For a few uncertain days, players on the Cal women’s basketball team weren’t sure what to think about their future.
Associate head coach Charmin Smith had left two months earlier to become an assistant with the WNBA’s New York Liberty. Then head coach Lindsay Gottlieb accepted an assistant’s position with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
“There was definitely a huge period of shock,” said redshirt junior guard MiCole Cayton. “It was an emotional rollercoaster.”
Then last Friday — nine days after Gottlieb’s exit — came word that Cal was bringing back Smith to replace her.
“We didn’t plan it this way,” Gottlieb said, “but if we had I wouldn’t have planned it any differently.”
Certainly it’s what seemingly everyone involved wants.
“We all were hoping Charmin would take this opportunity because she loves us,” Cayton said. “We were just holding our breath and hoping it was Charmin. It was, so God answered our prayers.”
“We’re all excited and happy where we’re going to go next,” senior wing Jaelyn Brown added.
Gottlieb hasn’t had a moment of regret about her decision to seize the rare opportunity to coach in the NBA. But she admits she has felt badly about the impact that move had on others.
Especially her Cal players.
“To have it end up working out this way, I am thrilled because I think she’s the best person but also because they are thrilled. That is so important to me.”
Smith, 45, got confirmation of the relationship she has with Cal’s players when she bumped into Brown on the floor at Haas Pavilion on Monday.
“It was a hug like no other. Just the emotion we both had. I love these young women like my family,” she said.
And Smith wants those “family” members to get the most out of their college experience. That starts with securing a Cal degree.
“That is the most important thing,” said Smith, who earned undergrad and Masters degrees at Stanford. “It’s important for these young women to understand it can’t be all about basketball. Because while the WNBA is great, they’re not going to make the money LeBron James is making. So that degree is the most important thing.”
Gottlieb said another important thing is that Cal’s new coach provides an up-close example for so many young female athletes. Smith currently is the only African American women’s basketball coach in the Pac-12.
“I’m not afraid to say Charmin is the right person at the right time for a number of different reasons, one of which certainly is I think it’s really important to have an exceptional African American female head coach at Cal,” Gottlieb said.
“It’s really important for young people to see people in positions of power who look like them. She shows young recruits, any young student-athlete, that you can reach any heights. I really believe in empowerment and who Charmin is is going to impact a lot of people.”