head Coach Lin Dunn, who had briefly coached Smith in the ABL with the Portland Power, made her one of the Storm's selections in the Expansion Draft. Smith would go on to play all 32 games each of the next two seasons, staring 11, before being waived by the Storm in training camp the following season.
Smith played four more games for the Phoenix Mercury before calling it a career. That's when her path took an unexpected turn. Smith "never thought" she would be a coach, but couldn't walk away from the sport of basketball. She started her career on the sidelines at Boston College before returning to her alma mater to coach under legendary Tara VanDerveer. She spent three seasons with the Cardinal before moving across the bay to join Joanne Boyle's California coaching staff, seeking a new perspective. "I wanted to know what it was like on the other side," Smith explains, "to have to build and to be the hunter instead of the hunted."
In two years at Cal, Smith has helped the Bears challenge Stanford's Pac-10 supremacy. California finished second in the conference each of the last two years and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history last month before falling to the eventual National Champions, Connecticut. Next year, the Bears will welcome a recruiting class ranked No. 4 in the country by ESPN Hoop Gurlz as they continue to build on their success.
Smith chatted with storm.wnba.com's Kevin Pelton about her memories from her time in Seattle as well as her budding coaching career.
What memories stand out when you think back on your time with the Storm?
Smith: Oh, gosh. I just remember the first game against the Houston Comets with Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson and Janeth Arcain. We had this big introduction - we're walking down from the upper level to the court for the starting lineups. It was just crazy. The fans were always so supportive. We're an expansion team and not winning that many games, but the fans was there. It was great. The fan support was phenomenal. Then being the first is always a cool thing. For some reason, that Houston game really stands out in my mind.
Do you take pride in helping set the tone for the Storm's success on and off the floor?
I feel good about the type of team that we were for the community, because I think that's crucial to start off on the right foot, to get the community to support you and have the fans buy in and really support the team whether you're winning or losing. We didn't have a great record, but people still like watching our energy and our competitiveness and our passion. That's something I'm really proud of, and the people who have followed from when I was there - of course, like Lauren Jackson, who was there for a while - they've been able to raise that level of play to that championship level. That's the next step. You get everyone on board in the community and you have the fans and then you're able to put the talent together. I think the general managers there and Karen Bryant and everyone there who has had a part in putting this team together has done a great job in getting people like Sue Bird and hopefully keeping a player like Lauren Jackson to not only have great energy and passion on the court but also win championships. Ultimately, that's what you want.
Still being in the public eye and coming up to Seattle to play at UW each year, do you hear often from Storm fans?
I think there are some fans out there who are still following. I'll see people not just at UW, but when we're down in L.A., Arizona, all over. There are fans who are like, 'I used to watch you with Seattle.' I'm like, 'Really?' I always get a chuckle out of it. It's just a cool thing to be able to say that you were part of the WNBA, which is so important to women's basketball and the future for all the little girls out there that have the dream that I didn't have when I was a young girl because the league didn't exist. I just think it's really important that people continue to support it, and it feels good to have been a part of it.
Do you have any good stories about Coach Dunn you can share?
I have a lot of Lin Dunn stories, but I can't share most of them! That's a tough one. Coach Dunn is a character. She always had you laughing, but always had you working hard. I'm just extremely grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to be in Seattle. She picked me up from Minnesota in the Expansion Draft. I think she's a phenomenal coach. I'm really happy to see her with another WNBA team. But she always kept it interesting - that's for sure.
What did you learn from Coach Dunn that you have used in your own coaching career?
Preparation. She had us prepared. We didn't have the championship talent to start off the franchise, but she had us prepared for every game - knowing scouting report details, having a plan on how we were going to take advantage of certain mismatches that we might have, how we would prevent people from exploiting the advantages and mismatches that they had. She was really detailed and thorough in everything she did to prepare us for the game. I never felt like we were going into a situation not knowing what the other team was going to do and how we were going to try to counter that. That's something that I really try to do with my players - never have them say, 'Coach, I didn't know they were going to do that.' We've got to prepare our athletes so they're most comfortable out there.
How did Coach Dunn manage to keep the team up in the midst of a lot of losses the first two seasons?
Like I said, she always made things fun. She's just got that type of personality, where she's a really enjoyable coach to be around. Now she had her moments where she's screaming and hollering and making comments, but you knew at the end of the day that she loved each and every one of us and just wanted us to be better. When she's getting on you in that way, you didn't really take it personally. In terms of how she kept us up, in the WNBA there's another game tomorrow. There's no time to worry about what happened yesterday. Of course you have to make adjustments, but we focused on the next game. Let's just keep getting better. We know we're young. We know that these other franchises have been around for a while, but we're just going to get after it. She had that type of mentality - let's get ready for the next game and go out there and be competitive and leave it all on the court.
