By Lily Hiser, Duke Sports Information Student Assistant
DURHAM, N.C.-- As Duke women’s basketball fans eagerly await the arrival of cooler weather and the beginning of the 2019-20 season, an exciting addition has been made to the team’s coaching staff. Wanisha Smith, a Blue Devil women’s basketball alumna, has returned to be an assistant coach for the squad.
“It’s great to be back at such a great place,” commented Smith. “Duke exudes so much excellence, from the academics to the sporting world here. Being able to be a part of something that I was a part of as a player is super special and super humbling.”
Smith certainly embodied that excellence during her 2004-08 collegiate career. In her 135 career appearances, she collected 119 starts and dished out 496 assists to help lead her team to a 117-19 overall record. Her starts and assists place her fourth all-time in Duke history for these statistics, and Smith also became the 22nd player to reach the 1,000-point mark.
After her senior season, Smith was taken 27th overall in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty. She was then traded to the Detroit Shock, but Smith was truly passionate about becoming a coach. Her first coaching opportunity came as a member of Longwood’s staff, where she helped move the team into the Big South Conference and take it into the championship game in the same year. After eight years at Longwood, Smith moved to Towson to join Coach Diane Richardson and her team. In this past season, Smith was a member of the historic Towson team, which made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
One of the lessons Smith took away from Towson’s success was the importance of recruiting, an area that she is looking forward to bringing her energy and passion to. But at its core, Smith believes the successes she has had in coaching stem mainly from her time at Duke.
“It is my knowledge that I learned here that I was able to take out into the world and now bring back here,” explained Smith, describing the impact that Duke has had on her development as an individual.
Being back at Duke brings back memories for Smith of her college days. A particularly fond memory on the court is the 2006 Elite Eight game versus Connecticut. The game came down to a buzzer beater, and Smith recalls waiting on the court as the shot was reviewed before celebrating a win and a trip to the Final Four with her teammates. But even more than exciting basketball memories, Smith cherishes the people she met at Duke and the lifelong connections she made, whether they were with teammates, coaches, or other friends on and off the court. She keeps in touch with these people and believes that being surrounded by and involved with so many great individuals have shaped her into the person that she is today.
Smith is looking forward to hitting the ground running with the squad and will be particularly focused on working with the guards. As a former player of head coach Joanne P. McCallie, Smith has a firsthand understanding of her unique coaching philosophy.
“Her style is very encouraging and goal-driven. It lets you know that you can be the absolute best player that you can be,” described Smith. “The motivation piece is something I definitely took away from her and added to my own coaching repertoire. This game is hard enough. You have to have coaches that are extremely positive and just want the best for you.”
Smith is looking forward to being a part of this positive environment because she knows exactly how important motivation can be for student athletes managing difficult schedules. Since she was once in their shoes, Smith believes she can provide the players with the encouragement that they will need to be their best on and off the court.
Retiring her uniform to look at basketball from the coaching perspective has been a humbling experience for Smith. Her understanding of the game has increased, and Smith focuses now on instructing basketball maneuvers rather than executing them.
“You can’t go out there and put your body into the player,” explained Smith. “You have to break those things down. You can’t just see something and say ‘Hey, go do this.’”
But rather than seeing this as challenge, Smith describes coaching as incredibly fun and rewarding. She loves the moment when a player is able to execute a coach’s visions, the moment where her coaching lines up exactly with the success of the player.
Blue Devil fans should look forward to seeing Smith’s Duke coaching debut this fall, as she exudes absolute passion and energy towards the success of the team. Above all, Smith cannot be more grateful to be back at Duke in her new role.
“I feel like I don’t sleep because I’m living my dream,” concluded Smith.