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Smith, first Black woman to coach Cal WBB, 'can't be silenced'

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Charmin Smith made her name at Stanford, but she made history for their biggest rivals.

Cal hired Smith as their women's basketball head coach in 2019 just months after she left her job with the Golden Bears as an assistant to join Katie Smith's staff with the WNBA's New York Liberty. Smith called the decision to return to the Bay Area a "no-brainer," as she became the program's first Black head coach.

It's a distinction, and responsibility, the 46-year-old takes seriously.

"Being the first Black women's basketball head coach here at Cal, I want to do a good job," Smith told NBC Sports Bay Area in an interview in honor of Black History Month. "I've kind of been used to navigating through this world kind of as the the only one for a lot of times. I didn't really realize how uncomfortable that is for a lot of people until I got to Cal, and started to understand that it doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way."

Smith's first season ended days before the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the remainder of the NCAA season. Her second has been played in empty arenas as a consequence of that pandemic, and amid a global reckoning in the aftermath with systemic racism in the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths, among many other high-profile incidents, at the hands of police last year.

Smith has continued to use her platform to advocate for racial justice. She marched in protests after Floyd's death, and her team organized a virtual 5K last October to raise money for Cal's newly appointed associate athletic director for diversity, equity and belonging. In September, Smith joined the Advancement of Blacks in Sports (ABIS) as the co-chair of a committee focused on hiring practices.

 

"I can't be silenced on the issues that affect me, and affect my student-athletes," Smith said. "And some people would say, 'Well, that's for [South Carolina head coach] Dawn Staley to be doing, she's won a national championship. She has Olympic gold medals.' All of these things, right, that I don't have. But what I do have is love for my players, love for myself and I have faith that if I'm doing the right things, things will work out how they're supposed to work out."

You can learn more about Smith's journey in the video above.