It has been only four short years since the arrival of Stacey Smalls to Temple’s women’s basketball team from Cheltenham, Pa.
In that short time Smalls has solidified herself as one of the best point guards in Temple women’s history by amassing over 1,000 points, leading her teammates to a Big Five and Atlantic 10 Conference championship, earning a spot in the NCAA tournament and becoming an All-America candidate.
It has been a fun four years watching Smalls lead her Temple team to great things.
Now we take a look back over her collegiate career.
The year: 1999-00; the destination: Temple University; the goal: improve the backcourt.
“Freshman year was different, it was a transition going from high school to college, of course the coaching staff was different,” Smalls recalled.
“We had the same team we did the following year, but I think the mentality was different my freshman year, we had talent but we didn’t believe in ourselves, we didn’t think we could accomplish the things we accomplished the following year.”
Smalls wasn’t the only one that realized this, because soon after the ’98-’99 women’s season ended, Temple made a coaching change and hired Charlotte Sting point guard Dawn Staley to turn things around.
“Coach Staley came in the summer of my freshman year and told us from the door, ‘we’re going to win the A-10 championship and we’re going to win the Big Five’ and everyone was stunned, we couldn’t believe what she was saying,” Smalls said.
“We worked hard, that was probably the hardest I ever worked in my life.”
In the beginning the work didn’t pay many dividends for Smalls and the Owls.
But Smalls’ game began to show improvement.
She led her team in minutes (30 mpg), assists (3.3 apg), was second in steals (1.7 spg), and gained valuable experience for her enhanced role in the coming years.
The year: 2001-02; location: Temple University; goal: to win the Big Five, A-10 and earn a NCAA Tournament bid.
With Staley’s memorable statement echoing in the mind of Smalls and her teammates, she knew that this was the year that all her hard work the previous season would pay off.
“The same mentality stayed with us my junior year, we just worked hard day in and day out, it was just dedication,” Smalls said.
“Being a leader on the floor was the hardest thing for me, I’m not really a vocal person, but being vocal and being an extension of the coach on the court by telling people what to do was hard. That was probably the hardest part of my development.”
The hard work yielded results. The Owls ended the season 19-11, won the Big Five and A-10 Championship and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Smalls’ game improved dramatically, she lead the team in points per game (11.2 ppg), nearly doubling her previous season’s output.
Her three-point shooting percentage jumped from .240 to .355.
She also maintained her defensive savvy (1.5 spg), and still managed to improve her playmaking (3.5 apg).
This season, because of inexperience, the Owls aren’t having the season of a year ago.
Smalls has continued to improve, especially her scoring (13.1ppg).
Her backcourt defense coupled with her teammates’ has been tops in the A-10.
The Owls are third in the conference in steals, first in defensive turnover margin and first in three-point percentage defense.
In the process, Smalls scored her 1,000th point against St. Joseph’s on Jan. 5, solidifying herself in the record books.
She also had arguably the best game of her collegiate career against the University of Massachusetts on Jan. 17, scoring 35 points, and hitting 9-of-15 three-point attempts.
Teammate Cynthia Jordan describes Smalls as a vocal leader on the floor who leads by example.
“This is my second year here and her competitiveness in practice has made me raise my level of play for a game,” Jordan said.
“She lets me know that I have to work hard day in and day out.”
With the talent that she shows on the floor, the improvement she has room for, and the desire to get to the next level of play, Smalls will have a chance at the WNBA in this year’s draft.
Although her playing time at Temple is coming to an end, Smalls’ career may just be beginning.
The year: 2003; the location: collegiate greatness; the goal: WNBA.
David Cargin can be reached at I3AKDRAF@hotmail.com