Audra Smith knows how to succeed as a player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. She’s eager to do it again as Clemson’s new women’s basketball coach.
Smith, the former Virginia player who spent the past nine years as UAB’s head coach, was hired to take over the Tigers’ struggling program Monday and make an impact in the already tough and soon-to-be beefed up ACC.
“There has been success here,” Smith said. “If I’m not mistaken, there have been two ACC championships and trips to the NCAA tournament and that was attractive to me because I know that we can get this program turned around and going in the right direction.”
Things have trended downward for the Lady Tigers in recent years. Former Clemson point guard Itoro Coleman, part of two ACC championship teams in the late 1990s, went just 25-63 in three seasons before she was fired last month.
The ACC challenge figures to get tougher the next couple of years with the inclusion of Final Four teams Notre Dame and Louisville, along with Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Smith, though, won with the Lady Cavaliers, a member of a team from 1988-92 that won two ACC titles and played in three Final Fours — a team led by All-American Dawn Staley, now the successful coach at South Carolina, Clemson’s state rival.
Staley, named to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Monday, welcomed Smith to the state. “I already told her we aren’t supposed to like each other, but she will be an exception on those days we aren’t playing each other,” Staley said.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich looked for a coach with previous experience and solid knowledge of the ACC. He said Smith was the top choice among five candidates interviewed.
“She’s rebuilt programs before,” Radakovich said.
Clemson has not reached the NCAA tournament since 2002. It has not had a winning record since going 17-12 during the 2003-04 season.
Smith was 138-138 at UAB, but her 57-39 mark the past three years was the best mark during that span in the Blazers history. She twice made the WNIT, including after this past season’s 18-13 mark.
Smith said she’ll bring a hard-working, fast-paced, defensive-minded style to the Lady Tigers. “Oh, it’s going to be fun,” she said.
Smith also warned Clemson fans that she gets a little excited on the sidelines and often wanders onto the court to make her point. “I’m warned a lot of the times by the officials that they can’t have six defenders on the floor, my arms are a little long so they want me to stay in the box,” she joked. “But we will defend. We hang our hats on defense. That is what I’m all about.”