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Bears Excited for Charmin Smith's Return to Cal

June 25, 2019

Berkeley, CA--At a press conference attended by many long-time Bear fans and Cal staffers, Charmin Smith was introduced as the new head coach of Cal women’s basketball.

“It’s really really cool to be back,” said Smith. “I truly do believe in Cal basketball. The past 12 years of my life were dedicated to this University, this program, and most importantly, the young women on the team. A team is a reflection of the coach, and under my leadership, this team will embody discipline, commitment, and competitiveness. I will not be outworked. The young women in the locker room, they have so much more in them, and it’s my job to get that out of them. I expect each of them to be the best version of themselves on the court, in the classroom, on campus, and in our community. I just have so much love for this group.” 

Apparently the love is mutual, as there was an outpouring of support for Smith.

Cal Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton described the selection process as thorough, with candidates spanning across the country. But in the end, it was Smith who impressed at her interview.

“When [Smith] walked through the door and talked about her vision--character, accountability, discipline, and developing young women on and off the court, it was flat amazing,” said Knowlton. “And when she showed us her plan--what she was going to do and how she was going to do it--we were blown away.”

Pointing out that Smith was “the epitome of student-athlete,” Knowlton highlighted that Smith earned degrees (Bachelor’s and Master’s) in civil engineering and environmental engineering “with a 3.92 GPA while being a player.

“She has earned the right to be here because she’s exceptional in every way.”

Knowlton was not the only person who was excited for Smith to take the reins. Former Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who recently left to become an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, returned to Berkeley to support her friend and former colleague.

“I don’t know if it could feel more right,” said Gottlieb. “She’s the right person at the right time for this program. I love that there’s some continuity, and that feels good. But I also know that she’s going to put her own mark on it; she’s going to take it to new heights and do it her way. I’m just excited to be her biggest supporter. We didn’t plan it, obviously, but the way it turned out just feels so right on every level.”

Gottlieb shared that Knowlton and Senior Associate Athletics Director Jenny Simon-O’Neill were “very gracious” in being open to her thoughts about where things stood with the Cal program and what type of person she thought could be the best fit as her replacement. “They were very open to my opinion, but then they went out and did their own research. And I’m just really thrilled that on their own, they came to this decision.”

Gottlieb believes that Smith’s many years of experience as Associate Head Coach will serve her well, as she will know all the parts of the job. But Smith will also bring her own strengths to the table: “She is incredibly detail-oriented, and she’s going to put that into tangible ways that make the team better. Now she also has recent perspective from the WNBA in terms of playing styles. She is also an incredibly accomplished African American female coach. There are so many ways that this is an important and great hire, and I’m excited to have a front-row seat--from 3000 miles away--to watch the next era Cal women’s basketball.”

Kai Felton, who served as interim head coach while Cal searched for the new head coach, also echoed Gottlieb’s sentiments. “I’m ecstatic! Charmin is not only a great coach, she’s a great friend. She’s someone that I can’t wait to support in a new role. Seeing her successful at Cal is going to be one of my highest priorities.”

Several players were in attendance. CJ West, Jaelyn Brown, and Mi’Cole Cayton, took time away from their schedule to come support their once and future coach. 

“Charmin coming back... I definitely definitely put all my trust in her,” said Cayton, who is recovering from a knee injury but plans to be back this season. “She’s going to do great things here. With her being a defensive coach and her defensive coach mindset, that’s where we relate. I know she’ll take us to a new level, one we never thought we could reach. So I’m really really excited to get started.”

Brown and West shared about how it’s been for them in these tumultous last few months. A quick refresher: Kianna Smith transferring to Louisville, Charmin Smith leaving for the NY Liberty, new assistant coach April Smith coming onboard, Gottlieb leaving, McKenzie Forbes announcing her intent to transfer. So, Smith returning as head coach is the boost the team really needed.

“When Charmin left, we were all very emotional, very sad,” said Brown. “But we were also happy for her. She needed a change. She needed a new opportunity, challenge. It was bittersweet. Then we hear about Lindsay leaving--we were all a little lost. Me personally, I felt a little lost. I didn’t know who our new coach was going to be, it’s my senior year, and things are up in the air as I’m trying to be the best I can for the next level. When we heard it was Charmin, it was just a relief feeling. It was amazing.”

“We had a conference call with Jim Knowlton,” explained West about how the team learned of Smith’s hire. “They said it was at noon, but then they moved up our conference call, so we thought something was wrong, something happened. Like it was going to take another week to find someone; we were thinking the worst. And then he said, “Sh--“ like the first C H of her name, and we all [gasped], and then he said “Charmin Smith” and we all instantly screamed and were really really excited. It was funny because we were Facetiming each other that whole entire week during that time when we had no idea what was going to happen, and we were all stressed out about it. We were emailing Jim Knowlton, suggesting traits that we wanted [in a coach], trying to be as involved as we can in the process. So this is literally the best outcome that we have ever imagined happening.”

In the press conference, Knowlton highlighted Smith’s commitment to issues of diversity and representation, highlight her involvement with the Chancellor’s Council for Students of Color and the Cal Athletics’ Equity Inclusion and Diversity Committee. Smith herself acknowledged that it meant a lot to her, as an African American woman, to be hired as the head coach, and what her hiring might represent to others.

“It’s definitely important for women of color, African American women, to coach... themselves, basically,” said Brown. “We want to see a leader that looks like us, and I think that’s so beneficial on so many levels. You don’t see Black women in higher positions, and it’s inspiring for us, that we can do it too.”

“It means so much,” said CJ West. “Coming to Cal, to Berkeley and Oakland, it’s really diverse, and you see a bunch of different types of people. But the sports world, we see a lot of the same type of players and a lot of the same type of coaching staff and a lot of the same type of administration. So it’s kind of like, ‘Am I able to build relationships with people who will help me if they don’t know what I’m going through on an everyday basis?’ You know, in the classroom, I don’t have anyone that looks like me teach me subjects that should impact me more than them. So it means so much, not only that it’s Charmin Smith, but just to have someone that knows what you’re going through being a woman and also being an African American woman is just really important. And it’s going to make college life and my life in the future a lot easier, because I’m going to be able to get her advice and her experience.”




Discussion from...

Bears Excited for Charmin Smith's Return to Cal

4,189 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 3 yr ago by CalBandGr8t
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I am so pleased the players will be coached by Charmin Smith. I have liked C.J.West since she was a freshman. I have spoken to her mother on occasion. I was seated with C.J. and her parents at the banquet in April. Also, I spoke a few words to Jaelyn Brown and Micole Clayton. These student athletes must be so relieved to know there will be continuity within the Women Basketball Program at CAL. I am glad they were excited. It will not be an easy season for the players. However, with Charmin as the Head Coach, there will be changes, and I expect the players will give their best effort. C.J. and Jaelyn can go for it their senior year. Micole has so much courage to come back after sustaining injuries her freshman and sophomore years. The program is for the players, and they should be given the best opportunity to suceed on the court, and graduate from CAL. I expect recruiting will improve from this season on. Charmin and April will be great in so many ways. Congratulations to the Players and their Coaches! GO BEARS!
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This feels so right!

Welcome back, Coach Smith!
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