Michelle Smith Feature: Stanford's Alanna Smith brings World Cup lessons to final season

There were some heady moments for Alanna Smith. When she checked into the championship game of the FIBA World Cup in the Canary Islands to match up with Elena Delle Donne, that was one. Playing on the same floor with Nneka Ogwumike and Tina Charles was a stomach-turning mix of full-on fan girl and excitement.

“I was a bit nervous, obviously, being on that stage against the best players in the world,” said the Stanford senior who played for the Australian national team and finished with a silver medal after falling into the title game to a star-studded Team USA. “It was nerve-wracking, but it was also a confidence boost, to be able to be out there and experience that. And I’m going to take that experience and bring it back to Stanford.”

Tara VanDerveer is counting on exactly that from her veteran forward. Smith is not only the first international recruit of VanDerveer’s long and illustrious coaching career, but a key player for a Stanford team that opens the season ranked No. 7 in the nation heading into the opening week of the 2018-19 season.

“This summer experience for her was just invaluable,” VanDerveer said. “And I think she is playing really, really well right now. She’s stronger, she is moving well, playing with more confidence. I think she is going to have a great season.”

Smith, the Melbourne, Australia native who was named to the preseason All-Pac-12 team, finished second on the team in scoring (13.5 points) and rebounding (7.5 rebounds) last season, leading the team in blocked shots.

She is the most experienced of Stanford’s four seniors and will be counted on, not only to score and rebound, but to lead, especially with point guard Marta Sniezek missing time early in the season with a thumb injury. Smith’s experience will count even more.

“Being a senior, knowing it’s your last go-around and that there is nothing to lose, you are going to put everything you have into it,” Smith said. “I think there are a lot of ways to approach leadership. Some people lead vocally, others by example. Others are there for people when they need your support. I’m going to try to address of all of those.”

Another one of the lessons she learned in her World Cup experience. Smith was one of the youngest players on the Australian roster. Smith said her experience was “daunting,” but Opals head coach Sandy Brondello made it clear that Smith was there because she belonged, a sentiment she wants to pass along to some of the young Stanford players.

“Playing with and against some of the best players, I learned a lot, in the way these players carry themselves, and also in terms of the game, and learning how to adjust to different styles of play and overcoming adversities,” Smith said. “I had a lot of our [Australian] veteran players take me under their wing and I felt like I was in good hands.”

Now she wants to pay that experience forward with a promising Cardinal team that includes seven freshmen and sophomores.

“I just need to be a presence, whether it’s scoring or rebounding or defense,” Smith said. “I want to pull other people along with me and I want to have an impact.”

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