No playing return as 'Doccy' puts full faith in Lady Hawks
FORGET your bets on when Deanna Smith will hit the floor this season for the Perry Lakes Hawks. She is fully focused on coaching and is comfortable doing so because of the full faith she has in her playing group entering the 2017 SBL season.
Smith called an end to her glittering state and national league playing career at the end of last season following Game 3 of the Hawks' semi-final series with the minor premier Joondalup Wolves at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
With CJ Jackson subsequently standing down as coach after helping the club back to being a contender, Smith was the natural choice to be head coach.
What she learned from her stint as playing-coach with the Cockburn Cougars in 2014 and 2015 is that by being out on the court playing, there was too much she was missing out on doing as an actual coach. That means she is not considering that possibility again.
Making that decision easier now that she is retired and wants to stay on the sidelines is the fact that the Hawks team she is in charge of looks a real contender.
The majority of the group that Smith was part of last year is back again, the young players will be further developed and Toni Edmondson has committed to return after another strong WNBL season with the Perth Lynx.
Her Lynx teammate Nat Burton is also making her return to the Lady Hawks while Danika Pisconeri is over a career-threatening back injury, Janique Kautsky is returning and Gabby O'Sullivan will soon be on board after the AFL Women's season.
Smith is more than content to coach the group and to put her full faith in them to perform.
"I believe that we've got a playing group that will challenge when it comes to finals. We have a great team, we have a great balance of leadership, experience and youth, and I put all my confidence in them to not need a player like me," Smith said.
"It's time for some of these other girls to be challenged to stand up. As a player-coach, I don’t think I did my coaching the justice I could have and I'm really looking forward to taking this next step as a head coach and being a lot more proactive as a result with amazing support staff around me. I have no doubt we will be a team to be reckoned with this season without me playing."
Smith wants to put any of those rumours of her playing to rest.
"At the moment, everyone has bets on when I am going to make my return game this season and there's anything from two losses in-a-row to five games in, to qualifying for finals," she said.
"But I officially retired at our Hawks presentation because it was important for my playing group to know I have the confidence in them to get the job done.
"I was super emotional after our last game against Wanneroo and that was because I knew it was the end of a 20-year professional basketball career and there was a whole lot of emotion behind it. To do it with the girls that I did and the club I did it with, that will live with me forever."
Perry Lakes will start the 2017 season on Friday night against the Stirling Senators at Bendat Basketball Centre. Smith has been happy with the pre-season work her team has done and it's more than handy to now welcome back Edmondson and Burton this week.
"We had Toni and Nat come in for the first time with the team on Tuesday night so injecting such great talent into our group will only enhance us going forward," Smith said.
"They are both playing this week but I don’t want to take anything away from the rest of the girls because we've had a pretty solid pre-season, we had a great hit out against Malaysia who played a lot of zone and we were still able to score 70 points. That shows that we are going to be quite deep this season."
Getting Burton back to play in the SBL for the Hawks is a massive signing for Smith, but as a Perry Lakes junior the job was certainly made a lot easier.
"Nat's a Perry Lakes junior so for us to have her play for us is a massive coup," she said.
"It would be really disappointing if we saw her play in another club's colours given that background, but for us to be able to add that high calibre a player who is a great person and a wonderful leader is going to help us this season a lot."
Edmondson is coming off a strong WNBL season with the Lynx and Smith found herself watching games this season excited at the prospect of her bringing that form back with her to Perry Lakes.
"Having Toni back in coming off one of her best scoring WNBL seasons that I've seen is great. I remember watching her and thinking that I couldn’t wait for her to join our group again," she said.
"Just the confidence she showed and the way she slotted into the Lynx style makes me looking forward to having her energy and everything that she brings coming through with us. She is definitely one of those players who leads by example and wears her heart on her sleeve, and she will bring some of our girls up a level."
It’s not just Burton and Edmondson that is giving Smith the reason to like her team's chances this season. And it's not just the additions of Pisconeri, Kautsky and O'Sullivan either.
It's the group who she played with last year including Lauren Jeffers, Kate Anthony, Sarah Donovan, Mia Satie, Emily Burton and Kristan Teasdale that she has full faith in.
"We pride ourselves on being Perry Lakes based and we have a lot of junior girls who have come through the club to earn their spot on the bench into the starting five. We also have a lot of juniors pushing for spots now too which is brilliant," Smith said.
"We do welcome back Danika Pisconeri back into the team after she had a season off because of her back. It looked like it was going to be career-ending, but she's got herself back into our group.
"Gabby O'Sullivan will join us when she is finished at the Dockers and we've also got Janique Kautsky who went to college and hasn’t played for a few years.
"But she was involved at the Hawks when I was a little bit younger and we won the championship, so she adds another element of experience to our line-up. I didn’t think we needed to change a lot from last year, but we are super tall and super athletic so I think we'll be playing exciting basketball."
Reflecting on last season, Smith without question proved she was still one of the standout players in the competition. But physically it was getting tougher and it soon became obvious that retirement was going to be the best option for her long-term health and happiness.
"Last year was tough, it was a very up and down season for me emotionally. When you're not able to do what you used to be able to do, your game has to change and my step wasn’t as quick and I couldn’t beat people off the dribble," she said.
"I was also pulling up super sore after every game to the point where I couldn’t walk upstairs without pain because of my two knee surgeries. Then my Achilles started hurting and I knew the signs were becoming pretty clear.
"As a result of all that I got into the mindset that it would probably be my last season so I had some time to prepare myself. I was super proud of our team for where we got to and we put a lot of work, connected as a group and what we achieved was pretty outstanding."
Smith also has no doubt that she will be able to be a much better coach than she was at the Cougars when still leading and playing by example on the floor at the same time.
"It feels a lot different this year in terms of when you're a player-coach you can sub in and control the tempo to get what you want done yourself, but now you rely on the girls to get that done," Smith said.
"That's a fantastic challenge for me as a coach to not rely on myself to step in and do it, but to teach and empower my players to step up into that role."