It’s not difficult to see why Curt Miller was ecstatic to add Steve Smith to his coaching staff in 2016.
There’s no hyperbole here; Smith is extraordinarily kind and giving, sees the game of basketball in a way few do and he cares profoundly for the players he coaches.
Quite simply, Steve Smith is one of the good guys.
“He’s just so easy to get along with,” Miller said. “But more than that, [Steve] brings an incredible depth of knowledge to our team. His experience being a coach in the league for so long has helped me immensely. It’s the little things he sees – intricacies of the WNBA game that have come from experience and success at this level. He’s a great talent evaluator and it’s especially huge for our defense.”
That term – being a “good guy” – is tossed around so frequently these days that it has lost some of its luster. It’s unfortunate, because there is no better way to describe Smith.
“Coach Steve is great,” Jonquel Jones said with a big smile. “He’s been in this league for a long time and understands how it works. He’s so knowledgeable. Plus, he just has a way with players. We connect with him and know we can count on him.
“That goes a long way.”
Smith’s coaching career spans more than 25 years and includes stints at the high school, college and professional levels where he coached nine seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock. He has also spent time working as an advanced scout at the professional level for various NBA and WNBA teams.
However, his time as a head coach at the high school level is more remarkable than many people likely realize. Smith built the Windward girls basketball program in California into a powerhouse after taking over in 2000. In those 13 years (amassing an overall high school record of 304-90), Smith guided Windward to 12 league titles, including two CIF Championships and a state title in 2011.
His teams frequently faced off against players who are now in the WNBA – including 2017 No. 1 overall pick, Kelsey Plum, the Mercury’s Danielle Robinson and Sun star, Jonquel Jones.
“Seeing those players excel at the professional level has been a great joy of mine,” Smith said. “We had a lot of battles with those players during my time at Windward. We were able to win some titles and they won a few. But coaching against them, I could definitely see they were all special, and they are showing that now in the WNBA.”
Smith’s coaching path is certainly one-of-a-kind, going from the WNBA to high school, then back to the professional ranks. In many ways, that route has given Smith an unprecedented understanding and appreciation for women’s basketball.
“Basketball is basketball,” Smith added. “Whether you’re focusing on the fundamentals in high school or at the professional level, they are equally as important. I’ve enjoyed my time being a coach at all levels, and especially witnessing the incredible growth of women’s basketball over the past two decades. It’s come an incredibly long way in a short period of time.”
That’s a big statement coming from Smith. Because of his unique coaching journey, there are very few individuals on the planet more qualified to discuss the remarkable contrast of the WNBA from its inaugural year in 1997 to where it is today.
“The best players from the first few years could absolutely play in today’s WNBA,” Smith said. “They were that good and so far ahead of their time. But overall, the quality of the league is definitely better. As a general rule, players are stronger, more athletic and smarter – you almost have to be since there are only 144 total roster spots.
“But seeing that growth in just over 20 years is special, and it’s a testament to the value of the WNBA and the impact the league is making on women’s basketball.”
As the Sun continues to improve, having the consistent, reliable and trusty Smith on the sidelines is undoubtedly a huge asset for this young team.
You can never have too many good people on your side.