LOGAN, Utah - With three positions open on the Utah State women’s basketball coaching staff this off-season, there are three new faces for fans to become acquainted with. Cori Smith was named the director of basketball operations for the Aggies on June 14 after spending last season as a graduate assistant coach at Seattle Pacific. We sat down with her to get to know her and see how she is settling into life in Logan.
What is your basketball background?
Smith: "I played basketball and softball throughout high school in Tucson, Ariz. My freshman year, I walked on to the basketball team at Biola, which was an NAIA school at the time and is Division II now. I had a hard transition to playing college basketball when I was used to being the best player and all of a sudden wasn't anymore. I moved back to Tucson and took a year off before I started school at Arizona. I volunteered a little bit at my high school and was a student manager for the Arizona women's team. I started coaching high school basketball when I could, doing a year in Colorado, and then in the Seattle area while I was working on my first master's degree. I loved it and got excited every time winter rolled around. I was working full-time in the mental health field at the time, and when I thought about where I really wanted to end up, I thought about coaching and mentoring young women. That's what led me to go back to get another master's degree from the University of Washington in athletic leadership. I did that while I interned with Seattle Pacific's basketball team, which gave me my first experience with college coaching. I loved it and learned a ton from Julie Heisey and her staff. Now I'm excited to be pursuing athletics full-time."
You have quite the academic background, what made you want to work in sports/coaching?
Smith: "I am really passionate about mental health and think it's something that needs more attention. Supporting student-athletes holistically is incredibly important. When I was just working in the mental health field, it didn't really fit some of my lifestyle preferences. I didn't like sitting in an office all day, every day. I knew I didn't want my own practice, which is what a lot of people do. Just logistically, working in the mental health field didn't fit. I chose to work in an intense hospital setting where patients need in-patient treatment for substance abuse or mental health. I loved the adrenaline of that, but when I was coaching during the winter, I fell in love with empowering young women to find their voice and to mature in ways they wouldn't if they weren't on a team. Winter is when I came alive inside. It was hard to leave a well-paying job with a great schedule and security, but I shifted my perspective to long term and realized that in 20 or 30 years, I saw myself in sports."
What goals do you have for yourself in this field?
Smith: "I loved and learned a lot working in a Division II program last year. The things coaches have to do at that level spread across so many arenas. There isn't an operations staff, there are very few people that help with academics and compliance. Being here at a Division I school and realizing all the resources that are available is incredible and I hope to be able to really utilize what is here to help our student-athletes. Right now it's all about learning and absorbing and finding the best ways to make sure everyone feels supported and that we have their backs."
What drew you to the job at Utah State? What was the application/hiring process like?
Smith: "Julie Heisey, who was the head coach at Seattle Pacific last season, was coach (Jerry) Finkbeiner's first-ever recruit. She and the Finkbeiner families are very close and she's known Ben since he was in second grade. She was a great connection for me. She is extremely well-connected to coaches nationwide. Having her as a resource as I was looking for jobs was very crucial and I thank her so much for that. I had met Ben briefly at a recruiting tournament in April. When the job came open, I applied, but wasn't expecting to get it. I was thinking I'd use it as interview experience and seeing what the process was like. Ultimately, coach Heise kept emphasizing that I would be going to a program with top-notch people. I had never met her, but everyone I knew in Seattle knew Ashley Gill and talked highly of her. In the interview, talking to Ben about Utah State's emphasis on academics, as well as athletics, and researching Logan and the things it is close to were all big appeals, as well. Things are slower here in a way that feels really nice. Seattle is big and busy and expensive, so it's been refreshing to experience this slower pace of life already."
How do you see the role of the director of basketball operations?
Smith: "A lot of it is logistics, whether that be travel, meals, hotels or scheduling. I'm already realizing and being really intentional about my role as the liaison between the women's basketball team and other departments that we work with. I'm the face of the program in some ways, because the more I can do, the less the coaches need to do. I'm learning as I go, but feel comfortable asking the questions that I need to. I'm taking this on my shoulders and going for it."
You’ve spent a lot of time in Washington, where else have you lived? Where was your favorite?
Smith: "I was an Air Force kid, so I had lived in five places by the time I was 10. My dad was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, flying A-10s, which was really cool. My sister and I were both born overseas, her in Germany and me in England. We moved to Colorado Springs, then to Lubbock, Texas, South Korea, then Tucson. My dad retired when I was in eighth grade, so we got to stay in Tucson for awhile. I moved back to Colorado for a year just for fun, then I went on a trip around the world for 11 months. I moved to Seattle in 2010, so had been there for eight years. I love traveling and am used to the adjustments and exploring that comes from there. When I'm asked, I say I'm from Tucson because I lived there the longest, but it's a mixed answer. It's tough to choose a favorite. It was hard to leave Seattle, because inwardly, I grew up a lot there. I moved there knowing three people, then after eight years had really built a community and deep friendships. I have a special place in my heart for Seattle, but also really loved Tucson. Tucson and Seattle are very different, but I loved both places a lot.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in the gym?
Smith: "Camping is one of my favorite things to do and I'm excited to do more of that out here. I love taking naps. My 6-year-old nephew recently got me into Pokémon Go. That's really nerdy, but fun. I love Netflix and being outside."
What have your early impressions of Logan been?
Smith: "Everyone is very kind. The biggest shift from Seattle that I've noticed is that people aren't in a hurry when they meet your or talk to you. I've met quite a few people already and they have time for you. They want to hear your stories and want you to hear theirs. It's not a 'good to meet you, have to go' kind of thing. The pace of life is just different. The sunsets that I've seen are incredible. There are so many fun, gorgeous places that are close. Even just driving through a neighborhood, people wave and say hi, which is different than Seattle. The cost of everything here is lower, which is great. The facilities at Utah State are incredible, especially coming from a Division II school. Logan is beautiful and I'm excited to be here. I just wish there was a Target or a Chipotle."
What are the top three items on your bucket list?
Smith: "Spain is a place that I haven't been yet, so that's number one. The Grand Canyon is on that list, as well. I've been skydiving, bungee jumping and SCUBA diving. I would love to own a boat or a jet ski."
In the coming weeks, look for a Q&A with new assistant coach Paris Johnson.
Fans can follow USU women's basketball on Twitter, @USUWBasketball, on Instagram, @USUWBasketball, as well as on Facebook, at /USUWBB. Aggie fans can also follow Utah State Athletics on Twitter, @USUAthletics, on Instagram, @USUAthletics and on Facebook at /USUAthletics.
Utah State Women's...
Utah State head women's basketball coach Jerry Finkbeiner has announced the addition of Roxani...05/07/2018
Ashley Gill Accepts...
Utah State head women's basketball coach Jerry Finkbeiner has announced the addition of Ashley...05/03/2018
Registration Open for 2018 ...
Registration is now open for the 2018 slate of Finkbeiner Basketball Camps, hosted at Utah State.05/02/2018
Ben Finkbeiner Promoted to ...
Utah State women's basketball has announced the promotion of Ben Finkbeiner to associate head coach.05/01/2018
USU Women's Basketball Adds...
Utah State head women's basketball coach Jerry Finkbeiner has announced the addition of Marlene...04/27/2018
USU Women's Basketball 2017...
Utah State women’s basketball ended the 2017-18 season going 7-23 overall and posting a 5-1...03/28/2018
Utah State Women's...
Utah State women's basketball's 2017-18 season came to an end Monday, as the Aggies opened the...03/05/2018
No. 9 Utah State Opening...
Ninth-seeded Utah State women's basketball (7-22, 5-13 MW) is set to open competition at the 2018...03/04/2018
Official Aggie Gear