Winthrop is holding its Homecoming Saturday when the Eagle women host South Carolina State, followed by the men’s game against Central Penn. This fall has also been a Homecoming for former Winthrop men’s hoops marksman Andre Smith, who has rejoined the program as a graduate assistant coach after a four-year career in which he scored over 1,000 points and hit 214 3-pointers. He caught up with The Herald’s Bret McCormick before a practice this week to talk about his new role with his old team:
What were you doing between graduating in 2015 and now?
So I went overseas for a little bit to the Republic of Georgia, small country in Europe. Played over there for a little bit, came home, worked out of course after the season. I got a job part-time in a warehouse while I was trying to work out for the next basketball opportunity.
Tell us how this opportunity worked out:
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Coach (Pat) Kelsey actually called me and that point I still wanted to play. He kind of stressed to me how hard it is to get into the coaching business and he knew I always wanted to be a coach so I think that’s why he called me. I kind of thought to myself I knew it was hard and I didn’t want to start too late. So he called me, asked me to do it and I said yes.
What’s it been like working with this team, especially with all the shooters you’ve got?
It’s different. It’s a new team, a young team. It’s kind of hard because you have to speed those guys up but it’s been fun, man, we’ve got a lot of great guys, lot of great personalities. We have a long journey, but we’ll get there for sure.
Have you ever been around a college or high school team that had so many new guys?
Nah, I haven’t. All the years that I played here we had experienced teams, so it’s different but they’ll get it. We have talented young guys, they’re very talented. It’s just all about getting them experience, getting them battle-tested. They’re really talented, they love ball, they’ll be fine.
What is your role as a graduate assistant? What can you do, what can you not do and where have you found a niche for yourself?
It’s tough because I can’t coach and scream out things I want to scream out. I have that passion to want to coach guys up. My thing is making sure Coach Kelsey is good, making sure Mitch Hill, our DOBO (director of basketball operations) he’s good, make sure they don’t need anything, rebounding for guys. I have some responsibilities with film, not a whole lot, but my main thing is making sure the coaches are not stressing and that they have everything they need.
You used to be pretty hard on the assistant coaches when they were refereeing your team’s drills in practice; what’s it been like to have it reversed?
I’m not gonna lie, that’s one of the things I’m worried about because I’m terrible at reffing, I’m horrible, and I gave our coaches some heat as a player. So it’s definitely gonna come back on me but it’s all a learning experience. None of use are great referees but they have to learn how to play through it.
How different is it coaching under Pat Kelsey, compared to playing under him?
A lot of the same things. We have a certain bond because I was his point guard for three years and he’s a tough guy, he expects a lot out of you as a player and a coach. One thing I’ll say about Coach Kelsey working for him now, he spends a lot of hours that I didn’t notice in basketball. So when he asks you to do something it’s okay because your boss puts in more hours than you do and I respect him for that. And as a player I didn’t see that.
What’s the Winthrop basketball playing memory that you won’t forget?
Of course the shot against High Point. But one of my favorite games was my junior year we were playing Asheville here and we were losing by, like, 11 and we came back and Keon Moore hit that shot in the corner. That was pretty crazy, man. My last three years, the bond we had on and off the court, the fun we had on the road trips, I’ll never forget that. Now I’m here to help these guys have those same memories, have a great four years of college.
How cool was it to see Winthrop get back to the NCAA Tournament last season, and for you, was there a tiny little bit of hurt because you guys were so close your last three years?
I was here for it and it was fun, I’m not gonna lie. I got chills down my body when the game was over and they cut down the nets. I knew a lot of those players, I played with them, I fought with them, so I was happy for them, extremely excited. Of course, I’m a competitor so I was a little salty but I was extremely happy. I’m actually motivated to get there as a coach. I’m motivated to help these guys to see if we can get back there.