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One stone-cold leader

Transfer Smith-Williams' skills and will have helped UCI net greater success in 2010-11 season.

March 07, 2011|Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
  • UC Irvine senior point guard Jade Smith-Williams has been a valued leader for the Anteaters.
UC Irvine senior point guard Jade Smith-Williams has… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

Conventional wisdom has long proposed that charge or block is the most difficult call in basketball.

But for UC Irvine senior Jade Smith-Willams, the toughest decision of her rollercoaster collegiate career was whether to leave or stay.

And while the essence of the 5-foot-7 point guard's game is her virtual lack of ego, it was the assertion of her own self-interests in deciding to transfer from Chico State to UC Irvine after her sophomore season that the first-team All-Big West Conference honoree considers her defining moment.

"The thing I'm most proud of, doesn't really have much to do with basketball," said Smith-Williams, who leads the Anteaters in points, assists, steals and minutes played heading into a Big West Conference Tournament semifinal clash at UC Davis tonight at 7. "It involves my transition, when I decided to transfer."

Smith-Williams chose Chico State, a Division II power, over Portland State out of San Leandro High, though she had great reluctance about its reputation as a party school, it's small-town feel and its modest academic profile.

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"I didn't want to be at Chico," she said, though she helped the Wildcats go 52-11 under then-coach Molly Goodenbour. "I didn't like the atmosphere. I decided it was not the experience I wanted to have. But, I knew the people I would be hurting were my coach and my teammates, and I did not want to let them down."

In the end, Smith-Williams said she stuck with her gut, and sheepishly informed Goodenbour that she would be transferring, though she had no specific destination lined up.

"I was angry and sad," Goodenbour said of that fateful day when Smith-Williams broke the news in her office at Chico State. "I knew what we were losing. Jade [the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. Freshman of the Year who earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore] could have been a Division II All-American."

Ironically, it was mere weeks before Goodenbour, newly hired at UC Irvine, would call Smith-Williams to ask if they could rekindle their successful partnership.

"She asked me if I wouldn't mind playing at UCI and I said, 'I'm there,' " said Smith-Williams, a seriously driven, introspective, ultra-competitive leader who has been the linchpin in Goodenbour's rebuilding project that, this season, will end a run of seven straight losing campaigns.

UCI opened 11-4, its best start since the 1984-85 season, but a depleted roster helped induce struggles that produced a 15-14 regular-season mark, 7-9 in conference.

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