Reshanda Gray
Jessica Hill/AP Photo

The New York Liberty bid assistant coach Charmin Smith farewell in style, as four players reached double figures in a close victory.

Geoff Magliocchetti

New York Liberty assistant coach Charmin Smith was switching coasts after Friday night’s game against the Dallas Wings. The former WNBA guard had accepted a deal to return to Cal-Berkeley and become the head coach of the Golden Bears.

Thus, it was only appropriate that a pair of California alumnae rose to the occasion.

Reshanda Gray had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Brittany Boyd had seven assists and seven rebounds, helping the Liberty earn a 69-68 victory over Dallas at Westchester County Center. Kia Nurse led the Liberty with 17 points.

“It was a hard fought win. (I was) glad we could send Charmin off with a W. I thought we had a lot of contributions from a lot of people,” head coach Katie Smith said. “I think we got some really great people and players and they show up every single night.”

Charmin Smith (no relation) will return to familiar territory. Prior to joining the Liberty staff, she was an assistant coach on the Berkeley bench for 13 seasons. The last nine years of that tenure was spent under Lindsay Gottlieb, who will become an assistant coach for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Rising to the helm of Cal will be Charmin Smith’s first head-coaching job.

Nonetheless, she will cherish the brief time she spent in New York.

“Today was a special night. I’m really excited we got the W,” Charmin Smith said. “It’s been a great learning experience for me. I’m not as prepared to be a head coach and take the step that I’m taking if I don’t have the two months here with the Liberty.”

The victorious players spoke of Charmin Smith’s impact in the locker room afterward.

“She always stayed on me. I’d watch film with her before every single game,” rookie Asia Durr said. “She’s been awesome in just teaching me the game, teaching me to be patient, so she’s had a great impact on me.”

Charmin Smith made no big speech after the game, opting only for a team photo that will reside on her desk at Haas Pavilion, home of Cal basketball. Katie Smith remarked that she was “bummed” Charmin was departing, but couldn’t wait to see what does in a new opportunity.

“We’ll miss (Charmin) but we’ll hang in there,” the head coach said. “She’ll probably give me a couple of phone calls with a few tips. I look forward to that.”

At the forefront of the bon voyage party was Gray, one of the last players to make the Liberty roster out of training camp. Gray has taken over the starting center spot since Amanda Zahui B departed for the FIBA EuroBasket Women competition overseas. The transition marks her first WNBA starts since making five with the Atlanta Dream in 2016.

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Gray sent her former coach off in style with a career-high in rebounds. She would also earn the game-winning point for the Liberty (4-7) at the foul line, sinking one of two with 24 seconds remaining. Gray’s final rebound earned her the fateful trip, cleaning up after Boyd’s jumper missed. She previously tied the game at 68 off Boyd’s last assist on the evening.

Gray’s big day, the second double-double of her career, earned her a postgame interview with YES Network Liberty commentator Julianne Viani. She attributed the performance to one of her high school coaches, Donald Brown. Brown passed away in March after a bout with colon cancer.

“Every time I step on this floor, I step on for him. That’s what motivated me.”

 

“I’m just proud of Gray, how she’s fought to earn the roster spot here,” Charmin Smith added. “She shows up every day, shows up early. She’s just really putting everything she has into this opportunity.”

Gray’s heroics capped off a festive day in White Plains. In addition to the team’s annual Pride Night celebration, pregame ceremonies included a special tribute to Tina Charles, recognizing her ascendence to the top of the team’s all-time scoring list on June 4.

Charles was presented with a customized game ball from Liberty Chief Operating Officer Keia Clarke and general manager Jonathan Karl after a video tribute. Among those appearing in the video were former teammate and New Orleans Pelicans Vice President of Basketball Operations Swin Cash and her University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma. Charles immediately bestowed the ball to her father Rawlston, who was in his customary courtside seat.

Charles added 15 more points on Friday night. She shot only 5-of-19 from the field, but Katie Smith felt her aggressiveness set the stage for victory.

“Even though the percentages weren’t necessarily great, I thought the aggressive moves and attacks, everything, was going to the rim,” said the head coach. “Even though some of the shots didn’t go down, I thought she was attacking. It was a tone-setter for us and it ultimately creates opportunities for others.”

Charles also helped out with a strong defensive effort. Dallas (3-7) entered as winners of three of their past four, but fell thanks in part to 33% shooting (22-of-67). Touted rookie Arike Ogunbowale earned 10 points, but went 2-for-23 from the floor.

“I told (Asia) Durr, I thought that was the best defense she’s done all year. She said she was tired of getting scored. I thought she did a nice job on her,” said Katie Smith. “I also thought our bigs did a nice job of making her take contested shots.”

The Wings were paced by 20 points from Kayla Thornton. A rematch is scheduled for August 1 in Arlington.

New York has now won four of seven after starting off 0-4. They will hit the road for a trio, beginning with a Sunday afternoon visit to Atlanta (3:00 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass). The road to building a case for the WNBA Playoffs (they currently sit one game behind eighth-place Phoenix) won’t be easy, but hurdled challenges like Friday gives Katie Smith hope and confidence.

The Liberty did bring back preseason participant Avery Warley-Talbert prior to the game to accommodate the losses of Zahui B and three others to EuroBasket, as well as the lingering hand injury of Rebecca Allen. They, nonetheless, had to play with nine women once more, as veteran reserve Tanisha Wright missed the game due to personal reasons (Wright did appear in the Charles tribute video).

The remaining of Smith’s expectations have not subsided.

“I expect us to get our rest and get down to Atlanta, get ready to rock and roll. That’s a team hungry to get a win, establish themselves. It’s going to be a battle,” Smith said of the Dream. “I hope (tonight) gives us some momentum. I think with the people we have, no matter who it is, everyone’s excited to play. The energy we’ve had all season has been crucial. If we push tempo, hopefully the ball will drop a little bit.”

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