Women’s Basketball: Former WNBA star and NU coach Tangela Smith reflects on coaching career


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Tangela Smith smiles on the sidelines. Smith is in her second year as an assistant coach at Northwestern.

Sophia Scanlan, Assistant Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

After being the No. 12 overall draft pick of the 1998 WNBA Draft, accumulating a career 42.3 field goal percentage and ranking in the league’s all-time top-10 in points, blocks and rebounds, WNBA superstar Tangela Smith ended a 15-year career in 2012 and traded her jersey for a clipboard.

“I always wanted to coach,” Smith said. “(And) I bring a lot of knowledge of the game, a lot of experience.”

Entering her second year as an assistant coach with Northwestern and her sixth as a coach, Smith said she was “honored” when coach Joe McKeown offered her the position with the Wildcats in 2018. She’d spent the previous four seasons as an assistant for Western Michigan but took the job because she thought Northwestern would be a good fit as she’s from the area.

A graduate of George Washington High School on Chicago’s East Side, Smith isn’t new to the Big Ten. Smith earned a degree in sports, health, leisure and physical studies from the University of Iowa, where she led the Hawkeyes to Big Ten championships in 1996 and 1998. Smith also won the Big Ten Player of the Year award as a senior.

After she was drafted by the Sacramento Monarchs, Smith played seven seasons with the franchise before moving on to the Charlotte Sting, Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Stars.

Smith said her experience in the WNBA helps her dish out advice to her players.

“If they want to get to the professional level, (I know) things they can do,” she said. “(I’m) just giving them the tools the coaches when I came along gave to me.”

As a former college athlete herself, Smith added that she’s able to give the players advice on being student-athletes and how to manage their time.

Smith has had no problem establishing connections with the team. She said she’s developed a rapport with the students in the past year and spotlighted her relationship with graduated forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, since both of them played in the post position.

The assistant coach said she’s become close with sophomore forward Courtney Shaw, as well, and is pushing her to reach her potential.

“I’ve built a real nice relationship with her,” Smith said. “But I push her hard because I know that she can work. She has really good potential to be a really good player.”

Looking ahead to this winter, Smith said she’s optimistic about the Cats’ postseason chances.

The former pro said she thinks NU is ready to take it “to the next level”: winning the Big Ten championship and reaching the NCAA Tournament.

“I know we have the potential to do it,” Smith said. “We have a lot of great guards, great leadership. We’re not really young — we only lost one player last year — so the chemistry is there. We can do it.”

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