Smith, link to UA heyday, hired

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Arkansas women's basketball coach Jimmy Dykes and assistant coach Christy Smith speak during a news conference Monday, April 14, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Matt Jones
Arkansas women's basketball coach Jimmy Dykes and assistant coach Christy Smith speak during a news conference Monday, April 14, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Christy Smith, who as a senior point guard led Arkansas to its lone women’s basketball Final Four appearance in 1998, has returned to her alma mater.

Razorbacks Coach Jimmy Dykes announced Smith’s hiring as his top assistant on Monday. Smith, 38, was an assistant at Purdue the past three seasons, where she helped the Boilermakers to a 77-27 record and three consecutive NCAA Tournament second-round appearances and two Big Ten Tournament titles.

“I don’t think there is anyone out there in the women’s game that I could have brought in that matches her in terms of a resume,” said Dykes, who left ESPN to take the Arkansas coaching job two weeks ago. “I do know this - no one that I spoke with matches her passion, her pride, her love and her fight for this university.”

Jimmy Dykes introduces Christy Smith

Arkansas coach Jimmy Dykes introduces former Arkansas All-American Christy Smith as the assistant coach of the Razorbacks' women's basketball team Monday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena. (By Andrew Hutchinson)
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Smith At a Glance

POSITION Assistant coach Arkansas women’s basketball

PREVIOUS COACHING STOPS Assistant coach at Purdue the previous three seasons. Before that was assistant at Valparaiso University, head girls’ coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., and assistant coach at Lafayette Jefferson High School and at Lake Country Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas.

COLLEGE Arkansas. Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 1998 and a master’s degree in biomechanics in 2001.

AT ARKANSAS Four-year starter at point guard from 1995-1998. Four-time honorable mention All-American, first-team All-SEC in 1998, second-team All-SEC in 1996 and 1997, SEC Freshman of the Year in 1995.

AS A PRO Played two seasons in the WNBA with the Charlotte Sting after being a first-round draft pick, 17th overall, in 1998.

HOMETOWN Oxford, Ind.

AGE 38 (born Aug. 14, 1975).

FAMILY Three children.

NOTEWORTHY Led Arkansas to the 1998 Final Four … UA Hall of Honor inductee in 2005 … Razorbacks were 84-41 overall in her four seasons with two NCAA Tournament appearances and a WNIT appearance … Arkansas’ eighth all-time leading scorer with 1,459 career points, ranks fourth on career assists with 507 and third in steals with 239. … Shot 83.7 percent from the free throw line for her UA career.

Smith is a native of Oxford, Ind., a few miles from the Purdue campus, so she essentially had returned home to work for the Boilermakers after beginning her college coaching career as an assistant at Valparaiso.

“I actually grew up 10minutes from Purdue and my mom and dad still live there, and my brother and his wife and kids are all right there where I lived, so it is a big step, and it is a big leap of faith,” Smith, who has three children, said of returning to Arkansas. “But I believe it can be done.

“Like I said when I sat down with Coach Dykes, my heart is here. This is where I played. This is where my blood, sweat and tears were on the floor, and there’s no other program in the country that I want to see succeed more than I do Arkansas.”

Smith, a UA Hall of Honor inductee in 2005, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 1998 and a master’s degree in bio-mechanics in 2001. She was four-time honorable mention All-American and first-team All-SEC as a senior and played two seasons in the WNBA with Charlotte.

Prior to her stint Purdue, Smith coached at Valparaiso for three seasons. She was head girls’ coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., and an assistant coach at Lafayette Jefferson High School and Lake Country Christian School in Fort Worth.

Smith said that in talking with Dykes, she was sold immediately on his vision for the program.

“There was no question I wanted to come back and build this program to where we’re at the top of the SEC,” Smith said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind and there’s not a doubt in his mind that these young ladies can do it, so I’m thrilled to be here and I can’t wait to get started.”

Arkansas has played in the NCAA Tournament just once in the last 11 seasons, in 2011,and this season had an average paid home attendance of 1,603 to rank 13th among 14 SEC teams. Several crowds were less than 1,000.

During Smith’s four seasons, Arkansas averaged 5,094, 4,174, 3,852 and 5,061 with Gary Blair as coach.

“When Coach Blair was here, he did a great job of getting out in the community and getting people to come support us, and that’s huge when you’re an athlete,” Smith said. “You don’t want to run out on the court and have 15 people in the stands clapping. That’s not fun.

“That was one of the reasons I came here …. because people came to the women’s games. I’m going to do as much as I can to get people to come watch and support these ladies, and I think the first time they watch them play and the level of intensity they play with, they’ll want to come back.”

Dykes said Smith was among 10 coaches he interviewed at the Final Four last week for the job as his top assistant in addition to numerous other candidates on the phone, but that Smith topped the list from the time he was hired.

“She and I both got emotional at the Final Four talking about the University of Arkansas and the state of Arkansas and how important this is,” Dykes said.

Dykes worked Purdue’s games as an ESPN analyst during the Women’s NCAA Tournament this season.

“So I got to watch her work before I even knew this jobwas going down,” Dykes said. “I’ve seen her handle scouting reports. I’ve seen her conduct herself in the NCAA Tournament. I did my homework on her.”

Sports, Pages 19 on 04/15/2014

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