Inspired by its coach, Cal women's basketball determined to pack more punch in 2021-22
When head coach Charmin Smith tells her California Golden Bears they need to fight back in a game they are trailing this season, it will come with a little more punch than it would from most coaches. After all, not many Division I head basketball coaches are Muay Thai fighters.
After studying Muay Thai for five years, Smith fought in her first match in September at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. Detailing the experience to Jake Curtis of Sports Illustrated and then again at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day, Smith says she held her own against a more experienced opponent but lost a close decision.
As she enters her third season at the helm of the Cal women’s basketball program, Smith believes her Muay Thai fight has made her a better coach. If your head coach is willing to take on a Muay Thai fight, you better be able to suck it up for an extra sprint in practice or battle a little harder for a loose ball.
“I learned a lot from that experience and part of that was being able to show them that I never want to tell them something I’m not willing to do myself,” Smith said. “There was a time in training with Muay Thai that my kicks weren’t great, I didn’t have the endurance and I continued to get better.”
“I know that if you put the time in you can continue to get better. And I can speak to those lessons not something I experienced 20 years ago when I was playing on the other side but two weeks ago. Continuing to show the commitment to being better sets a good example for them.”
Showing their commitment to their coach, Cal players made the trek down to Santa Cruz to watch Smith fight (the trip down Highway 17 is not an easy one coming all the way from Berkeley), and junior guard Leilani McIntosh came away impressed with her head coach.
“We are so proud of her and everything she was able to accomplish in that match,” McIntosh said. “We just knew we had to show up for her like she showed up for us the last two seasons and the year with the pandemic. We know it was hard but she was there for us every day and we knew we had to come out to support her.”
Smith left the door open as to whether or not she’ll compete again in the future (junior guard Cailyn Crocker wants her to fight again), but now the focus turns to the 2021-22 season and how Cal can exceed the last-place expectations bestowed upon them in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
“I’m kinda stuck. I don’t know how to walk away right now,” Smith said. “We’ll see, but the focus is on this team right now and this season and there are lessons from my time that will play into that. But it’s not about my fight anymore. It’s all their fight.”