Basketball star coach Jackie Smith returns for CC-WSU tilt

University of Hartford’s Jackie Smith, of Westfield defends UConn’s Tiffany Hayes. (Submitted photo)

WESTFIELD – One of our very own is coming home.
Westfield native, 31-year-oldJackie Smith, a former record-setting guard and assistant coach of a Division 1 women’s college basketball program (Hartford University/GW) returns to the Whip City as head coach of the Connecticut College Camels.
Smith and the Connecticut College women’s basketball team will travel to Westfield State University Wednesday to battle the Owls. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
“It’s pretty cool,” Smith said, regarding her first trip back to her hometown as a player or coach since her high school days. “Growing up in town, it’s where basketball started for me. I played so many games at the college as a kid, and now I get to coach in front of my family and friends.”
Smith began her basketball journey at age five, learning the game at the Westfield YMCA — she credits the “Y’s” Youth Sports Coordinator George Hart for inspiring her at such an early age – and furthering her love of the game in the Westfield Suburban League and local Catholic Youth Organization.

Guard Jackie Smith dribbles the ball up the court for the University of Hartford Hawks women’s college basketball team. (Submitted photo)

“If there was basketball going on, I was trying to get into it,” Smith said.
Smith eventually took her game to another level when she began playing in the Amateur Athletic Union, repping the Western Mass Cheetahs.
“Thinking about the Western Mass Cheetahs is kind of surreal,” Smith said. “It was just about having fun and playing basketball.”
Following in the footsteps of her brother Aaron, Smith attended Holyoke High School on school choice. Smith, a 5-foot, 9-inch McDonald’s All-American guard, scored 1,040 points during her four-year career with the Purple Knights.
“It was one of the greatest decisions I ever made,” Smith said. She got the opportunity to play under head coach Tom Brassil and her father, Fran, the assistant at the time.
Smith elevated her level of play even further as a Hartford Hawk from 2007-11, and found herself going toe-to-toe with the National Champion UConn Huskies. Smith helped lead the Hawks to three NCAA Division 1 tournament appearances; finished second all-time in free throw percentage (.825) with 100-of-135 made shots, seventh in school history with 292 assists, sixth in school history for 3-pointers made (107), fifth in 3-point attempts (338), and eighth in career games played (122), among several other notable achievements which included the team’s first-ever top 25 national ranking in the 2010 AP poll.
“It changed my life,” Smith said about her collegiate career, “more so than I ever could have experienced or expected. It was the best four years of my life, something that has influenced me in my coaching philosophy.”
Smith began her professional coaching career as Stonehill College’s assistant coach, guiding the Skyhawks to a 24-5 record during the 2012-13 season and NCAA Division II tournament regional semifinals.
From 2013-18, Smith served as the top assistant for her longtime mentor, Jennifer Rizzotti, a UConn alum and 2013 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee at Hartford University and eventually George Washington University, seeing her Colonials advance to the 2018 NCAA Tournament by winning an automatic bid in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“Coach Rizzotti is phenomenal,” Smith said. “She set me up for life. Being able to go back and coach there was unreal. I’m really lucky to have learned so much from (her).”

Holyoke High School’s Jackie Smith lofts a shot over the Westfield defense. (Submitted photo)

It is not all about “X’s” and “O’s” or wins and losses though for this local basketball star.
“The reason why I ended up at Connecticut College is that I highly value education,” Smith said. “I see basketball as a resource to get a college education. Coaching at a D3 high academic institution has been amazing and transformative.”
Unlike a Division 1 college or university, student-athletes are unable to attain scholarships at a Division 3 school.
“Basketball players are not getting an education for free (here),” Smith said. “They’re playing the sport because they love it. I always thought basketball could be used to teach life skills, being able to handle adversity, and pushing yourself to the limits. When life kicks you in the teeth, you can fall back on skills learned from basketball.
In her first season as coach of the Connecticut College women’s basketball team, Smith guided the Colonials to a 13-11 record and the team’s sixth straight NESCAC tournament appearance. The program also boasted four NESCAC All-Academic Team selections, with GPA’s on average hovering above 3.6 per semester.
This season, Connecticut College stumbled a bit out of the gate and currently sits at 5-10 overall.


“The record is a little deceiving,” Smith said, noting her team’s unrelenting non-conference schedule. “My belief is that to get an at-large bid, you have to have a tough non-conference schedule. We have arguably one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and play in one of the most competitive conferences in the country.”
Westfield State’s record nearly mirrors that of Connecticut College. The Owls, who recently celebrated junior forward Melissa Gray’s historic night, which included a school-record 10 made three-pointers, an epic 37-point outburst, and her 1,000th career point, are 6-10 overall but have proven they can score.
“They’re a super talented team,” Smith said of the Owls. “They will present some difficult challenges. We are going to have to be prepared. …Every game is important. We need to get our mojo going.”
Friends and family members are likely to pack the arena at Westfield State University when Connecticut College visits Westfield State Wednesday night.
Said Smith: “This is going to be a huge game for many reasons.” – Data compiled from the University of Hartford Hawks, Connecticut College Camels, and Westfield State University Owls women’s college basketball programs

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