'Doccy' adjusting well to life as a coach after glittering career
DEANNA Smith without question could still be a star in the Women's SBL. But ahead of Women's Round this weekend and a battle of the undefeated teams with the Mandurah Magic, the Perry Lakes Hawks coach knew it was time to focus on the new phase of her basketball journey.
Smith had managed to do a good job as a playing-coach for two years at the Cockburn Cougars before returning to Perry Lakes as a player the past two years with CJ Jackson as coach.
She remained one of the best players in the SBL and led the Lady Hawks all the way to Game 3 of the semi finals last year against the Joondalup Wolves.
But her body was telling her that the time to retire was pretty much upon her. And she knew that if she was to fully throw herself into life as a coach that she would have to give it her full focus and retire from the court.
She decided on that retirement decision following the Game 3 loss last year to the Wolves at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
Then when Jackson decided that it was time for him to end an outstanding SBL coaching career as well, Smith was appointed coach of Perry Lakes. It could not have possibly started any better with the Lady Hawks winning the opening eight games of the season.
That perfect record goes on the line this Friday night in a mouth-watering clash with the also undefeated Mandurah Magic at Bendat Basketball Centre.
After such a glittering playing career that saw her selected to play with the Australian Opals and play over 250 games in the WNBL for the AIS and Canberra Capitals along with Adelaide Lightning, Sydney Uni Flames, Perth Lynx, Bendigo Spirit and ultimately the West Coast Waves.
She also played for South Adelaide, Geelong, Perry Lakes and Cockburn at state league level.
Along the way she played in WNBL championships in back-to-back years in 1999 and 2000 while being named in the All-Star Five on three occasions.
She was also the 2008 MVP and Grand Final MVP at Perry Lakes in the Women's SBL championship victory of 2008.
After such an outstanding career, it's never easy to decide that time is up but Smith knew that it was the right moment to make the call and to focus firmly on her coaching role with the Hawks.
Smith has put full trust in her playing group and the results are showing she is doing an outstanding job as one of just two female head coaches in the Women's SBL along with Narelle Henry at the East Perth Eagles.
Smith admits it hasn’t always been easy accepting she's no longer a player, but she couldn’t be prouder of the start to the season her Perry Lakes team has made.
"It's been hard not playing personally to be honest, especially at the start. I wanted to be out there playing but seeing these girls do what they do and the passion and commitment they give, I'm just so proud of what they're doing," Smith said.
"I'm now teaching at Willetton Senior High School in the basketball program so I'm doing a lot of coaching there and I'm doing a lot of coaching here. I've found that I have the passion to put back into the game through coaching and trying to get other people to the high performance level.
"So for me, I'm obviously enjoying coaching and you are always a lot happier if you are winning but it's not so much the winning. It's the improvement I'm most impressed with."
One part of Smith's career often overlooked is her efforts to play wheelchair basketball. She was the first player to play in both the WNBL and WNWBL when she began with the Western Stars in 2014.
She has continued to play wheelchair basketball in retirement from the SBL as a player as well to keep her competitive juices flowing.
While she is enjoying that, the rest of her body isn’t complaining about her retirement decision whatsoever.
"I am playing wheelchair basketball still in the national league when I get the chance so I'm a bit cut up from that, but my body is generally feeling good," she said.
"I will go and run around on a basketball court and put some shots up, but be super sore the next day.
"I don’t regret the decision to retire at all, it was definitely time and time to transition into this phase and to grow as a coach. I'm still learning in different areas as well and I think we are all going to be collectively better going forward."
Life on the home front for Smith is certainly making it hard to escape basketball and life as a head coach as well, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Partner Stephen Black, a former NBL and SBL star in his own right, is the current coach of the Willetton Tigers in the Men's SBL.
It might be tempting for someone to point out that Smith's Lady Hawks are undefeated in 2017 and Black's Tigers have lost twice, but that hasn’t entered Smith's mind just yet.
But being able to share the pressures, time required and joy of winning and pain of losing as a head coach is something she is enjoying.
"I'm a very supportive girlfriend and I definitely don’t try and tell him that he's lost more games than I have. We talk shop at home and we help each other through the wins and losses because even when you're winning there's still frustrations you have to try and work through," Smith said.
"Having someone there who is supportive and has your back at every turn is brilliant especially when they actually understand completely.
"It's that comfort that you can come home and vent, and work through something or you can completely not talk about basketball and go and do something fun. We have a very good balance with that and it is unique, but I wouldn’t change it for the world that's for sure."
Photo by Mick Cronin