As a longtime Central High girls basketball assistant coach, Pamela Smith was accustomed to ending each season with a trip to the state tournament. When she took over a Spencer program fresh off a winless season, Smith saw no reason to change her high expectations.
Smith’s team this season took its lumps but persevered through the season with seven victories. The last win, a victory over Temple in the region tournament, gave the team the fourth spot in the region and sent the Greenwave to their first state tournament since 2014.
Thanks to Spencer’s strides under Smith’s watch, she has been named the 2017-2018 All-Bi-City Small School Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“It wasn’t easy. When you’re coming off a season like that (going winless), the mindset is going to continue on that progression,” Smith said. “That was a good group, and they were there to work, commit and compete in the city. That’s what I’ve been saying since the beginning. I want to compete in the city because we’ve got got a lot of good programs in the city. We want to get up there with them.”
Smith got her girls going almost as soon as she was hired in May and put together practices and play dates to get a gauge on her new team. Smith found herself having to scale back her instruction, as she quickly realized the players needed the basic basketball lessons she had taken for granted.
Smith liked what she saw in the team’s scrimmage against Brookstone, but it was the Greenwave’s season opener that really caught her attention.
Spencer’s first real game under Smith came against Columbus, the defending Class 4A state champion. Even though the Lady Blue Devils had graduated several of their standouts from the title team, Smith knew her players were anxious about sharing the court with state champions.
Smith said the nerves were evident as her team warmed up in pre-game, and an immediate turnover by the Greenwave created a sure sense of dread. Columbus, however, had early turnovers of its own, putting the Spencer squad at ease and into the game.
Columbus outlasted Spencer, but Smith said her players’ fight in the season opener showed her things were moving in the right direction.
“We only lost by 12, and we missed a lot of uncontested layups and free throws,” Smith said. “The conversation at the end was, ‘We should have won that game.’ You could see it in their eyes, that we could do this.”
The Greenwave still went through growing pains in the games that followed, but Smith spotted progress as the year went on. Smith said Spencer’s biggest problem the prior season was the players could not finish the job, creating an atmosphere of doubt and a lack of commitment.
The Spencer players’ improvements were rewarded with a Class 2A state tournament berth. Although the team went one-and-done with a loss to Calhoun, Smith said the appearance should breed more confidence going forward.
“That’s the thing right now, having my players have the same mindset (as me),” Smith said. “We’ve been there, and we liked the way state tasted. We’re working to go there again next year.”
Smith admitted the win-loss total for Spencer was still below her expectations, but the good news is things look positive for the Greenwave going forward.
Spencer is losing only two seniors from the past season, and the returning players are continuing to improve. Smith said their growing basketball IQ is evident through film sessions, plus team-building efforts such as running concessions at an Auburn football game has the roster bonding better than ever before.
Smith’s debut as part of the Greenwave showed promise and a glimpse at what the program can become. The highlights in the past season were a nice change of pace, but for Smith, the best for Spencer is yet to come.
“We’re looking for big things,” Smith said. “We’ve got three juniors, so they’ll be seniors next year. We’ve got got a lot of guards. We’re anticipating some more posts and some more guards to come in and help contribute to the program.”