By Nicholas Bernal
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
University of Colorado senior women’s basketball player Bianca Smith took an unusual path to the program, but she doesn’t regret a moment of her journey.
“I just really liked Coach’s [McConnell-Miller] philosophies and style,” Smith said. “When she came to my house and recruited me I knew it was a great fit. She was ready to win games and when she moved to the Big 12 Conference I thought it was a great opportunity for myself to play in a great conference and get better.”
Smith initially signed her National Letter of Intent with the University of Tulsa in November of 2004, when current Colorado head coach, Kathy McConnell-Miller, was still at Tulsa. On April 27, 2005, McConnell-Miller was named the new head women’s basketball coach at CU and Smith’s plans changed.
Smith never enrolled at Tulsa, but because of her signed letter of intent, she faced the prospect of missing two seasons - one as a transfer, the other as a penalty for not honoring her original letter of intent.
She used her redshirt season to fulfill the transfer year obligation during the 2005-06 season, then petitioned the NLI Appeals Committee to reclaim one semester of the penalty year.
Had Tulsa stayed true to their initial hard-lined stance, Smith would have been forced to sit out the first semester of her final season. Fortunately late last season, after some administrative work, Tulsa released her, and her full senior season was reclaimed.
The moment the news was delivered became a precious memory, as Smith recalls Coach McConnell-Miller calling the team to center court after a summer workout:
"She said the chancellor (formerly Bud Peterson) had sent her a letter saying Tulsa had released me . . . it was like a punch in the stomach almost. I fell to my knees, crying and thinking, 'You've got to be kidding . . . after all this time.' I was definitely relieved. It was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I think it would have hurt our team chemistry just not being able to be out on the floor during games. Having to practice and not being able to play is very frustrating.”
McConnell-Miller recounts with great admiration Smith's willingness to sacrifice.
"I was always so impressed that she was willing to give up a year to come and play for us,” said McConnell-Miller. “It was like, 'I'm going to get out there and maybe something will change.' As she became a junior, I began to feel like, wow, she's really made some major sacrifices. I never knew if it was weighing on her, but it definitely weighed on me - that a young lady would sacrifice a year of eligibility, which ultimately would lead to a half-a-year of eligibility to come play for me.
"So I always had in the back of mind, I was hoping and praying, that this would change. I had several conversations with the athletic director at Tulsa, Bianca and her mom. And I assured them that whatever time she had here, we were going to make the most of it.”
With that ordeal out of the way, Smith was free to concentrate on her upcoming senior season and being the leader she knew she had to be for the young Buffs’ squad. Fortunately for Smith, she had strong leaders before her that have been a huge influence on her—and still are today.
“I had great leaders before me and I think that helped me learn how to approach different situations and how to grow into a senior leader,” Smith said. “Kara Richards, Jackie McFarland, Susie Powers and I are all still very close and they can shed light on different situations and help me get through the season.”
Smith is keeping the tradition strong of being a great senior leader and teammate. She had strong relationships with older players while she was working her way through her collegiate career and was happy to find that type of bond with a young player this year. While she has a good relationship with all of her teammates, there is one in particular that stands out.
“I would have to say [freshman guard] Chucky Jeffery,” Smith said. “She is basically my little sister on the team. We always get that we look alike and she always comes over to hangout. I cook for the team, but she probably comes over the most.”
Smith has made a reputation for herself as a very talented scorer and a lethal 3-point shooter. She recently scored her 1,000th career point and was honored before a game for her career achievement.
“It was very rewarding,” Smith said. “For any player to reach 1,000 points is an honor. I’m excited about it and hopefully we can continue to do well and win some more games.”
With the season quickly coming to a conclusion, Smith still remains hopeful for a postseason bid, and just wants to finish her career on a high note with some wins.
“Individually, I just want to continue to be a leader on the floor and do what I can to help the team get a victory,” Smith said. “For the team, I just want us to win games and make it to the postseason.”
When asked how her five years with Coach McConnell-Miller have been and if she was happy with her decision despite all the extra work that it included to follow her to Colorado. She said it was all definitely worth it and that she doesn’t regret a thing.
“She has definitely helped me,” Smith said. “She has really improved my floor game; she is a great teacher of the game. I’ve learned a lot under her tutelage. I think she’s really helped me with my shot, with my confidence and with my leadership skills. She has just been a great mentor for me throughout the five years we’ve spent together.”
Bianca Smith Timeline:
• November 2004 -- Smith signs National Letter of Intent with Tulsa for the 2005-06 academic year.
• April 27, 2005 -- Kathy McConnell-Miller named head coach at Colorado
• May 20, 2005 -- Charlene Thomas-Swinson named head coach at Tulsa
• June 29, 2005 -- Smith files an NLI Release Request form with Tulsa, which is denied by then-Tulsa AD Judy McCleod.
• July 2005 -- First appeal by Smith to the NLI Appeals Committee was denied
• August 2005 -- Second appeal by Smith to the NLI Appeals Committee is partially successful.
• August 2005 -- Smith arrives in Boulder and sits a year in residency. She is able to practice with the team and receive financial aid, but does not compete.
• Sept. 19, 2005 -- The NLI Appeals Committee determines that Smith be required to sit her first year at CU in residency and that she have to sit/lose one fall semester, to be chosen by Smith.
• Fall 2006 -- Smith begins first season of eligibility, competing as a redshirt freshman for the 2006-07 season. She competes in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 and is scheduled to sit during the fall 2009 semester.
• Spring 2009 -- Then CU-Boulder Chancellor Bud Peterson informs McConnell-Miller that Tulsa has agreed to release Smith from her original NLI.
• June 9, 2009 -- Smith officially released from NLI and is eligible to play the entire 2009-10 season.