Alabama job a dream come true for Brook native

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2005

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Stephany Smith’s dream of coaching in theSoutheastern Conference came true this week. On Wednesday afternoonshe was officially introduced as the new women’s basketball coachat the University of Alabama.

Smith, 39, a Brookhaven native, grew up in a family of athletes.Her parents, Betsy and Ralph (Catfish) Smith, were both standoutsat BHS during their high school careers. Her father, a MississippiHall of Fame member, became a star receiver at Ole Miss and playedprofessionally.

Stephany’s sister, Sydney; and her three brothers, Cameron,Richard and Ralph Jr., also excelled in athletics. A 1983 BHSgraduate, Smith sparkled in basketball and tennis.

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“This has been my dream job for a long time,” Smith admitted.”Alabama has a great tradition of athletic success. What a windowof opportunity for me.”

Regarded as the best women’s basketball conference in thenation, the SEC has claimed several national championshiptournament titles. LSU and Tennessee both made it to this year’sFinal Four.

According to Smith, membership in the SEC automatically helpsrecruiting. “The fact is that you are playing in the SEC, thestrongest women’s basketball conference in the country.”

Smith was contacted about the opening to replace retired legendRick Moody last Wednesday. She interviewed Thursday and was hiredFriday in a whirlwind series of events. Smith had been in New Yorkat the WNBA combine, with her premier Middle Tennessee State pointguard, Patrice Holmes, when she was contacted by Alabama athleticdirector Mal Moore.

A hot commodity in the college coaching ranks, Smith had forgeda strong program at MTSU. Her Lady Blue Raiders advanced to twostraight NCAA Tournaments. On both occasions, they knocked offhighly regarded powers North Carolina and North Carolina State inthe opening rounds.

Alabama hasn’t been to a postseason tournament since 1999.

Obviously, great players make coaches look even greater. Smithand her new staff are getting a late start on the recruiting trail.Some of the players she was recruiting for MTSU could wind upwearing crimson and white uniforms next season.

“We go out recruiting for Alabama this weekend,” said Smith. “Wewill be recruiting the southeast and other areas, too.”

Helping Smith will be three full-time assistant coaches and adirector of basketball.

Alabama has become notorious for recruiting and signing some ofthe best high school players in the Magnolia State. “We areabsolutely interested in some Mississippi kids,” said Smith.

After starring for former BHS coach Tommy Goodson’s LadyPanthers, Smith played basketball for Coach Gwyn Young atCopiah-Lincoln Community College. She also played for Harding(Ark.) University.

She spent one year as a graduate assistant at Harding, obtaininga master’s degree in education. She was an assistant coach atAlabama-Birmingham for four years before moving to MTSU for threeyears as an assistant.

Smith said she likes the idea of being closer to home, justthree hours and 15 minutes away. “That’s three hours closer thanMurfreesboro.”

Tuscaloosa often served as a half-way, pickup point when Smith’snieces and nephews would visit her during the summer months. “Wealways met on McFarland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa. That was abouthalf-way by car.”

Smith drove to Tuscaloosa Tuesday from Murfreesboro. She metwith her Alabama players that night at an informal cookout. OnWednesday morning, she watched them lift weights at 6 o’clock,before classes began.

Moore said he was happy to have Smith in charge of the31-year-old women’s program. “Stephany brings the attributes of awinner to our program. She has a relentless work ethic and is anoutstanding recruiter with people-person qualities.”

Smith had a 153-88 overall record at MTSU. Hopefully, she willenjoy a higher level of success at Alabama. Crimson Tide fans aredeeply devoted to their athletic teams, and demanding, too.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or