Tanner Smith led Wesleyan to a state basketball championship, helped Clemson to three NCAA Tournament bids and played professionally overseas.
He was still unaware how much went into being a coach until he joined the ranks five years ago.
“You see your coaches for a couple of hours a day at practice and you might stop by their office for 30 minutes, but you don't realize how much preparation, how much energy, how much effort goes in,” Smith said.
As a player he was, ultimately, concerned with the team, but had to focus on how he could improve as an individual and make sure he was taking care of his body.
“Man, as a coach, you go home every night thinking, 'How was today? What can we do better?'” Smith said. “It consumes your mind, but you have to be able to live in the moment. When you're thinking long-term a lot, as a coach, but when you're with your players, you're in the moment. You have to really be conscious of it. I think being a player has really helped me. I know it's hard, but you've got more than you think you've got. When you can tap back into that, it only helps you.
“But I've learned so much as a coach the last four or five years. I really didn't know all that went into it and I've been around really good people that have helped me grow.”
Smith was hired in May as an assistant at Kennesaw State University, bringing him home after stints at UNC-Charlotte and Mississippi State. His connections in the metro area led to the opportunity — and make Smith a valuable addition to head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim's new staff. Abdur-Rahim also an Atlanta native and went to Wheeler.
“We've known some people in common,” Smith said. “I had the chance to sit down with him and was very lucky to get the opportunity to come back home and be a part of basketball in the Atlanta area. I'm just really excited to be back.”
After graduating from Wesleyan, Smith starred for Clemson. He finished his college career with 986 points, 459 rebounds, 320 assists and 159 steals. Smith also was only the second player in Tigers' history to earn ACC All-Academic honors four times.
He went on to play two seasons of professional basketball overseas, in the Netherlands and Germany.
“While I was over there, my dad had, actually, two leg amputations,” Smith said. “When I came home after the second one, I had the chance to work with some guys here in the Atlanta area and a lot of people just kept telling me, the earlier you get into coaching, the better. I kept hearing that advice.
“I had a chance to go be a graduate assistant at Mississippi State for a year. Then was the director of basketball operations at UNC-Charlotte for three years.”
He was promoted to assistant coach in his final season with the 49ers and, last year, Smith returned to Starkville as the Bulldogs' director of basketball operations.
“It's been a journey, but it's been a lot of fun,” Smith said.
He found a lot of common ground in his discussions with Abdur-Rahim.
“The biggest thing is how we are going to hold our guys accountable,” Smith said. “We want our guys to not only be good players, but good people. We talk about really challenging them on the floor, in the classroom, in the community and their social life. We're hitting those four areas hard to mature them not only as players, as people.
“The worst thing you can do is see a kid five years after he leave college and he still hasn't really grown up. That's a direct reflection on the people he was around for four years in college. It's a common misconception. A lot of times people think, oh I'll go to college for four years then I'll figure out who I am.”
The Owls are nearing the end of their allotted eight weeks of summer workouts. They're only permitted four hours per week on the actual court, but with an entirely new coaching staff, the time has been invaluable.
“Getting settled has been nice,” Smith said. “We moved from Starkville, my wife, Julia, and I. We're settled in, but it's always easier coming back to a place you're familiar with.
“It's been a little bit of a whirlwind, but I think the guys have been receptive to how we're trying to do things. It's going to be a process, but it's something we believe in.”