On March 11th, 2017, Charlotte Smith led the Elon University to their first ever conference championship. The Phoenix defeated three-time Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Champions James Madison University 78-60.
In xx, the newly named CAA Coach of the Year was granted a contract extension through the 2020-21 season. Coach Smith is the sixth coach for Elon University (formerly Elon College), the first being none other than Sandra “Kay” Yow. The Female Coaching Network spoke with Smith early in the season about her the history of women’s basketball in North Carolina, her professional playing days, coaching with USA Basketball, and her philosophy on coaching.
When Charlotte Smith was growing up, she admittedly didn’t know much about the rich history of women’s basketball in her home state, “At that time, there was not a whole lot of coverage … you grew up, of course knowing about men’s basketball at North Carolina and how great that was, and Duke University … NC State and Wake Forest.”
However, Smith has seen that change through her professional career. After graduating from North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1995, Smith went on to play basketball in Italy. By the time Smith concluded her first professional season, there were two professional leagues – the ABL and the WNBA. In 1999, Smith joined the Charlotte Sting under Coach Marynell Meadors. Smith joined Dawn Staley to give the Sting a 15-17 record her first season.
After eight professional season, Smith earned a role as an Assistant Coach at her alma mater. Her one time coach, Sylvia Hatchel, was now her colleague. For Smith, the adjustment from player to coach was eye opening, “you realize how much work is put into you as a player. You spend countless hours studying film, countless hours of doing scouting reports, practice times, on-the-road recruiting, it’s a huge juggle [laughs] and it’s a struggle. When you toss into the equation work-life balance, it’s very difficult.”
However, Smith was able to manage the transition and learn from Coach Hatchel who was now a career mentor in a very direct way. She recalls quickly learning to appreciate all the hard work coaches pour into several players, multiplied by the number of season they coach.
To that end, Smith notes that Coach Hatchel taught her to realize that her new profession is bigger than just the game, “your coaching life skills. Your coaching to develop [players] for a lifetime of success. And when I think about all the things that she taught me on the court [as a player] the things that stand out the most is everyday in the huddle, hearing her words of inspiration. Everyday she gave a quote or some thought pertaining to life and helped us to develop as people. You can’t get lost in the shuffle of just building a championship program, and not building championship people.”
It was Hatchel that suggested Smith to look for head coaching positions, encouraging her player-turned-protégé to establish her own roots, “we had been in discussion about me transitioning from being an assistant to a head coach for a couple of years,” shared Smith.
After interviewing for a few jobs, but not finding the right fit, Smith decided to stay with UNC for another year. However, as fate would have it, “little old Elon” (as us alumni refer to it), provided the right opportunity, “I talked to Coach Hatchel and she felt like it was a good institution and a good athletic program on the rise.”
Now, it is Smith at the helm. At Elon University, Smith has improved the outcomes on and off the court. With Smith in charge through six seasons, the Phoenix earned a spot in a postseason tournament for three consecutive years. Just yesterday, the Phoenix won the CAA Championship title, giving them an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. This will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the program. Elon fell to West Virginia 75-62 in the first round.
Coach Smith discussed her hopes for the future of Elon Basketball, “it’s an exciting brand of basketball, we love to play up tempo – fast breaking, pressing – it’s an equal opportunity offense and it’s a fun style of play … I feel like that’s what basketball should be all about.”
Charlotte Smith also shared some motivating words for women contemplating whether or not to jump into coaching, “everything that you’ve worked so hard throughout all those years [has] prepared you for this moment. Sometimes in life, we will face fear, but we have to have the courage to walk to the other side in order to discover the greatness that’s been placed within us.”
To that end, Coach Smith made a huge step along her journey this summer as the assistant coach for the USA Basketball Women’s U-18 Team. “It’s always been a dream of mine to coach USA Basketball” said Smith. As a player, the former NCAA National Champion was able to play on several USA rosters, but never broke through to the Olympics. Being named an assistant coach under Suzie McConnell-Serio is anther opportunity for her to realize a longstanding goal, “as a player, I wasn’t able to be an Olympian … it’s just one of those steps towards my aspirations and dreams to be an Olympic coach.”
McConnell-Serio and her staff led the team to a gold medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Chile last July. The first place finish marks the eighth consecutive title, and the ninth overall for the program. Smith will rejoin McConnell-Serio this summer as an assistant coach for the USA U-19 Women’s Team. Smith will certainly be a coach to watch rise in the USA system, as well as in the NCAA.