With how many of your Storm teammates are you still in contact?
I saw Simone (Edwards) at the Final Four. I just got off the phone with Stacey Lovelace, spoke with her yesterday. Katrina Hibbert is a really good friend of mine, and we still e-mail and keep in touch. I owe her a visit to Australia - working on that. Michelle Edwards is at Rutgers, so I definitely see her - we played them this year. Sonja Henning is a Stanford grad, so we have that connection. I'd say there's a lot. I named five and I'm sure there's a lot more out there. Juana Brown was there for a minute and I just had some e-mail communication with her. A lot of people I see, maybe they were in training camp for a week, but you're still connected if you were in practice with that Storm practice gear on, because at the end all of us - well, a lot of us - have that time when it's the end of the road. I definitely have a lot of friends from my time in Seattle.
What is it like building a tradition at Cal as compared to being part of a storied Stanford program?
That's a major reason why I made the move. A lot of people asked me that, and that was a major reason - I wanted to know what it was like on the other side, to have to build and to be the hunter instead of the hunted. It's extremely challenging, but at the same time we're making steps. Every year we've taken great steps to get where we want to be ultimately. It's really rewarding to see even the fan support that we have or e-mails you get from people in the community saying, 'We're so glad there are two teams in the Bay Area that we can cheer for. You guys are making us proud. Keep it up.' That means a lot to me. Like I said, it's been very challenging. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We still don't have a Pac-10 championship, but we're working really hard to go after our goals. You have to make steps each year. It takes a while.
Word is that you have an excellent crop of freshmen coming in next year?
They're a phenomenal group. We're really excited. Obviously losing Ash, Dev (Devanei Hampton) and Trell (Shantrell Sheed), they're big shoes to fill. That's why we had to get seven - seven to fill three. They're freshmen at the end of the day. We're going to be very young. I think you saw Rutgers go through some struggles with a really young team this past season, and they turned it on in March. I think for us next year, we're already trying to figure out how to manage seven freshmen and what we need to do starting with summer school, but I think the main goal is to worry about the finish and not the start. It's not the start of the race that matters; it's the finish. We're going to have to teach a lot, be patient - I'm sure we'll learn a lot as well - and see what we can do with a young group, being used to having a veteran group. But the talent will definitely be there.
What stands out as a highlight from your coaching career?
Oh, man. That's tough. There are so many moments that I'm really, really proud of, but I think back to years at Stanford and the Pac-10 championships and winning the Pac-10 Tournament when we did. I have a much greater appreciation for that now having been at Cal and realizing how hard it is. I guess I just kind of expected it. Now being here, where every single game a Pac-10 championship is on the line during the regular season - you drop a game and you know Stanford might get you, even though we were able to beat them. I think those Pac-10 championships mean a lot more to me now. You just don't see it when you're in it. That experience is definitely huge, but at the same time, being here it's different victories along the way that are really special. I would say, being in the Pac-10, the games against Stanford at Cal were amazing, because we've got 10,000 people in the stands. We lost last year, a two-point game, and then we won this year in another close game. Those games really, to me, felt like such a Final Four vibe with the crowd and the energy and the importance of the game. It just had such an incredible feeling that those are the moments that I remember. But in terms of highlights, I would say I'm still working to get that ultimate highlight. That's what keeps you motivated. That's what drives you every day to keep getting better and keep finding ways to make your players better.
What does the future hold for you in your coaching career?
In the broad sense, I want to win championships. I really do. That's what motivates me, just winning. It's a team thing and I want to get to that point. Still got some work to do, obviously. In terms of my individual goals and aspirations, it's not something that I have laid out. There's no specific plan for me. I never thought that I'd be coaching until the day I took the coaching job. It's not something that I ever wanted. I started coaching because I couldn't play anymore and I couldn't get rid of that basketball itch. It's my passion. I couldn't walk away from the game. That being said, I absolutely love it and I'm happy doing what I'm doing right now. A couple of years from now, down the road, who knows? People always ask me, 'Do you want to be a head coach? What are your goals?' What I say is I want to be prepared for whatever opportunity comes my way. If that's a head-coaching position somewhere down the road, I just want to be ready for it. I don't have this plan where I'm like, 'In three years I want to be a head coach at a mid-major program and then move to a BCS school.' I don't have that plan laid out. I want to be happy with what I'm doing today and keep getting better as a coach so I'm ready for what comes my way tomorrow.