AS a championship winning player with the Perry Lakes Hawks, coach Deanna Smith wants her players to experience that feeling this Friday night but her focus has been on them believing in themselves and reaching their full potential whatever that might be.
Smith returned to the Lady Hawks three years and played out the final two seasons of her glittering playing career that saw her play all over the world, throughout Australia and achieve tremendous team and individual success along the way.
She retired following Game 3 of the semi finals last year that Perry Lakes lost to the Joondalup City Wolves and then when CJ Jackson decided he wouldn’t continue in his role as coach at the Lady Hawks, Smith was more than keen to step into the chair for the first time as a non-playing coach.
Things couldn’t have gone much more perfectly either with the Hawks finishing the regular season in first place with a 20-2 record and then beating the Cockburn Cougars and Willetton Tigers through the first two rounds of the playoffs without dropping a game.
That has the Lady Hawks playing in Friday night’s Women’s SBL Grand Final at Bendat Basketball Centre against the Mandurah in what is Perry Lakes’ first appearance in the championship decider since 2010 as they chase a first title since 2008.
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Smith played in the back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 and while she is feeling a sense of relief of guiding her team into the 2017 Grand Final, her focus all year has been getting her players to believe they are good enough to go all the way.
“Relief is definitely the word used to describe the feeling. You put in so much work and so much effort, which is obviously not dissimilar to other teams, but the expectations you do place on yourselves in those kind of situations means you feel that sense of relief to make a Grand Final. Then I think you’ll feel even more relieved again if we come away with the win on Friday night,” Smith said.
“It’s more about getting the girls to believe in their own abilities and how good they can actually be. I think we are starting to see that through consistent performance and that’s what it’s about for me.
“It has been a positive to see them believe in what they are capable of achieving both individually and as a group. Hopefully we will continue to build that in the years to come and see a few more flags up at the WABC.”
Having seen the Hawks as a powerhouse a decade ago having won six championships in the space of 11 years, Smith wanted to help them get back to being a force when she returned firstly as a player in 2015 and now as head coach.
The growth over three years now has been plain to see starting with a quarter-final appearance, semi-final berth and now this year’s minor premiership and Grand Final appearance.
“I definitely think it has been a building process for the players to get that experience as a group as a whole,” Smith said.
“Obviously CJ did a great job up until I took over and what they’ve done in the past is a big part in us getting to where we are now. It’s important to acknowledge where you come from.
“As a player I did come back to Perry Lakes hoping I would get to coach one day and it’s an amazing club and organisation so I wanted to be part of it again. We made it through the semi finals now and we’re hoping to take it one step further.”
As for now preparing to coach in a Grand Final rather than play this Friday night, Smith is certainly finding it more stressful given she has so much to worry about aside from just her own preparation.
“It’s so much more stressful and you just want to make sure that you are all over the game plan. You worry about everybody else as well rather than just what you are doing so that’s the difference from being a player,” she said.
“You watch game tape, have conversations with the coaches, make sure the players are feeling good and make sure everything is in place. It is quite stressful I’m not going to lie, but at the same time you take solace in the work that you’ve done across the whole year.
“We’re trusting in not just what we do this week, but the pre-season and the season. You put those processes in place so that Friday can be treated like any other game.”
While the goal is obviously to win games and obviously a championship, Smith takes more pride in helping her players reach their potential and whatever goals they hope with young star Mia Satie a prime example who has now left to start her college career at Pepperdine University.
“I definitely take pride in helping them get to where they want to be and providing them opportunities to work out or with whatever help or resources they need to make it. For me it’s my place to provide them with the support and encouragement to hopefully maximise their potential,” Smith said.
“I definitely love seeing people achieve and helping people who want to make it as well. I have enjoyed seeing Mia go to college and I think she has settled in very well and she is a player who we’ve missed during the finals, but it’s about the bigger picture of helping people achieve their dreams.”
Two players who Smith has taken great pride in the seasons they are having is starting back court Lauren Jeffers and Kate Anthony who have had to take on that added responsibility along with the arrival of Gabby O’Sullivan following the retirement of Smith.
“I’ve been so impressed with LJ. She has completely bought into everything that we’ve put in place and she is leading the team, and I would definitely say she is playing the best basketball that I’ve seen her play,” she said.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more from her and defensively she’s been tough and gets the tough assignments each week. Then she’s running the troops in the offence and I’ve been really impressed with what she’s done for us this season and I look forward to her doing her thing again on Friday night.
“Kate is a lot more relaxed out there this year and we are seeing her be a lot more involved defensively as well which is an area we’ve really challenged her to step up in this year. She has taken that challenge to the next level so the fact that we can have other players step up around that makes us a bit deeper and harder to stop as well.”
Smith also couldn’t be happier with how basketball is now a full-time job for her with the job as head coach at the Hawks and then during the day as part of the Willetton Senior High School specialist basketball studies program.
“I never really thought that I would be able to work as a teacher in a basketball specialist program, but that gives me a really good balance in life because I love teaching and coaching,” Smith said.
“I’m thrilled working at Willetton Senior High School and I always did want to coach because I wanted to put back in after I got so much out of the game.
“I’ve done a lot of work with juniors throughout WA and it’s exciting that I get to work at that next level at SBL. I never really saw it as being as much in my life as it is now but I’m very grateful and thankful for that because I’m loving what I’m doing and where I’m at in life.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia