GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tanya Smith has gone from sitting on the end of the bench to being one of the program's most reliable players.
Smith now a central figure for Wahine
Who is Tanya Smith?
Three and a half years ago, new Hawaii basketball coach Jim Bolla found himself wondering just that.
Today, she's the senior leader and primary post presence for the Rainbow Wahine. There was a time, though, that the all-Western Athletic Conference player's position on the team was far more tenuous.
Smith was recruited by the outgoing Vince Goo, and not everything was communicated to the next regime on Goo's way out in 2004.
"First of all, I had no idea she was even on the team when I got here," Bolla said. "There was no records of her being recruited. All the records were gone, the recruiting record computers were taken. It's funny, she called, like the day before there was an orientation session on campus, and said 'Hi coach, this is Tanya Smith.' And I'm like, 'Yeaahhhh?' And she says, 'Well, I'm on the team.' So yeah, it was kind of awkward at first."
"He didn't know I was coming, and I didn't know he was coming," Smith said. "So there was a bit of tension initially."
It contributed to a rough freshman year for Smith, who was played very sparingly and had second thoughts about returning for her next three years. But her mother persuaded her to ride it out and, despite her misgivings, Smith worked harder than ever to improve her game that summer with tireless workout sessions at home in Sydney, Australia.
She said she was a little "naive" when it came to the recruiting process out of her senior year at Willamette High in Salem, Ore., where she went specifically to hone her game before college.
"I figured if I'd go back to America I'd go halfway -- literally," Smith said with a grin. "Here, it's close to Australia and close to the mainland. I felt, Hawaii's an island, Australia's just a huge island ... how different can it be? I actually love it. It's kind of a silly decision but that's how it worked."
Bolla can be glad for that. Smith's been the epitome of consistency this season as the only player to start in all 23 games for the Rainbow Wahine (9-14, 3-7 WAC). She averages team highs of 12.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, and the latter stat ranks second in all of NCAA Division I. She's come within a rebound of the school record of 26, and the 6-foot-3 Smith blocks nearly two shots a game, easily the best in the WAC.
The Tanya Smith double-double has been a staple all year, but it's one that's often overlooked or taken for granted. During one stretch, she put together a streak of eight straight double-doubles.
"I just think if you look at her work ethic ... she's your blue-collar type of player," Bolla said. "She just goes out there every game and plays, nothing flashy, but then when you look at the stats at the end of the game she's got pretty good stats."
Smith, a fashion merchandising major set to graduate in May, was tested in her early years at UH by Wahine post players Alofa Toiaivao, Brittany Grice and Callie Spooner. Last summer, she helped Australia to the World University Games gold medal in Thailand, playing with and against some of her toughest competition.
She feels it helped raise her potential to a new level.
"I think the way that I get better is by people shutting me down," Smith said. "I get rebellious, then I come back and want to get better. This summer (on the Australian team) I played with people who were much stronger, and bigger girls. They pushed me, and I pushed them back. I feel like I get better from that."
She lacked that rival presence this year -- until recently. Bolla thinks the arrival of forward Tara Hittle only figures to make Smith better with someone else in practice now with grit and shot-blocking capability on the low block.
With six WAC games remaining and conference leader Fresno State arriving at the Stan Sheriff Center tomorrow, and last-place San Jose State ending a four-game homestand on Saturday, there's no time to waste for the sixth-place Wahine to secure better position in the WAC tournament.
"We've had better momentum than we've had," Smith said. "Even though we lost to Nevada (74-69 Feb. 9), I feel as though we played a really good game. I think if we just keep going, playing the way we did the last two games, we'll be all right."
Incidentally, Bolla has a pretty good idea of who she is now.
"A lot of things Tanya does she does through her grittiness and toughness, and really overcomes a lot of obstacles," he said. "The results are just very, very positive."