Charmin Smith is headed west to replace the Lindsay Gottlieb. The first-time head coach spoke with Winsidr about the impact the New York Liberty had on her.
Charmin Smith lasted a New York minute when it came to serving as one of its premiere basketball team’s leaders. The lessons she learned and the memories she made with the New York Liberty will conversely last a lifetime.
Normally, lasting three months in a professional coaching spot is a cause for panic and concern. For Smith, it represented a brand new chapter, one celebrated by her now former employers. Smith is now the 10th coach of the University of California, Berkeley’s women’s basketball squad. She succeeds newly minted NBA assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who moves on to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Charmin is committed to supporting student-athletes in all aspects of their lives, helping them thrive academically, athletically and personally, and she has a clear vision that builds upon the foundation already established here in Berkeley,” Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton told Janie McCauley of the Associated Press. “Charmin has prepared her entire career for this opportunity, and I believe she is ready to lead our program to even greater heights.”
Smith returns to the west coast with this move. California is where she has made most of her basketball fortune. After a professional career that featured four years in the WNBA, some time with Portland’s pre-WNBA squad in the American Basketball League, and a stint in Sweden, Smith found her niche on the bench as an assistant coach.
A brief eastern sabbatical brought her to Boston College’s women’s program before returning to her alma mater of Stanford for four seasons. In 2007, she joined up with Joanne Boyle’s staff in Berkeley. In the ensuing NCAA Tournament, she helped oversee the Golden Bears’ first win in the event since 2008.
Alongside Boyle and Gottlieb, Smith helped take the Cal women to new heights. They brought home the 2010 WNIT title in Boyle’s penultimate season. Three years later, they reached the Final Four with Gottlieb. The Liberty, reeling from the worst season in franchise history, brought her in to help right the ship in April.
“Charmin knows the game and has first-hand experience as a successful player and coach,” said head coach Katie Smith (no relation) at the time of the hire. “I know Charmin will bring the work ethic, knowledge and dedication to help the Liberty succeed. We are excited to welcome her to the Liberty family.”
Over the next three months, Charmin Smith endeared herself to her new squad. The young Liberty placed an emphasis in guards headed into 2019. They selected Asia Durr second in this year’s draft to joint 2018’s tenth overall pick, Asia Durr. Herself a former guard, Charmin Smith was one of the first mentors the young Durr had as she began her WNBA journey.
In the short span, Durr learned plenty from the veteran. Charmin Smith, she reported, was one who helped slow the WNBA game down for her and made sure her rookie head never got too big.
“She always stayed on me,” Durr recalled after Charmin’s final game. “I’d watch film with her before every single game so she’s been awesome just teaching me the game, teaching me to be patient. She’s had a great impact on me.”
The Liberty were able to give Charmin a joyful bon voyage party on June 28. Lasting two games after Cal’s announcement, her last Liberty stand was a Westchester County Center thriller against the Dallas Wings. New York prevailed 69-68 to improve to 4-7. Following a subsequent win in Atlanta on Sunday, the Liberty have gone 5-3 after an 0-4 start.
Before the game, Charmin Smith spoke to W-Insidr about her New York coda.
“I’ve loved every single thing about this New York Liberty experience. New York is one of my favorite places on the planet. Katie Smith is one of my favorite people,” she said. “Reshanda Gray, Brittany Boyd, the list goes on. I had the chance to coach Amanda Zahui B, she was phenomenal. There’s so many things here that have been great experiences, great challenges for me.”
Charmin wasn’t the lone Golden Bear upon her arrival in New York. The training camp roster featured Berkeley alumnae Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray.
As if playing to cinematic sports tropes, the pair came up big one more time before Charmin’s farewell. Boyd tallied seven points, assists, and rebounds each while Gray put up 13 points and 11 rebounds for her second career double-double. Gray even sank the free throw necessary for the Liberty’s single-point escape.
The emergence of Gray as a reliable option has been particularly intriguing. Having not played a WNBA regular season game since 2016, she was the last woman admitted to the Liberty roster. She took over an interior role in the starting five when Amanda Zahui B absconded to Europe to partake in the FIBA tournament.
Rashanda has risen to the challenge, earning 26 rebounds in her past two games. Entering Wednesday’s action, Gray’s averages of 7.1 rebounds and 6.6 points are career-bests.
“They’re my family. I love those guys to death,” Charmin said fondly. “It just seemed like an amazing opportunity to be able to coach them again. The time was short, but I will still be a huge New York Liberty fan.”
Though Charmin Smith has moved on, her impact with the Liberty has created lasting memories. But she made sure there was nothing to leave a personal stamp on the Dallas proceedings. After all, she wanted to keep the win leveled as a player-based accomplishment. Asked if she made a speech after the win, she denied the notion, asking only for a team photo that will sit on her desk at Haas Pavilion.
Nonetheless, the team she left behind will long remember her contributions. Her legacy won’t only be cherished in the immediate future, but on the long-term basketball stage as well.
“I’m bummed that she’s leaving, but I’m excited for her to take on this new journey,” Katie Smith said. “We’ll miss (Charmin) but we’ll hang in there. She’ll probably give me a couple of phone calls with a few tips. I look forward to that.”
“All the best to her, her being an African-American woman and becoming a head coach for a power five school like Cal,” Tina Charles added. “She recruited me coming out of high school (at Stanford). Her being an African-American woman, being a head coach, I know all those girls will learn a lot from her.”
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