Even veteran coaches can get nervous when jumping into a new endeavor. Adding to the apprehension for Illinois Wesleyan women’s basketball coach Mia Smith is jumping midstream into an at-large representative for selecting athletes and coaches for the national USA Basketball committee. She had no idea she was even being considered.
“The call came totally out of the blue,” said Smith. “I was given a call by Carol Callan, she’s the director of USA Women’s basketball. She said ‘we have a vacancy we’d like for you to fill it, are you able to do so?’ And I said yes. It’s almost as exciting to sit on this committee as it was to accept my position at Wesleyan 20 years ago.”
Smith was a late replacement, coming in after 150 players had already been selected from the initial evaluations. Now that she's on board, Smith is among those responsible for selecting the final 12 players by early June to be on the 16 and under team. As the girls compete through drills and scrimmages for those coveted spots, Smith will zone in on each players intangibles.
“You’re going to have to be a team player AND stand out,” said Smith. “And that’s hard to do. We’ll be looking by position, like who are the best point guards, who are the best shooting guards, who are the best post players.”
Smith believes discerning player intangibles are a key reason Division III coaches including Smith are selected to be on the committee. Coaching at IWU in the middle of Illinois means she is centrally located within a Mecca of girls basketball. The area inside the perimeter staked out by Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Kansas City is a hotbed of some of the best talent in the country. As someone who evaluates these players regularly during recruiting, she believes she’s able to identify the differences among Division I and Division III players, as well as those she characterizes as “tweeners.”
“Because you look for who is a great team player first of all,” said Smith. “How do they handle themselves, what type of emotions are they handling? Are they rebounding right after a mistake or are they letting that mistake dwell within them and it’s holding them and their team back? It’s those types of things that I’ll be looking for.”
Smith also believes the up-tempo style her teams play at Illinois Wesleyan will be an asset to her evaluation process.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to notice the girls that have some quickness and ability to remain quick for the next few years, and who can maybe play in multiple positions,” said Smith. “Because I think the versatile athlete is going to have the best opportunity at making this team. Can you handle the ball against pressure, can you rebound against ‘a big,’ can you shoot, can you drive? That takes athleticism. I think that’s what I’ll be able to bring to the table the most, because that’s what represents my team at Wesleyan.”
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