Former Stetson basketball star on new track with coaching at Flagler

By Matthew Pagels |

After a one-time professional stint playing basketball, Sharnesha Smith has now turned her career into something much more at a young age.

The first ever full-time assistant coach for Flagler College women’s basketball team played professionally for the Cabo Rojo Turistas in Cabo, Puerto Rico, before make the switch to coaching.

Smith, 25, took a graduate assistant job at Augusta State University in Augusta, Ga., at the age of 23.

“My first year was rather difficult in terms of the social part,” Smith said. “Being that I was still young, it was hard drawing that line, being the coach and stepping back from being a player. They (players) would try to relate, talk about personal life and even ask to hang out.”

Smith played basketball her entire life. Born in Georgia, she went on making a name for herself. Smith attended Camden County High School in Kingsland, Ga., where she holds career records for assists and steals.

From 2005 to 2009, Smith attended Stetson University, where she became a four-year starter for the women’s collegiate basketball team. Not only did Smith start in the Stetson backcourt as a freshman, she was honored for achievements throughout her college career including the All-Region Player of the Year in 2005 and the Atlantic Sun-All Academic Team in 2009. Smith became the third Stetson Hatter ever to reach over 1,000 points and 400 assists in a career.

After graduating from Stetson, Smith went on to play semi-professional basketball in Georgia and Orlando. Smith then traveled overseas to continue her basketball career. For a year, she played professional basketball for the Cabo Rojo Turistas.

Taking a break from playing professional basketball, Smith then switched sides. She coached for two years at Augusta State before coming to Flagler.

Having played in college and gaining attributes of a professional, Smith had a unique “player-coach” mindset to help a team grow. Even though she looked to build players’ chemistry and play, the transition from player to coach wasn’t as easy as it looked. It was difficult for Smith to be on the outside looking in.

“I think the toughest part was definitely the urge of wanting to get out there and play,” Smith said. “Being able to sit back and coach, not grab a ball and shoot around as much and evaluate the players, that was rather tough for me.”

Against all challenges and temptations, Smith focused on her job, which brings us to today.

All of these accomplishments and adjustments have lead Smith to become the first ever full-time assistant coach for Flagler College women’s basketball team. She believes in the focus of Flagler’s program and the direction they want to go in, one of the many reasons why she chose to coach here.

“I felt like I would be a great fit for the program,” Smith said, “as far as my expertise, my knowledge base of the game of basketball and also my experiences from playing Division I college basketball and going off to play professional.” With all of the pieces at hand, Smith says she can add to the program and bring about success during her time here.

Flagler College Head Coach Lang-Montgomery acknowledged Smith’s credibility and experience right away after Augusta State’s head coach recommended her.

“After looking at her resume and speaking with her over the phone, I was impressed enough to bring her in for an interview,” Lang-Montgomery said. “She was a standout player at Stetson and prepared herself for the next level by gaining invaluable experience at Augusta State. I felt like she was ready for the challenge of being a full-time assistant and that she would be a great position coach for our perimeter players.” Lang-Montgomery says she’s glad Smith is now a Saint.

Lang-Montgomery believes Smith’s experience will create positive results.

“She is able to share her experiences with our players and she has earned their respect quickly because not too long ago she was a student-athlete going through the same things they are,” Lang-Montgomery said. Smith helps push the team’s skill level by competing with them in shooting competitions as well as challenging them to one on one battles on the court.

“Nesha helps me with the daily operations of running our program,” Lang-Montgomery said. “She provides skill workouts for our guards and puts together scouting reports of our opponents. Also, she serves as the team’s recruiting coordinator.”

Along with the help of Lang-Montgomery, Smith’s experience as a graduate assistant at Augusta State University has made this an easy transition.

“Most G.A.’s (graduate assistants) only do paperwork and busywork,” Smith said. “At Augusta, we didn’t have an assistant coach so the G.A. was the assistant coach.”

Now the question begs, why become a coach after such success as a player?

“I went back to school to get my (Master’s) degree only to start coaching in case basketball didn’t work, and I loved it so I stuck with it,” Smith said. “I want to give back to the players in the position I once was in and take everything I learned to make each individual player better in general.”

Smith does have thoughts about returning as a player.

“I had agents who would still contact me and ask me if I’m open or if I was still looking for a contract,” Smith said. “The hardest part would be to turn that down.” Smith says she made her decision for the long-term aspect.

At the end of the day, she knows she made the right decision.

“I’m content with everything I have done in my basketball career,” Smith Said. “I hope to become a head coach some day in the future.”

Time will tell where this ship will take Smith, but that is for another day and another story.

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