New Arkansas women's basketball coach Jimmy Dykes went out and hired the best Lady Razorback player on the best team in school history on Monday.
Dykes lured Christy Smith away from Purdue and named her his top assistant on Monday and quickly labeled it a home run hire.
"Her resume is going to speak for itself," Dykes said. "I don't think there is anyone out there in the women's game that I could have brought in that matches her in terms of a resume.
"I do know this – no one, no one that I spoke with matches her passion, her pride, her love and her fight for this university," Dykes added. "She knows exactly what the uniform my student-athletes that have on now means better than I do. Because she did it on the women's side and I did it on the men's side. She brings a unique perspective to me."
Smith, who will turn 39 this summer, was a four-time honorable mention All-American and led the Lady Razorbacks to the Final Four in 1998, played in the WNBA, started her coaching career in high school and Texas and had college assistant stints at Valparaiso and Purdue.
"I just want to thank Jimmy Dykes and (Arkansas athletic director) Jeff Long for just giving me an opportunity to come back," Smith said. "It's been 20 years since I signed on that line to be a Razorback and I am just excited that I have the opportunity to come back here.
"When I met with Coach Dykes with the Final Four, his vision, his dream for what this could be – he sold me immediately," Smith added. "There is no question that I wanted to come back and I wanted to build a program to where we are at the top of the SEC. There is not a doubt in my mind and there is not a doubt in his mind what these young ladies can do. I am thrilled to be here and I can't wait to get started."
Smith, an Indiana native, is in essence leaving one home to return to another.
"I actually grew up 10 minutes from Purdue and my mom and dad still live there," Smith said. "And my brother and his wife and kids are all right there where I lived. So it is a big step. And it is a big leap of faith. But I believe it can be done. Like I said, when I sat down with Coach Dykes, my heart is here. This is where I played. This is where blood, sweat and tears were on the floor. And there's no other program in the country that I want to see succeed more than I do Arkansas."
Dykes said he interviewed around 10 coaches face to face and a few more over the phone, but he kept coming back to Smith as the right choice.
"I told her that I am putting together a staff that I know that is going to be completely invested in these young ladies – just like I am and just like the rest of my staff is," Dykes said. "My players will quickly understand the love that she is going to bring to this program. There is something about coming back to your alma mater. I experienced that.
"...That is something that jumped out to me in the first 10 minutes that she and I visited in person in Indiana," Dykes said.
The two first talked at the Final Four in Nashville and Dykes noted he saw her work up close near the end of his TV career with ESPN, which he left to take over the job at Arkansas.
"She was at the top of my list from day one," Dykes said. "It's interesting, one of my last assignments for ESPN was the Women's NCAA Tournament this year at Purdue. So I got to watch her work before I even knew this job was going down. I was anxious to watch her work because of what she did here and what I've known of her as a person. I've seen her work. I've seen her handle scouting reports. I've seen her conduct herself in the NCAA Tournament. I did my homework on her. It wasn't too difficult to do.
"Again, her pride in being a Razorback is something that cannot, cannot be overstated in this process," Dykes said. "She'll probably tell you it's a pretty easy sell for her, but I felt like I had to recruit her just like I'm recruiting young ladies right now.
"I stole her from her home state," Dykes said. "She grew up 10 minutes from that campus. She's as well-known in Indiana as any former player that has ever come through that high school program in the state of Indiana. So I said here's who I want and she's who I got. That's how we all are going to be in recruiting as well."
Attendance has dwindled in recent years and is certainly down from it's heyday when Smith was playing point guard in front of large crowds.
"When (former Lady Razorbacks head) Coach (Gary) Blair was here, he did a great job of getting out in the community and getting people to come support us, and that's huge when you're an athlete," Smith said. "You don't want to run out on the court and have 15 people in the stands clapping. That's not fun. That was one of the reasons I came here too, because the attendance was - people came to the women's games.
"To me, I'm going to do as much as I can to get people to come watch and support these ladies," Smith added. "And I think the first time they watch them play and the level of intensity they play with, they'll want to come back."
The hire should help Dykes, whose hiring has received some criticism since he has never coached the women's game, both on and off the court.
She joins holdovers Amber Shirey and Tari Cummings on his staff.
"No, it's not a perception thing," Dykes said of whether it is perception or a valid criticism. "I'm pulling constantly right now from Coach Shirey and Coach Cummings about the women's game. I've got resources across the country that I can continue to plug into every day. Now this is just another set of eyes for me. Another set of ears for me. She's already made some terrific suggestions just in the four or five hours that she's been here with me.
"So, I know the fact that I haven't been a head coach in the women's game continues to be something that's thrown out there against me right now," Dykes added. "Like I said in my press conference when I was introduced, if you're using that against me right now, when you play me the pressure is on you. And that's how I still feel about it."
Smith is viewed by Dykes as a strong Xs and Os coach.
"I think she's terrific as an Xs and Os coach," Dykes said. "I feel very confident with her sitting right beside me on the bench with any decision that needs to be made within the game. The game preparation, her scouting report that she delivered in front of my eyes at the NCAA Tournament that I was working for ESPN was as good as I've seen, was as thorough as I've seen.
"I don't question her work ethic whatsoever," Dykes said. "I don't question her character as a person in any form or fashion. I certainly don't question her blood, sweat and tears that she's going to put back into a uniform that she wore herself for four years."
Dykes said that 6-5 signee Bianca Bianaru of Tismonia, Romania had asked for and been granted her release from the program and that he currently has 12 players on his roster with the month-long spring signing period opening Wednesday.
The other two signees – 5-9 Texas prep stars McKinley Bostad and Mariah Mitchell – will join the program.
"I'm under the impression right now to not just bring in a body to bring in a body for numbers," Dykes said. "We're trying to win the SEC now, and I've got to get young ladies in this program that are capable of getting us to that level. So it's awfully, awfully late. I was hired basically two and a half weeks before national signing day in the late period. For something like that to come across our path, the odds aren't really good. We've been searching since I've been hired, going through possibilities. So that's still something we're looking at.
"Right now we have 12 young ladies on scholarship for next year," Dykes added. "One of the earlier signees, the young lady from Bulgaria, asked for her release. We released her a few days ago, or last week, after I got the job and had a chance to digest everything. So the two young ladies joining these 10 in front of me right now from the state of Texas, we'll go from there.
"If we go into next season with 12 on scholarship, I will walk out of that tunnel for the first time with 12 kids that are ready to fight. I know that. If it's 13, it will be 13. So I'm not going through the hiring process or the recruiting process, what's best for me for the first five months? It's what's best for me for the first five years on this job."
Purdue has gone to the NCAA Tournament the last three years under head coach Sharon Versyp, who lauded the hired of Smith.
"We couldn't be more thrilled for Coach Smith to have this opportunity," Versyp said. "Being able to return to your alma mater in a coaching role is a very special thing, and we wish her the best in her new role at Arkansas."
Dykes was appreciative of Versyp and Purdue.
"I want to thank Coach (Sharon) Versyp and Purdue University for all the years that they have poured into this young lady to get this step up," Dykes said. "She comes out of a winning tradition, a winning program, that does things the right way, the way I want to do them as well. She does a ton of things.
"She and I both got emotional at the Final Four talking about the University of Arkansas and the state of Arkansas and how important this is," Dykes added. "I am putting around me – already have two of them – I am putting around me that when I walk out of that tunnel for the first time in November, I have fighters beside me.
"I have fighters on my staff, I have fighters on my team," Dykes continued. "That is who I want walking out of that tunnel with me and that is the direction I want to go. I know I accomplished that with the hiring of Christy Smith."
"The Razorback Nation hit a home run today bringing Christy Smith back to the University of Arkansas," Dykes said.
Arkansas women's head coach Jimmy Dykes announces the hire of Christy Smith.
The Lady Razorbacks listen in on Monday's press conference.
Smith Named Top Assistant
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